Just a quick update from my hotel in Washington D.C. to say that I'm traveling right now, but when I get back, I'm going to be updating this blog more frequently. It's already been two months since my last post!

Anyway, I'm in Washington D.C. with my church at the moment. We arrived here on Saturday night, spent the night in Arlington, and then took a 9 hour bus tour of D.C. the following day. Today, we're leaving to spend the rest of the week in Philadelphia at a camp call M-fuge. We'll be going out into the city to work with kids, the homeless, lead games and rec, clean, paint, etc. etc.

Be back Saturday night!

Black Belt - What's Next?

The black belt test is a major event in the life of a martial artist. The significance and just the overwhelming feeling of pride when your instructor ties that shiny new black belt on for the first time is just amazing. Going from just another color belt student to the rank of black belt is a huge step and is the result of years upon years of blood, sweat, tears, dedication, and hard work.

There is elation after the test concludes and you look down at the black belt - your black belt - that is tied around your waist. There is a mixture of awe and a whisper of disbelief. "Did I really just do that?" After that comes the congratulations - the hugs and the hand shakes. You move around the room smiling and thanking everyone.

Afterward, you make your way over to your instructor's house for the after party. You collapse in a chair at the kitchen table, the reality of everything you've gone through that day beginning to slowly sink in. You barely move from your claimed seat as the spikes of adrenalin from the past four hours finally dissipate, leaving you absolutely exhausted - both mentally and physically.

When you finally call it a day and head for home, you're left to your thoughts. They're just prickling at you now, but as the days pass and you head back to class for your first week as a black belt, the thoughts running through your mind start getting louder.

After the first two weeks of being a black belt, you're still adjusting. There's a distinct difference in what's expected of you now. There's the lining up alongside the other black belts instead of the students, more teaching responsibilities, and just a general "trying to figure out how you fit into this new equation" time.

The more you think about it, the louder the question in your mind gets. You've been contemplating it for two weeks now, and it's a big thought. A resounding thought. Not panicked, but more of a question of direction.

"What do I do now?"

As a color belt, this thought never had a chance to settle in my brain. It was always "I need to learn this form next," "I need to improve ___ for my next test," and "I have to become more reactionary in ____."

But as a first dan, my next test is not going to be happening for a minimum of two years. I have one form to learn in that time, and my instructors have told me that they won't be teaching it to me for a while. That's fine with me - I want to improve on other things before I start learning a brand new form. Other than that, I basically have my options open as to what I can focus on next. Mr. G has told me that I can start weapons training if I want, but that's up to me.

All of this adds up to a very relaxed pace. The pressure that I was under from the months leading up to the test to when I took the test is off. It's been put to me like this, "The pressure is off -- the water is still boiling, but that enormous pressure you're under is gone. Now that it's over, you can just have fun."

I feel like I have breathing room again. It's nice, but at the same time, I almost feel goalless. Earning the black belt was a huge goal of mine. In fact, one of my aunt's asked me this after the test, "So what are you going to do now?" as if that test was the end of my martial arts career. Maybe it wasn't meant like that, but the common perception of the black belt outside of those who train is that a black belt is a master.

Uh, no.

There is still so much out there to learn. I earned my black belt, but that doesn't mean that my weaknesses and trouble spots magically vanished when I tied that belt on. Wouldn't that be nice though? In reality, I still struggle with the same things I did as a red belt.

Those things I have trouble with are on my list of things I'm going to start working on improving now that I have breathing room again.

Those are short term goals though, and then I have a long term goal of earning my 2nd dan. I need to have something in the middle though.

Do I want to start weapons training yet? Should I focus on my teaching for a while? I'm still deciding. I'm feeling very on my own with these decisions, and it's taking some getting used to.

However, there will always be new things to learn and areas to improve on. I just have to choose where I want to begin.

