Watching the Video

Last Thursday when I arrived at class, Mr. Mc handed me two DVD copies of my red belt test that I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on ever since my test ended. I was excited and at the same time a bit nervous to watch it. I was excited to see the test from a different angle than first person but I was nervous because I am my worst critic and inevitably no matter how good it actually was, I knew that I would find all the mistakes and limited positive aspects. Mr. Mc had already warned me that I probably wouldn’t like it for that very reason.

Before I left on Thursday night, Mr. Mc mentioned to me that he had mostly just skimmed over the video as he was copying it to make sure that it played smoothly, but he had watched and rewatched “The Sidekick” that bowled me over when sparring Mr. R.S.. He commented that it was a beautiful kick. From being on the receiving end of that kick, I personally knew that it was.

That same night, I sat down with my family and a bag of popcorn to watch my movie. I’ve never been videoed during my previous tests and only for a few minutes at a time on a few occasions during class, so this was new. The audio was so-so because it had rained the majority of the time I tested, but the video was great. I was actually pleasantly surprised with the test in general. While I did wince at some of my flubs and the uncomfortable moments, I actually thought that I didn’t do half bad.

Since watching the video initially, I’ve rewatched and reviewed portions as a study tool. I saw many areas that need improvement, but that’s a given. There’s always room for improvement. Mr. Mc told me a few things to look for as I watched the video that he’s told me about in the past. Okay, scratch that. He told me to watch out for things that he's attempted to drill into my thick skull many, many times without much success. When I rewatched the video, I realized that it’s one thing to feel that something isn’t quite right or to be told that “You’re a little off in this,” but it’s a different thing entirely to actually see it from a third person perspective. I had several “Aha!” moments like this and I think that having the video as a reference is going to be a big help as I practice at home. I can definitely say now that videoing yourself doing techniques is an invaluable tool. It’s also very humbling when you realize that the picture in your head of how you move or execute a technique doesn’t match up with reality. “Wow. I move like that?!?” On the flip side, there are some good moments that exceed your expectations. I know I had a few where I wasn’t very comfortable with throwing a certain technique, but it looked fine on the video.

I wish that I could have had my other tests recorded like this one. Now though, I’m looking forward to being able to compare my red belt test video to another test in the future so I can see how far I’ve come.

My Red Belt Test part 2

Continued from my previous post....

My break was short lived. Mr. Mc called me back, looked at me, and asked why I didn't have my sparring gear on. Several of the black belts had their gear on, and all of the colored belts had been wearing their gear since the start of the test. I told him that he didn't tell me to put it on. The conversation went something like this: He said, "Do I need to tell you? Shouldn't you know what's next?" to which I replied, "Yes sir" to the first question. With a smile, I added "Well, you're the one who wrote up the test." (Ie: I had no idea of the order of the test). Everyone had a good laugh and Mr. G demanded to know where that attitude was during the rest of the test.

First up for sparring was yellow belt Mo.G. from the kids' class. Before we started, Mr. G asked me to identify the level of experience and what kind of spar it would be. I told him that she was a new yellow belt (no sparring experience) and that it would be a teaching spar. This spar lasted about a minute. I got into a low stance to compensate for the height difference and worked on getting her to move and throw techniques first, then combinations. I gave her some targets and showed her what she could throw at me.

The first spar went quickly, and before I knew it, I had a new opponent standing in front of me. Green belt w/ stripe A.G. Once again, Mr. G asked me the level of my opponent and what kind of spar this was. Green belt is still a teaching spar, but they have a greater range of techniques, use combinations, and just move more in general. After a minute or so spar with A.G, I sparred his green belt brother, M.G. Both of these spars were about the same. I told both boys that they should use their angles more and not stand directly in front of me, because I have greater reach, whereas they need to use their size and speed to get around me.

