Martial Arts

Test Day

My black belt test took place almost two weeks ago.

I walked into the dojo, one big ball of tension. Not only was I trying to remember everything I’ve done over the past 5 and half years, I was also worried about my neck. Would it hold up? Would I even make it through the test?

On the mat were six chairs, one for each of the people who would be overseeing my test. While I knew these people, today we were not on even footing. I have stage fright whenever more than one person is watching me. That was my first mental hurdle, blocking out their faces. I might have put a hole in the wall above them with my stare, but at least I was able to stand there without cringing.

Well, no visible cringing.

The first part, kata, I wasn’t too worried about. I love kata. I love practicing. I love learning new ones. I had even, after my brown belt test, started practicing them with eyes closed (good balance work, that). But there were a couple of things called out, nothing major, which I do need to go back and adjust.

The sparring was rougher. The separate parts I did ok on, things like stances, kicks, and punches. But the live kumate…well, not so much. I got through the first half of my first match, then took what I think was a back fist to the back of the head. It felt like my body went one way and my head went the other and pain just sorta exploded down my neck. For a couple of minutes, I couldn’t feel my left hand and I couldn’t steady my legs. Someone, I’m still not sure who, got me to the wall and made me sit. But I had come prepared. I had Advil, Icy Hot patches, and ice packs in my bag. They got them for me and gave me a few minutes to let the meds kick in. Then I finished my match. I had prepared for at least a half hour of matches, but I ended up with only one. I had no clue how that would count towards my passing, but when sensei says move on, you move on.

Grappling, which was last, is the most detail oriented of the three. Hand and body placements have to be within a certain range or the techniques do not work. I was fairly certain on most moves, but the neck escapes I had not practiced in quite some time. Everyone was too afraid to hurt me, so I spent the last several months mostly watching and trying to note all the details. For my test, it became painfully clear watching is not doing. I kept missing details, little adjustments which take a move from worthless to effective. I felt like a white belt who had just walked on the mat.

Throughout the test, anyone was free to ask a question of me or to ask me to perform a technique. One person might ask for a verbal explanation. Another might ask for a repeat of a certain move or variations on that move. They were also free to correct whatever flaws they noticed.

A six person panel of black belts, taking notes on everything I did or didn’t do, was nerve-wracking. When my sensei asked me to walk out for a few minutes, I was sure I had failed. In my mind, no black belt should have made the mistakes I did.

I was called back in and stood in front of them. After a short question session, my sensei stood up with a grin on his face and asked me to untie my brown belt one last time. Apparently, I am my own worst critic, because everyone else thought I did fine.

The belt is just cotton, dyed black, and the certificate is just paper. But what they represent is priceless to me. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and look forward to achieving more in the years ahead.

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