A Thank You Note from a Student

So, tonight at class, one of the 8-9 year old boys came up to me and handed me an envelope with my name on it. I was immediately curious as to what this could be as I watched him walk over to Mr. Mc and hand him an envelope also. I opened it and here is what he had written,

Dear Miss ____,

 Thank you for teaching us Tae Kwon Do. Thank you for teaching me all the stuff to protect myself. Congratulations on getting your black belt. Love, Z

So simple, but  sweet. I was simultaneously surprised and impressed because although this kid isn't the most difficult to get through, he does have a tendency to disrupt the other kids by talking during class and in the beginning especially, talking back to my instructors. I am noticing a difference in him - slowly, but surely - but that's what matters.

Small things like this remind me of just how much I enjoy teaching. 

First Week of Class as a Black Belt

This past Tuesday was filled with a lot of firsts. First class as a black belt. First time to wear an all black gi (Boo-ya!). First time to not line up alongside the students in the adult class, and the first time to teach in class as a black I said, a lot of firsts.

I was excited to the point of barely being able to sit still as I drove to class. Putting on that black gi and black belt felt wonderful. A colored belt student is only allowed to wear the white gi / white t-shirt and white pants. A black belt has the option of wearing all white, all black, or a mix of the two. After nine years of all white, you bet that I'm going to be wearing solid black for the next several months.

I helped Mr. Mc set up for the kids' class. We've started putting tape down on the floor so that the students know where to stand and will stay in a somewhat organized line. I put down the tape and discovered when I got to the end of a couple rows that my straight lines looked more like random zigzags.

Usually, we average around 20-25 kids from the ages of 4 to about 11. Once class starts, we run the kids through a warmup and have them run laps to attempt to relieve them of some of their unlimited energy. After some group work, we try to split the group up by rank so that each instructor has small number of students.

For my first class as a black belt, I was told to run the class through the warmup while Mr. G and Mr. Mc watched, stretched, and walked around the room. To end the warmup, I had the kids run back and forth across the room. The yellow belts then did progressive front snap kicks, and the white belts stepped and punched.

After a quick water break, I was told to line all the kids up and run them through the last four techniques from our Basic Blocks and Punches form. Usually when we do this, we only get through the first four techniques in a front stance. The majority of the white belts in class are fairly new and haven't had the experience of doing the last four techniques over and over. This time, I was to run the show instead of assisting and correcting technique like I normally do.

I began calling out the technique that they were to step and do, and we slid across the room doing the same technique over and over before turning and heading back. It didn't take long for the lines to get all jumbled (which is normal) and for the newer and youngest kids to start losing interest. Mr. G announced this to be and asked what I was going to do to fix it. I wasn't sure what he meant. In my head, I knew the best way to resolve this was to split everyone up by rank and start teaching from whatever base they had. I wasn't sure if he meant for me to do this or to keep going with the drill and just pick up the pace so there was less downtime. I went with the latter.

Mr. G decided to split everyone up and I had the five newest students. One was brand new and the others had been coming to class for a month or less. By far, I think I got the hardest, most inattentive group. I barely got through teaching the bow in and basic commands before class time was up. It was constantly, "Eyes on me," "Switch legs. No, the other leg!" and "Be still!" They were a frustrating group, especially with the noise and distraction from the other groups around us - not the ideal situation for newbies - but we got through it.

We ended up having only two students in the adult class. Blue belt J.M., and a new guy named J. I was told to lead the warmup again, and once I finished with that, I noticed that none of the other instructors were coming to take over - so we moved on to front snap kicks. Mr. G told me that he had wanted J to learn Basic Blocks and Punches tonight, so I had my blue belt fall off to the side and practice his form for brown belt. I then walked J through the form while Mr. G worked with J.M. on his form.

Overall it was a good class and I enjoyed teaching.

This past Thursday, I got a call from Mr. Mc saying that Mr. G was sick and he wasn't feeling well himself, so I had all.... four of the students. I said that was fine with me and that I would see him on Tuesday.

Though this wasn't the first class I've lead on my own, it was another first - leading a class by myself as a black belt. Instead of the four that Mr. Mc said I would have, I had a total of nine students, including one adult and the youngest in our kids' class - the four year old. One of the students was a yellow stripe, two were yellow belts, and the rest were white belts. An interesting range to work with in both age and rank! I lead my students in a thorough warmup and had them do a few partner stretches with each other, then it was kicks for the rest of the night.