Blue belt J.M. was up next. Blue belts are notorious for being the most difficult belt rank to spar because of a combination of sheer power and a lack of good control, so I knew that I had to be on my toes (literally) for this spar. Plus, he being fourteen and as tall as I am, I did not have the benefit of having reach on him. From the get go he was very aggressive. More aggressive than he's ever been when sparring me. He's looking toward testing to brown in the future, so I'm sure that wanting to do well in front of the black belts was a contributing factor. I was already pretty tired, and having to deal with an aggressive, fresh blue belt was difficult.

Things got really interesting when Mr. R.S. stepped in to spar me. Mr. G warned me that he is super fast, kicks like a mule, and not to stand still because I would get hit. I've only sparred Mr. R.S. once, and that was in class shortly after I earned my brown belt. This spar was much more intense then the first one. I admit that I was mostly standoffish for the first couple minutes especially and I was too flatfooted. I tried to analyze and figure things out mid-spar, which is a definite no-no. I thought too much when I should have been concentrating on attacking and defending. About thirty seconds to a minute into our spar, he threw a roundhouse kick followed immediately by a side kick. I wasn't hit by the roundhouse, but I was not expecting the side kick to come that fast. It caught me while I was standing straight on and connected solidly with my midsection, lifting me off my feet and throwing me to the ground. Oh, that hurt! Plus, it knocked at least half the air out of my lungs and I had to kneel on the ground for about a minute or so. I wish I had a picture of it, but it's only on video. One of the dad's of the students took a video with his phone and showed it to me on Thursday. I've gotta say that it was a beautiful shot. Pain and having the breath knocked out of me aside, I got back up and continued that spar that lasted about two more minutes.

Immediately following the spar with Mr. R.S., Mr. M had Mr. J.S. come spar me. I don't think this one was planned beforehand, because Mr. G asked Mr. M what he was doing. Mr. M said that this was a puzzle I had to figure out. At this point, Mr. J.S. got into a very straight on, deep, power stance that we just don't practice in class. I was told later that it was a Shotokan fighting stance. Curious as to what he was doing and what I was supposed to be figuring out, I began trying some things. I threw a hard roundhouse kick to the back of his knee, and while it turned him a little, he just took it. As I moved, trying to get an angle, he just moved with me so that he was always facing me. He did not initiate much, but he did get in a good backfist(?) to my head...or maybe it was a kick...or both. I'm not really sure. I did take one technique that immediately left me with a headache. Great, more pain! Anyway, I finally did get inside and he covered up, so I just started wailing on him with hand techniques.

Then, the dreaded 2 on 1 spar was upon me. I've been told that the 2 on 1 spars are usually two brown belts, but as I am the only brown belt in class and the next highest ranked are blue belts, my instructors decided to go the other route and have two black belts spar me, Mrs. C and Ms S. The goal of the 2 on 1? Survive. Plain and simple. Takedowns, knockouts, and grabbing one person and throwing them into the second person are perfectly legal. I've had very limited experience with 2 on 1, so this was an interesting spar. My main strategy was to concentrate on getting one person out of the way and so I only have to spar one of them. That did not happen, but I did employ strategy #2, which was, in simple terms, choosing one person to be "Monkey in the Middle" (like the game) so that the middle person is in between you and person #2. The spar was mainly me running around the room while the rest of the black belts took places around said room to keep us from getting too close to the walls and tripping over the students sitting over the back. That's why in the picture below, it appears as though I could be up against four people. Thankfully for me I wasn't. I have to say that during the 2on1, I really wanted to have a chance to spar Ms. S 1 on 1. She was in my face most of the spar, and I wanted to see how I would fare against her. Later, I found out that my instructors were planning on this spar, but time was running short so it did not happen.

After this spar ended, Mr. G pulled my red belt out of his gear bag. I immediately remembered what he had told me previously about this. He said that he would have my red belt somewhere behind him, and I would literally have to go through him to get it. I knew that this was coming. I believe at this point, I asked for water, because I knew that sparring Mr. G was going to be...interesting to say the least. I wasn't thirsty as much as every time I took a breath, a sharp pain in my side accompanied it. Mr. O said no to my request, but Mr. G said yes.

