Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Yellow Belt Test!

When I started this blog, my original intent was to start at the beginning and chronologically trace my journey in martial arts as it unfolded. And that is still my intent, but because I had a year under my belt (sorry, there I go again with the puns), I purposely kind of went into more of a "theme post" each time rather than using a timeline - mostly because with many of the events being over a year old, I don't remember exactly in which order things occurred. So, after laying the groundwork about my martial arts beginnings, I started picking a subject on which to post each time and recounted my beginner's perspective and my current perspective as well.

I have not posted the details of testing for my yellow belt yet. I wanted to wait a little while before I did that. Get a few more posts in first. And now that I've been blogging for a couple of months, I think it is time to relive one of my proudest moments, not just in a martial arts context, but in the context of my life.

Other than nerves, I felt ready to test for my yellow belt for about 2 months prior to when the senseis asked me if I was prepared to test the following Thursday. I was hoping someone from a class starting after mine would catch up to me so I'd have someone at the same rank with which to train / practice. That was not meant to be. Therefore, nobody else is "where I am" in my journey. (Remember this is not your typical dojo - it the oldest non-profit martial arts organization in St. Louis. Our classes take place in the gym of a community center and we only meet twice per week, but one of those days is exclusively for sparring or other specialized classes depending on the session.) In some ways, it is an advantage being the only person of your rank because you get more one-on-one training from the senseis on things the higher ranking students already know, but the white belts are not yet required to know. Other times, it would be nice to have someone at exactly the same place in their journey with which to practice / train. (Or as BBM said, "a partner in crime".)

During the six days between being asked to test and when I actually tested, I practiced more than usual. I was not that worried about my katas, but I practiced them fervently anyway. I also did many kicks - not my strongest area, but except for the inside-out crescent kick - not my worst either. (Did I mention that those inside-out crescent kicks are not my favorite kick? I'm sure I did - I think I used the words "bane of my existence" to be exact.) For six days, I did walking head blocks, walking leg blocks, walking chest blocks, walking punches, walking reverse punches and even walking and chewing gum at the same time. (No, Silly -not really!)

Thursday to Thursday flew by. My yellow belt test was all I could think about during that entire week. The day of the test, I was nervous. I really did not know what to expect. I felt good about katas Basic # 1 and Fukyugata Ichi. I knew Fukyugata Ni, but there is one tricky little part that had me a bit worried, although not overly so.

I felt I had the first five kumites down pretty well too. Testing for yellow belt only requires you to be able to demonstrate them on one side. (Orange belt test includes performing the first five kumites on both sides.)

I was confident in my walking executions as listed a few paragraphs back. I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, the inside-out crescent kick would not be one of the kicks tested. It was. Oh, boy, was it indeed! (More on that later in this post.)

We did our usual warm-up / workout. Then, the rest of the class went on to study kata I think it was. The two senseis and I went to the other end of the large gym we call our dojo. They had notebooks and clipboards and set up two chairs directly in front of where I was at a ready stance. I was bowed in and my first belt ranking test began. I had been worried about focusing on my test with the entire class behind me, but no offense to them, but they just faded away for the duration.

One sensei asked me to do a walking head block. I did three, turned around, did three more and turned one more time back to where I had begun, in ready stance. They alternated back and forth asking me to do various basics in this format, as well as a few basic stationary kicks that did NOT include the inside-out crescent kick. I thought to myself, "Hey, this isn't so nerve-wrecking. I have this under control."

Then the other shoe dropped. (Although I was barefoot.) They asked me to execute some familiar techniques in an unfamiliar format - moving during execution. For example, I think the first was a straight jab. In class, we had always practiced it standing in place, with the most movement being the occasional lifting of the heel on the opposite foot to get more distance on the punch. But this time, they wanted me to actually walk with it. So, I shot them a quizzical look. They said, "Just do what you think is right." So, I did it in the manner I figured was correct. I was apparently right because they shook their heads in approval. A walking head block, leg block, punch combo followed. I had done each of these separately, but never in combination. I hesitated as I tried this, but didn't fail too miserably. They threw all these combinations at me that I'd never done before. Turns out they just wanted to see how I'd handle it. And then it was upon me. The moment I had dreaded - only worse. Much worse. They wanted me to execute a MOVING inside-out crescent kick. HUH???? I swear my stomach dropped to about my knees. The panic set in. This time, I shot them a kind of "You've-Got-to-be-Kidding" look. I had no idea where to start with that one. I could barely do an inside-out crescent kick standing in place, let alone advancing while doing it! I know I had to look like Blue Collar Comedy's Ron White trying to get on a horse without dropping his shot glass. The class that had melted away…well they were back and I was fully aware of them again. I didn't hear them laugh, but I wouldn't have blamed them if they had. I seriously don't know how the two senseis kept a straight face. I was mortified. I really was. Still am.