I had one discipline issue to take care of that night. After letting my students go out to the hall for water, I immediately heard yelling and running down the hall.  Two of the yellow belts and one white belt came running back into the room. I stopped them, reminded them that we don't yell and run while in class, then had them do pushups. When everyone came back into the room, I had them go to ready position and I talked to them about the rules we have for them as a class and about their behavior.

We finished up with class and after making final comments, I dismissed them for the night. A few of the parents, a few of the older students, and I set the chairs back up in the room. The one adult came up to me asking for clarification on a few of the techniques and I began walking her through them. I tried to make sure to take some extra time to make sure she got a good handle on what she had questions about. In the meantime, I heard yelling and running out in the hall again. I excused myself and walked out to see what was up. It was my two yellow belts this time - a ten year old and an seven year old - and one had a hammer in hand and was chasing the other. They were playing, not fighting...but....SIGH. I was more than a little peeved, seeing as we had just had a talk not thirty minutes before about the running and screaming. I brought them back into the room and told them to wait as I finished answering the questions that the adult student had. After that, I had them sit down and asked them if they knew what this talk was about. The younger boy said no, so I reminded them of the talk we had had in the middle of class and they had agreed to the "no more running and screaming in class" rule....and then what is the first thing they do after class? Run and Scream. We had a good long talk and I told them that they were yellow belts and the white belts would be following their example.

My Black Belt Test Part 3 - Sparring-End's part 3! It's hard to condense a four hour test! Read Part 1 and Part 2.

At last, I had a short break for water and to get my sparring gear on. I put on some MMA style gloves and my foot pads, then had my mouthpiece on standby. I knew was going to have several rounds of sparring against students and the black belts, but wasn't sure just how many. There ended up being a total of 9 rounds, almost all back to back. Just enough time to let me regain my breath a little and allow the next person to step in.

Teaching spars were up first with the colored belts. I sparred against N, an adult yellow belt from our sister class, then J, a green belt from our kids class, J.M. a blue belt w/ stripe from our adult class, and then C, a blue belt w/ stripe from our sister class. Other than sparring with some of the kids, my only sparring partners within the past few months have been black belts. I haven't sparred against adult color belts in quite a while. That goes to say that of all of those spars, I felt best about sparring against the students from our class. Sparring blue belt C was an eye opener! We touched gloves and then wham! She was in my face and hitting hard the whole spar. I haven't had that experience in a long time.

With the teaching spars over, it was time for the most anticipated event of the evening (other than the end of the test!). That would be none other than 2 on 1 sparring. This is basically an anything goes, "do what you can to survive" kind of spar. It's really not a spar as much as it is a fight. Whether that means grabbing, shoving, throwing, or doing your best to make one of the two go lights out so that you only have to fight one....that's our 2 on 1. Usually this is with two brown belts, but as we had no brown belts in attendance, blue belt C and Ms. S. stepped out to spar me. We lined up, and I looked back and forth between blue belt and black belt, trying to figure out what I was going to do - and hoping that I wouldn't end up looking like either color of their belts afterward (ie: black and blue). Most of the other black belts circled around us, because 2 on 1 is all about moving and covers a lot of ground. I thought I did better on this 2 on 1 than when I had to fight 2 on 1 for my red belt test. I still got in the worst spot to be (in the middle) a few times, but I had several good shots. Poor Ms. S. took most of it, and I think all my punches to the head. Her head was just at the right height for my punches, so that's what I went with! I think my best hit in all of the spars came when I had grabbed her lapel and simultaneously punched her square in the face. Break was called immediately after this and she was asked if she was okay. She was and we continued the spar.

Black belt spars came next. First, I sparred Mr. R.S. who I have found to be one of the quickest fighters with deceptively fast (and high) kicks. He constantly moved circles around me and I barely got anything in. I remember only one punch that was really got in. On the other hand, he caught me in the side with a kick and that partly took my breath. I backed off to breathe and was immediately told that no one had called break. He came in and caught me square in the stomach with a front snap kick. That one doubled me over and break was called to let me recover.