I drank some water and tried to breath normally once more, then I headed to the center of the room where Mr. G was waiting for me with my red belt folded up on the floor behind him. He reminded me of what he had told me earlier, and said that if I could touch the belt, whether it be with my hand or my toe, then I could have it. I took a deep breath to steel myself, and we started. Mr. G kept a very narrow stance, almost standing straight up. Getting in close and striking fast with our hands is one of our favorite things to do, so after a minute or so of me staying out in kicking range, he let me close the gap. I got close to my belt, but he wouldn't let me get past him. Mr. G almost bent over, and I'm still trying to get past him. Finally, I hear calls of "Knees! Knees!" from the black belts and I realize what he's in position for. I grabbed his gi at the shoulders and drove two knees up into his abdomen. Now I'm hearing more calls from everyone to touch my belt, so I reach out and step on it, then pick it up.

I returned to the center of the room, my red belt held tightly in my hand. Mr. G approached me and reached out for the belt. I reluctantly handed it to him, and he told me to take off my brown belt. I started to fold it neatly, but Mr. G said that I wouldn't be needing it any longer, so I tossed it to one side. He presented me with my red belt and I turned around to tie it.

If tying a belt after two hours of a tortoruous test while still wearing sparring gear and trying to keep my hands from shaking doesn't sound hard, I'll be the first to tell you that it is!

After I turned around, Mr. G let me go get some water, and when I returned, the black belts were all in a "black belt huddle" at the front. Even though I was wearing the belt, that huddle still made me nervous. When they came out of the huddle, Mr. G told me to fall off to the side, and as I did so, he told me that they had changed their minds and were going to take the belt back. I knew it was a joke, but at the same time, I was imagining what was going to happen to the person who tried to take back my belt. He told me he was just kidding. Just as a side note, humor like that when the test is not over and decided with, is not at all appreciated by the testee.

The black belts all lined up and they called white belt M.C. up. They awarded her a 9th kyu yellow belt, and she went back to sit down. I was called back up, and Mr. G proceeded to tell me that there was no reason to tell me the results as I was wearing my rank. All of the black belts then made their comments about the test overall and about me in order of rank, starting with Mr. G.

All of the class was then told to line up, and we dismissed. The students were told to congratulate me in the traditional way. That is, shake hands with the person who tested and wipe your dirty, nasty feet on their gi. As if I wasn't already dirty and sweaty enough.

That is a brief (haha) summary of my test. It was by far one of the hardest things that I've ever done. It's also one of the top things I've done that pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that I don't believe that I can find where my comfort zone used to be.

I came out of that test soaked with sweat. I think it was Mrs. C who hugged me and then said, "You're wet!" My t-shirt and gi were soaked all the way through. Both found their way into the washing machine as soon as I got home.

But in the end, I earned my 1st kyu red belt. That is an awesome feeling. It was a test that I'll remember the rest of my life. It also helps that the entire thing was filmed, so that will help. I can't wait to watch it. At this point I'm waiting on Mr. Mc to put it onto a dvd for me.

My injuries from said test were minimal, which is good. I have around half a dozen bruised on my forearms. One is the size of a baseball and is still black and purple. That one swelled up until I took an Advil for the inflamation. My cheeks are bruised to the touch and the corner of my forehead is also bruised from Mr. R.S. punching me when I wasn't fast enough on my self defense. I have a few small cuts on my arms and an abrasion on my foot from who knows what. Half of my index purple turned black and red around the joint and swelled up a little. I have no idea what happened there. I can only guess that it happened during my improvisation during my combat speed self defense. As far as soreness goes, I ached all over for a good three days. The worst were my arms from my wrists up to my shoulders. 

