Last night was the night I've been anticipating for weeks. I was tested for and was awarded my 2nd kyu brown belt. At the moment, I'm having conflicting emotions about the whole thing. Don't get me wrong -- I am absolutely thrilled to have tested last night, but at the same time, my inner critic is dredging up the negative portions of my test. I am definitely my worst critic.

I had conveniently forgotten just how tough it is to have an intense warm up (that not only includes exercises, but also basic forms), and then have to step out on the floor and begin your test. The warm up really did a number on my stamina. I've been getting out easy on the previous couple months' warm up. Either we would do a light stretch, or I would be pulled out from the group of students and worked with on something else just as the rest got started. Last night, we had a pretty intense cardio-type session. Note to self -- work on conditioning!

After the warm up, basics, and punching, J, a green belt (going for blue belt) and I were called onto the floor for our tests. We started off with advanced forms, and then moved on to sparring. That's the area that really hurt us. We started out sparring each other. My instructions were to spar down to just above his level – the black belts were mainly focusing on J’s sparring for this round. The problem area was that we weren’t doing a whole lot as far as initiating and committing to our techniques, but did end up being the aggressor for the whole spar and J was mostly on the defense. After a lot of pushing and prodding from the black belts for him to fight back more, the black belts finally went for the ultimate: “For this spar, your blue belt is on the line, so you better start sparring like you want it.” That helped a little, but not enough. My instructors had me step out and one of the black belts stepped in.

For my spar, I was given the option of choosing which black belt I wanted to spar. My spar went along the lines of what I mentioned earlier about ‘not initiating and not committing to the techniques enough.’ I’m not sure what’s holding me back, but I recognized during the spar that I was holding back, and it frustrated me to no end. I did a lot of circling, but I mainly stayed just outside his kicking range. It took a lot of prodding from the black belts for me to actually get in close and start sparring like I should. I finally did toward the end of the spar, but it was not soon enough and intense enough for my instructors’ liking.

Next, was 1-steps, and then I had to demonstrate my eight self defense scenarios. If sparring was my weak area for my test, then my self defense was my strongest. They went over well – everything went smoothly and I applied the techniques effectively, to the point that when Mr. G attacked me with a roundhouse punch, I hit his arm with enough force and just so on the nerves that his arm went numb and by the end of the night, he was still feeling some of the numbness.

By the end of the night, I was exhausted and desperately wanting to get home and take a hot shower, but I left class as a 2nd kyu brown belt.

Today, I have quite a few reminders from my test. I have three bruises on my legs from sparring, my shoulders and arms are complaining about all the punching, and my lower back and thighs are sore from the warm up we did.

I can see now that there's quite a lot I need to work on and some of these things I'm putting at the top of my priority list from now on. I need to work on getting in shape and improving my sparring ability and endurance.

I have class again tomorrow and I have this gut feeling that we’re going to work on sparring. Whatever we do, I need a good stretch to try to relieve some of this soreness before class.

Anxiously Waiting for Class Tonight

I'm really not sure what tonight's class will consist of, but I am itching for 6:30 to get here so I can find out. I've been walking into class at 5 'o clock almost ever since the kids class was moved to 5:30pm-6:30pm. Being there early gives me additional time to warm up, practice, and ask the black belts questions before class if I have them.

We've been working on a variety of things the past few weeks. I'm actually not certain what most of the other students have been working on, because I have been pulled aside and worked with on my self defense while the other black belts worked with the group.

Last week, we had a really good class on joint manipulations. There were only three green belts, a yellow belt with stripe (getting ready for his green belt), an adult white belt, and myself. I was asked to help with the demonstration, which meant that I got to be uke. Also, I was expected to actively assist with the teaching once the initial lesson of elbow manipulation was finished. I really wasn't satisfied with how I did on assisting. I feel that I've only scraped the surface on joint manipulations, so I mainly watched and was able to assist a little. Anyway, when were lined up and about to dismiss class for the night, Mr. G told us that he would like to continue working on this for the next few weeks.

However, after class, I found out that my instructors are planning on testing me for my stripe soon. In Mr. G's words, "You should come to class expecting to be tested any day now." I had absolutely no idea that I was this close, so I have been doing all I can to prepare for it this week. They did not tell me for certain what I would be tested on. The bare minimum is my 8 self defense techniques and free sparring. Somehow I don't think they will stop there. I may have to demonstrate what I mentioned and everything thing else required for the previous ranks. I am trying, but I have found that it's hard to concentrate on ironing out details on one technique when you have to prepare for whatever they decide to have you do.

My instructors do not announce testing dates. They might hint that you have one coming up, or "If you keep working hard like this, then you can expect to test soon," but rarely do they tell a student the day that they will test outright.

If I don't test tonight, then maybe a few others will. The black belts have been hinting at testing the yellow belt I mentioned earlier, and also a green belt or two. Even if tonight is not my night, I would love to see the others test. They've been working hard, and even I am getting anxious waiting for them to get their testing opportunity.

Tonight is going to be a good night regardless.

Overcoming the Mountain

Wow. It has been a long while since I've sat down to write a post. Time flies when you're having fun -- or are way to busy to take the time to do the things you want.

I just finished my second year of college, so now I actually have an idea what 'free time' means again.

In my martial arts world:

Tae Kwon Do classes has given me a boatload of things to think on lately. My instructors and I have identified a major weakness that I have, and I'm working hard to overcome it. I'm still struggling with being able to explain it, so bear with me.

My instructors have been working with me on self defense the past several classes. One of the requirements for my next rank is that I have to come up with eight self defense scenarios. I not only have to be able to demonstrate them, but I must also be able to teach them and defend my reasoning behind the techniques and if they work. A couple weeks ago, Mr. G asked me how many of the eight scenarios I had at my disposal. I told him 5 and so for the rest of the class, we worked on coming up with the final three. Well, I had no idea what kind of scenarios I wanted to use to begin with, and I certainly did not have any techniques in mind. I ended up choosing a straight punch, so he did the punch at my face. I did a pass block...and completely froze, not knowing what to do next.

We've had a couple discussions on this since that day, and I think I understand the nature of the beast that is this mental block. It all stems from me not having enough confidence in my self defense. I'm very methodical and self defense does not have a "step by step" method. It's more about reaction and using what you know.

At my rank, more and more is expected of me, and a lot of what is expected of me is that I really start developing as an individual. I have a fair understanding of the physical aspect of Tae Kwon Do. I know the forms, the kicks, the techniques, and I feel that I can teach the physical side pretty well.

What I need to really develop is the mental side of Tae Kwon Do -- the understanding of concepts and ideas, being able to react instead of following a method, experimenting with how things work, and "what happens if I do this?"

Instead of the little nudges I've felt before, this time I'm being pushed out of my comfort zone that was how I learned when I was a beginner. My instructors would show me something, say a form, and I copy what they do. It's not monkey see, monkey do anymore. I have to take a step back and grow in my understanding of Tae Kwon Do. I need to ask more questions, do more self correcting, and experiment more. Right now, I'm pretty uncomfortable, but I am determined to become a more rounded martial artist. I think it must first start with overcoming this mountain that is self doubt.