During all these spars, and I have to say that once I got into spars with black belts, my stamina was being pushed, then smashed and ultimately trampled on. Breathing was hard. Kicking became difficult. In the last few, I relied mostly on my hand strikes and a few knees.

I sparred Mr. H next, then Ms. S., then finally Mr. G. Between these, I was constantly asked if I wanted to continue. I always said yes, even when I had a stitch in my side that hurt every time I took a full breath. Even when I had to put my hands on my head and attempt to breathe deeply. These spars didn't last as long as the others, as I was wearing out quickly. I had been told before the test that I would reach a point where the body and mind said no, and that's when the heart had to kick in. My body may have wanted to stop, but my mind and my heart were still in it, and in it for the long haul.

Finally, I heard "One more spar. Just one more!" I nodded, hands on my head, and steeled myself as Mr. G stepped in front of me. My legs felt heavy as lead and what power I had was limited. I managed to trade a few good legs kicks with him, but mostly relied on my hands and my knees.

If I'm being dramatic, then that's how those last several spars were. It felt like a superhuman effort to get through them, but finally, thankfully, break was called. I took my sparring gear off and returned to the middle of the room, knowing what I was going to have to do next. I had been repeatedly told this for months.

"After the forms and the sparring...when you're exhausted and feel like you have nothing left, do you know what that means it's time for?"


Ah, Wha-rang. My black belt form. I knew I had to show power and intensity and all those good things that the black belts want to see in a form. I was given a few moments to collect myself and breathe, then I began the form. About halfway through it, I realized that I had skipped ahead. I froze at the last twin knife hand I had done, but my mind was blank. It took me a minute, but my mind returned. Worst case scenario is freezing in a form, but I corrected my mistake and finished it as if nothing had happened. I had to perform it again, and that time it went smoothly.

As if all this wasn't enough, it was officially question time. All of the black belts were given the opportunity to ask me a question or two. There were "what would you do" questions, philosophical "what have you gotten out of your training" questions, "if you earn your black belt, what are you going to bring to the panel of black belts" questions, and several more. I had agonized over the possibility of going "deer in the headlights" during question time, but that never happened.

After all this, Mr. O came to stand in front of me. Once again, I knew what was coming. He basically said "You know I'm going to hit you, right?" I said "Yes sir." A couple black belts came to stand behind me in case I was hit. He asked if I was ready, and then the haymaker at my head came. I stepped in with a hard block and the other black belts had to catch him, because his momentum continued in the direction he stepped.

To wrap things up, I had to turn around and kneel as the black belts looked over their score cards and discussed. Actually, I had no idea what was going on behind me, but it took a while and my feet were going numb and starting to hurt from kneeling.

When I finally stood up, the black belts were lined up. Mr. Mc, Mr. S, and Mr. H stepped forward, and Mr. Mc had me take off my red belt. We all knelt and he had me put my folded belt in front of me. My black belt was folded in front of him. He had me bend and let the last drop of sweat from my forehead touch my red belt. Then, I slid that belt behind me. He placed my black belt in front of me, and I let a drop of sweat touch my black belt. We stood, and he tied my black belt - mine - around my waist. I was also presented with a certificate and a black belt handbook, then "Line up" was called for the entire class. I almost lined up in my normal spot with the students, but realized that I was supposed to line up alongside the black belts. I took my new place at the end of the line and we dismissed the class. That was awesome.

Then, the celebrations began. It took us a while to get through all the hugs, handshakes, and congratulations, then all of the adult students, several of the black belts, and I headed over to Mr. G's house for a cookout. I collapsed in a chair at the kitchen table and didn't move for most of the night.

It started at the after party, but it's still going on now. The "Did I really just do that?" is still in effect. It's taken me nine years to get to this point and I've finally made it. One of the questions at my test was "Do you feel that if you earn your black belt, you'll have reached your goal?" I think the best thing to sum up this monster of an experience is what I told the black belt panel. It went something like this (and yes, now that I have time to think about it, I'll word it better this time around),

"Yes, I'll have reached one goal. Black belt was - is a major goal, but it's not the end. It's about the journey. Martial arts is in my blood. I've reached one goal, but after this, I'll have another and work toward that."