Overall, I'm very pleased with the test. I have several areas that need work and in the coming weeks, I'm sure that we'll tackle them both inside and outside of class. I'm also looking forward to taking a trip down to our sister school for a workout in the coming months. Also, I've been told that a requirement for black belt is to compete in two tournaments or visit two different styles of martial arts. I'm hoping to be able to do both. Starting now, I have lots of practice to do, tournaments to prepare for (later), and a lot of hard work to put into each and every class.

Now that the test is over, I can't help but think of what's next. I don't think that the black belts gave me even five minutes to focus on my red belt before they began mentioning the next rank. Black belt. There are no set time limits between red and black which is scary to think of. I just earned my red, so I don't really want to be thinking of black next, but it is in the back of my mind. I'm not eager to test for that anytime soon though. I'm going to enjoy being a red belt for a while.

My Red Belt Test part 1

The week leading up to my red belt test was one of the longest weeks I’ve experienced in a long time. Last minute practicing and spending nearly a week working out at the gym helped speed things along and little and helped me deal with pre-test jitters, but the final couple days were excruciatingly slow.

I arrived at class on a rainy and gloomy Tuesday night. I asked white belt M.C., the ten y/o girl from my church who I’ve been taking to class why it had to be so stormy on the night of our tests (she had been told that she might test for yellow). We were both fighting against nervousness as  we walked in and started getting ready for our classes.

Mr. Mc arrived a few minutes later, bringing in a video camera, tripod, and extension cord which made the reality that “I am testing tonight” all the more official.

As I began stretching, I noticed Mr. G and Mr. R.S. walk in and head down the hall to change. I told M.C that Mr. R.S. was the head instructor at our sister school the next state over, and she asked me who the other two were. I paused, not having seen them, but realized the next second that it must be Mr. R.S.’s black belts, Mr. J.S. and Ms S. That put the black belts present up to five. I mentioned in my last post that there were going to be a minimum of five. As my heart sped up, all I could think about was, “That’s five and counting.”

Mr. G and Mr. Mc took me out of the main room to talk to me about the test. The main points they discussed with me was my confidence. Mr. G asked me who showed up tonight – Ariel or Ms ___? I told him Ms ___. They left me by myself after telling me that each black belt was going to come and talk to me.

Mr. R.S. came to talk to me next, then Mr. O, and finally Mrs. C. Mr. J.S. and Ms. S were busy teaching the kids’ class.

I was brought back into the dojang and told to take over teaching the seven kids. Before I stepped in to teach, I had been feeling the effects of nervousness. My face was burning, my insides churning, and my heart pounding like I had been out running. But as soon as I took over the kids class, I felt calm. My confidence shot way up from where it had been moments before. I was in my comfort zone. I think that last thirty minutes where I worked with those kids was the best thirty minutes I could have spent before my test started.

The kids’ class lined up and dismissed as I headed back to drink some Gatorade before the adult class lined up. Mr. Mc told the kids about my test and invited them to stay if they wanted.

Finally, “Line up!” was called for the adult class. There were nine of us. . . and eight black belts present (Mr. S, the ninth black belt arrived shortly after my test began). That’s one long, intimidating line facing the one student who they would be watching. The black belts introduced themselves, who their immediate instructor was, and how long they’ve been involved in the martial arts. After we bowed in, all of the students except for myself were asked to take a seat in the back. I was called to the center, and the test began.

Mr. Mc was the officiator of the test, and he had the itinerary. Different black belts were asked to lead various portions of the test. First up was the first form we learn, Basic Blocks and Punches, led by Ms S. I was asked to repeat it since the power and intensity that they were wanting wasn’t there. This time around, I was asked to kiai on each technique instead of after every third technique. Having to repeat the very first thing I was asked to do wasn’t at all how I wanted to start off the test, but I didn’t let that get to me. I dug deep to bring out that intensity and power, and then moved on to the next item.