We moved on to the kata portion of the test. And it was just in time, too, because I needed something to restore my dignity. I felt I did very well on that portion of the test.

I was asked to do the five kumites with one of the senseis acting as my uke. I had practiced them to the point that I knew them backward and forward. On the first and the last ones, Sensei asked me if I wanted to re-do them. I said yes and I thought I didn't make actual contact with her on the punch so I actually touched her on the second try.

I did well on the history of our dojo and the senseis. I explained that I had done research on our school via the internet and that the website was very old and outdated and that if someone would give me permission and feed me the information, I'd love to keep it updated. They looked pleased and said they'd mention it to the other sensei, who would be the person to make a decision such as this.

When they were satisfied that they had gotten a true representation of my knowledge and skills, they instructed me to relax until they discussed my test results. I watched the class as they worked on kata. The two senseis compared notes and quietly discussed my test. After what seemed like an eternity, they called me back and told me my basics were pretty good but that I should work on the "reach" of my kicks. I felt a little better when they told me they threw those combinations and formats I did not know to see how my thought process worked in that department. I also had completely forgotten the last punch in the first and last kumites…even after being given the chance to correct myself. It was one of those moments when you realize your nerves must have gotten the better of you because you do know it. I hate that feeling. Whatever the case, I guess I did more right than wrong because I did pass. My sensei told me that when you pass a test for a belt, you are given the belt and you earn it as you wear it. (Her words were much more eloquent, but my excitement prevented me from remembering the exact phrasing, but I understood her meaning very clearly.) I was sent back to class, where they were partnering up and I joined in with two other women because there was an uneven number of students that night. I got hugs from the girls and pats on the back from the guys and words of congratulations from both.

At the end of class, as we lined up to bow out, Sensei announced that I had passed my test and that I would be presented my yellow belt in two weeks when I returned from vacation. Everyone clapped and I felt great.

Two weeks later, I was back from my camping trip and I was actually nervous about my belt ceremony. But as soon as I arrived to class, the nervousness dissipated. We bowed in at the beginning of class. Our three senseis were standing at the front of the class. They announced my rank promotion and I approached them, untied and dropped my white belt, and tied the new yellow one around my waist. (And of course a karate belt is not the easiest thing to tie anyway, let alone with everyone's eyes on you, but Sensei kind of laughed about that to me so it lightened the moment.) I then shook each of the sensei's hands and bowed to them. Luckily, right before class, I was told that tradition is to walk backward back to your spot in line rather than turning your back to the senseis.) Normally, I am up in the front row, but I was all the way in back that night so had to make my way backward all that way, looking like a DVD in rewind mode.) Then, class went on as usual. Sometimes I look down and see that yellow belt and know that I have a long journey ahead of me, but I can't imagine feeling any more proud of myself than I did in passing my first belt test. Next goal: improve enough to feel justified in wearing that yellow belt and work toward my next one - orange.


April said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jollibee Lover said...

Thank you for this post! I am preparing for my yellow belt test in September and I'm getting nervous.

BTW, congratulations on starting this wonderful journey! I, like you, are very unathletic and therefore had the same anxieties as you did about starting, but I finally took the plunge and signed up. Although only 4 weeks into it, I love it! Thanks for the inspiration! =)

Michele said...

Great story!

That feeling of justification you describe is something I have experienced. I have heard similar sentiments from others of various belt ranks. I think I felt that way after every promotion. It is what pushes me to work harder.

Martial Arts Mom said...

Jollibee- you are welcome and thank YOU for commenting. That was the exact reason I started this blog - to hopefully represent those of us who aren't the most athletic but still love it and find ourselves getting better at it. And Michelle- I see alot of people who feel they haven't really earned their belt yet. I think it is probably the modesty and work ethic that martial arts seem to instill in people.

m.a.l.s. said...

Thanks for posting that. Its always interesting reading about what is required for belt advancement in different styles.

Martial Arts Mom said...

I agree - I find it interesting to hear the different names the same techniques are called as well.

pawpads said...

Congratulations on your Yellow Belt.
I'm preparing for my green belt and am also getting nervous.
I'm also not the most sporty of people and only joined my club after seeing how much my son was enjoying Karate and upon overhearing a couple of other parents saying that they were considering joining.
Definitely one of the best things I ever did.

Martial Arts Mom said...

Paw Pads - I agree totally about the "best thing I've ever done" statement. I missed Thurs.night due to a big event at my son's school and I am anxious to get back this week. Thanks for reading the blog! Come back and visit often!