My Black Belt Test - Part 2 - Freestyle Self Defense-Teaching

Part 1

After I finished up with my 8 self defense techniques, Ms. S. had me stay on the mats. Mr. Mc stepped up and several of the other black belts circled around me on the outside of the mat. At this point, I knew that something was up. Surrounded by black belts = trouble. I just didn't know what kind of trouble that was going to be yet. Mr. Mc began explaining that I had just went through the 8 self defense techniques that I came up with. On those, I was able to set up the scenario, how the person would grab other words, they were organized and specific. What I would be doing next was freestyle self defense. For this, nothing is set. I wouldn't know what was going to happen and I had to be prepared--

At that moment, I was grabbed in a bearhug from behind. I can't say what I did, but I reacted and it went to the ground. My Jiujitsu kicked in and though it wasn't a specific technique that I've learned, I had Mr. J.S. with his face to the ground and one of my legs over his back, trying to work this into something I was familiar with. The other black belts called break because they thought he had tapped, but he hadn't. The good thing was that I had him down and he wasn't going to go anywhere for the foreseeable future.

We both stood up and Mr. Mc continued with the explanation of the freestyle self defense. There would be two kinds of possible attacks which I was asked to name. The first was a grab. The second was a strike. That could be either a punch or a kick. How I reacted and what I did was up to me. These went by so fast that I don't remember what all he did. After the bearhug, there was a punch which I partially blocked and then I started kneeing him in the stomach and ribs until break was called. There was another grab, but I don't remember the details of it. All I know is that it went to the ground and I sat on his back and applied a blood choke until he tapped. Probably the most memorable to me....and my head.....was when he faked me out with his hands, then kicked me in the head with a roundhouse kick. I didn't even move. I saw hands move, then in my peripheral vision, I saw his foot and then it was another solid "Whap!" Mr. G told me later that the kick was rising slightly. Had it been straight in and level, I would have been taking a nap on the mats.

The last one I remember well is a headlock. I was so focused on getting his arm away from my neck that I didn't consider any other options such as striking. The black belts called break and brought up that I wasn't getting anywhere or doing anything effective. Mr. J.S. told me that he was going to grab me again and to remember that he was a guy. I immediately knew of one option that I had not considered the first time. He grabbed me in a headlock and I made a fist and swung, with the instant result of him letting go. The black belts asked me if propriety made me avoid the strike the first time. I honestly was so focused on "Get this arm off my neck!" that I didn't consider anything else.

Up next was 1-step sparring. B, a blue belt from the other class was my partner. We both took turns and alternated punching and then demonstrating the seven 1-steps. I felt this went smoothly and there weren't really any comments or criticisms from the black belt panel.

The students pulled the mats away, and the black belts called J, a really tall yellow belt from our sister class, to come up. I was told to head to a corner of the room and teach him a combination consisting of at least three techniques. Of anything, this was probably the longest breather I had during my test. As we walked to the back of the room, I considered various hand techniques and kicks and what would flow well. He was an adult and a 8th kyu, so I added an advanced kick. My combo was a backfist-reverse punch-back leg front snap kick-spinning back kick. I had J walk through the four techniques as I explained where each technique would land if he was actually hitting someone. Once he got a feel for the combination, I had him repeat it until I was satisfied with the flow and his transitions from technique to technique. We then headed back to the middle of the room where Mr. G was holding a striking bag for Mr. R.S. who was putting on a kicking demo. They wrapped this up, then I was to have my student perform the combination. After a few repetitions with both sides, the black belts asked J what he thought of the combination and if he could see himself using it in a spar. He said that he could. This was followed by the black belts questioning me on the flow of what I had just taught. They had an issue with the transition from the backfist to the reverse punch. Mr. G demonstrated this by shifting his weight onto his front leg for the backfist, then back to center for the reverse punch. There was discussion about this and I defended my technique, saying that I didn't have the shift forward on the backfist, so the big transition wasn't there as I had taught it.