I was then asked to do my three basic forms and the first advanced form in a different order than we normally do. After completing 1st advanced, Mr. J.S. asked me how well I did that form. I told him that it could have been better. When he asked why, I answered that I wasn’t putting enough into it. He asked if I could do it better if I did it once more. Confidently, I said “Yes sir!” The black belts noted a marked improvement from the first time, though they stressed that they this was the second time they’ve had to ask for more, and they did not want to ask again. I needed to fix that.

Ms. S then asked me a question about the differences I saw, being a female in a male dominated class in Tae Kwon Do. This was followed up with two more questions having to do with “what would you do?” when teaching a male student who tells you that the technique you are teaching will not work on him. The key word? Try it out on him and see what he has to say then, and also, adapt. Find something that will work.

I believe at this point, Mr. R.S. took over. He had me get into a fighting stance. From there, he gave me different hand techniques to do. Back fist was the first, then ridgehand with the lead hand. I did a few of those, then a question popped up. “Where would the ridgehand stop?” Oh no. I really did not have a definite answer in my mind, but after further prodding and Mr. O stepping in to give me a target, I finally found the answer they were looking for.

Mr. R.S. had me switch to a ridgehand with the back hand. I was more comfortable with this one because I could rotate on the ball of my back foot and get my hips into it. I did a few of these, then Mr. R.S. had Mr. J.S. stand in front of me to be my target. Mr. G told me that if I could knock him down with my ridgehand, then they would go ahead and give me my red belt. I tried so hard to knock him down, but alas! It did not happen. . . this time.

Next, the mats were pulled up, and blue belt J.G. was called up to be my partner for 1-step sparring. I have not practiced these with a partner in some time. On #4, the takedown, I could tell that J.G. was helping me with the throw – going down fairly easily instead of me being the one who threw him. Mr. G asked him about this, and he hesitantly agreed that this was the case. Mr. G told him not to help me out at all. I tried to do the takedown again and pop his knee, but it was a no go. I tried several times with the same results. Finally though, I did make him go down.

Following the 1-steps was my 8 self defense techniques with Mr. R.S. This was, in my opinion, the hardest single section of my test. The majority of my techniques were not effective in this situation or I was ripped apart because of a too high level of response to the situation, etc. I was told to improvise and adapt when things didn’t work, but my ability to do so was not that good. Improvisation is something I really need to work on. Lots of questions were also asked, and I was about at the end of my rope with frustration and feeling overwhelmed.

Thankfully, we moved on to advanced forms 2-5 which I felt went much more smoothly.

Mr. J.S. came up to my right said and said that he was going to do some kicking combinations. He was not going to tell me what they were or repeat them, so I had to watch and copy him as best as I could. This had to be the most stressful “Follow the Leader” game that I’ve ever played. In no way did he do the kicks slowly, plus, at the end, he told me that he had purposely turned in a way that made the kicks hard for me to see. I believe he wanted to see if I would say, “Mr. J.S., I’m having a hard time seeing your kicks. Will you move to my other side?” Darn it. I might have possibly said something if this was in class rather than a testing situation. As it was, I just tried to copy him as best as I could.

At this point, I was given a brief break to get some water, and during that time, white belt M.C. tested for her yellow belt. As she did her Basic Blocks and Punches, Mrs. C and Ms. S came over to encourage me and give me some advice.

To be continued...


Just a quick update to say that I passed my two hour long red belt test from hell on Tuesday night! It was everything I expected and more, but I'll talk about that in my next post.

I've written several pages in a notebook about the test just to get my thoughts down first before I condense it down to a decent length for the official post. There is so much that I want to talk about, but since that is the case, I'm waiting another day or so to write it up on my blog so I can get the rambling under control.

Build A Sign Product Review

At the beginning of February, I received an email from Megan at Build a Sign who found my blog while searching through Mixed Martial Arts blogs. She went on to say that her company wanted to send me some swag to help me promote my blog. I was intrigued by this, and immediately headed over to to check out the company and what they had to offer. I was blown away by the diversity of banners, signs, bumper stickers, clings, and decals that they had. It took me a long while to scroll through the pages until I finally selected a couple of designs that I liked.

That's where the fun really began. When you choose a base design, the website takes you to a page where you can customize your item as much as you want. You can upload clipart, add your own message, and choose from a wide array of colors. I had a blast designing my bumper stickers and window decal. Here's what I ended up with:

After I created the designs, Megan took care of the rest. She was wonderful and easy to work with. My shipment arrived quickly too. I'm very pleased with the quality of the stickers. I have one of the bumper stickers on my car and have already had several comments about it. I've given a few out to my instructors, and of course they chose the black over the navy blue. As far as the decal, I could not decide where I wanted to put it, so I stuck it to the front page of my journal. I think it fits quite well there.

Anyway, if anyone would like one of the bumper stickers, leave me a comment telling me what color you would like and I'd be glad to send you one. I'll only ship to the U.S. only. Sorry to all my overseas friends.

The Countdown Begins...

It's official. I finally have a set date for my test.

March 8th, 2011.

That's right. My test is in three days.

There's a mixture of emotions that come along with that news. Giddiness, excitement, terror, and nervousness just to name a few. Of course a slight sick feeling too. This test has been built up so much that it's like a towering mountain that's looming over me, daring me to try to scale it.

My instructors announced the date to me after class on Tuesday night. They told me that they were planning on testing me that night, but upon asking if my parents wanted to be present for it, they decided to wait until next week.

I'm actually relieved by that. I don't like surprise "Oh, guess what? You're testing tonight!" tests. Even though I've known that I had this test coming up, I still like having a set date so I can mentally prepare. The only negative thing is that I have this whole week to fight against panicking, nervousness, and imagining myself messing up to the point of failing. I've already had several of these. I know that I should not worry about this, but at the same time, it's human nature to be nervous and imagine the worst.

My instructors told me that at this point it's too late for me to try to fix things in my forms and techniques. It's not going to change anything for the test. I need to do my regular practice at home and not go above and beyond my normal routine. I am working on my cardio though because I've heard all of my instructors say at one point or another that "this is an endurance test." I have a 3 month gym membership and I've been going for about a week now. That should give me an extra boost.

Another thing that's on my mind is that this will be the first time that I will test alone. All other times I've had at least one other person next to me to share in the testing tortur-- I mean experience. According to Mr. G, the class will probably go through a quick warmup, but then it's just me out there on the floor for two hours.

Seeing as red belt tests are an uncommon occurance, more black belts than usual may be present. Mr. G told me the other day that his stepson, the head instructor at our sister class, Mr. RS has requested to be at my test. If he comes, that makes a minimum of five instructors watching and dissecting my every move. Talk about pressure.

The only thing that I am truly concerned about on my test is freezing up when I'm asked a tough question. I'm known for doing that. I'll be asked a question about something technical, and sometimes I'll freeze up, withdraw, get the deer in the headlights look, and end up saying "I don't know." This is an important area on the test, as being able to do the physical is only part of the battle. Thinking under stress, problem solving, and knowing your techniques inside and out are vitally important. There will be anything from philosophical type questions like "Why did you start Tae Kwon Do," technical questions like "How/When would you use this technique?" and situational questions like "If someone were to do ___, how would you respond?" The other material is easier to prep for. I KNOW how to practice my forms, kicks, self defense, etc. Prepping for unknown questions is next to impossible. I have to rely on my training.

After saying all of this, I have to wrap things up on a more positive note. Mrs. C told me this the same night the date was announced and it really stuck with me, "This test wouldn't be coming up if you weren't ready. You are ready."

I guess I need to make that my mantra for the rest of the week. I'll update with a recap of the test on Wednesday. See you then!