For part 2 of my teaching test, then brought up this adorable, tiny boy from our kids class, JJ. I think he's our youngest in class - 4 years old maybe? There was a collective "Aww" from the family/friend section when he walked up. While standing in front of the black belts, I was to teach him how to throw a punch. When they said this, I couldn't have been happier. I immediately fell into my comfort zone - teaching. I work best with the kids. We walked through the stance together, then I helped him throw some punches by moving his arms together (it seems that moving the arms together at the same time is one of the hardest concepts for most kids to get past). Then, I knelt down and had him aim at my nose. When he did a few of those, I scooted closer and let him pop me in the nose. When I stood up and had him go sit back down, I think everyone in the room was smiling.

Finally, the last part of the teaching test was with blue belt w/ stripe J.M. from our adult class. I was to have him do a form, then offer critique. I had him do the form for brown belt on my count, then I pointed out a few mistakes and also some of the things he had done well.

Part 3 - Sparring-End

My Black Belt Test Part 1 - Forms - Self Defense

I'm still in the process of getting my hands on pictures and video from my test, but in the meantime, here is part 1 of the recap of my black belt test. Even now, the test feels like one big blur. Maybe blur isn't the best choice of words. Let me try a different analogy. The test was a little over 4 hours, which felt like it was stretched out and time slowed down, especially during the last several spars I had to do in a row, but I'll get to that later. After the fact though, the test seems to be much more condensed in my mind. I think I'm still in the "soaking it all in" and recovering stage, so I'm going off my memory. Whenever I get to sit down and watch the video, I'll see the full scale of it again. With that said.....without further ado....

My Black Belt Test

It goes without saying that even with going to bed early, I did not sleep well the night before my test. Ask anyone I know if I'm a morning person, and they will probably laugh. Saturday morning though, I was wide awake and up by 6:30. 

I had been advised by my instructors to eat a good breakfast, but not to eat anything substantial after that. After having breakfast at Chick-fil-a, a friend and I killed some time at the mall until I got a call from Mr. Mc at 11:30 asking where I was. Up until that point, I had been strangely calm all morning. Yes, the nerves were there, but they were muted....until the call. My friend and I immediately headed over to the church where my test would be held at, and I tried to remember how to breathe again in the process.

We arrived at the church at 11:45, a few minutes before the first few instructors did. We headed inside and started getting ready. I changed into my gi as my instructors started to prep the room - set the mats up, put tables up for the executive board of black belts, discuss where the other students would sit after the lineup, set up chairs for family/friends etc. etc.

I began stretching and watched as more black belts walked in. I had an hour before my test was scheduled to start, which gave me plenty of time to warm up and talk to the other students. A few of the black belts came up as I was stretching and gave me some words of encouragement which were very much appreciated! A few minutes later, the students from our sister class arrived - I think there were about twelve? I was glad to see them because our sister class is comprised of only adults and it gave me some different people to spar and work with during the test.

Finally, 1:00 arrived. Time for the test to start. There were a total of 13 black belts in attendance, which made for one very long, intimidating line! Everyone lined up, and after the introduction of all the black belts and the black belt candidate, the rest of the students were told to fall off to the side and have a seat. I was called out to the middle and I stood in ready position, waiting for my next instruction.

At this point, I was nervous. Oh, so very nervous. I wasn't terrified and shaking, but nervous with the anticipation of what was about to do. There were two tables set up for the executive board, so I think those six were sitting down with their clipboards (it's definitely official when you have clipboards and score cards). The rest of the black belts stood or moved around the room.

Ms. S. was the officiator of the test. She stepped up and addressed the issue of my confidence. She wanted me to show them I was confident. I hesitated, wondering how I was supposed to show this. I'm on the reserved side and not all that expressive, so while I may be feeling strong emotion on the inside, I don't show much on the outside. That said, I asked her how she wanted me to do this. She suggested a form, and I agreed. Ms. S. let me choose, and I did 4th advanced with all the intensity and expression I could muster.

After this, it was on to the first item of the test. Forms. They had me start with our Basic Blocks and Punches, which is the form for the first color belt. From there, it was back to back forms. 1-3 basic and then Pyung Ahn 1-5. I have to say that I dislike.....hate....loathe entirely.....back to back forms with barely any rest in between. Try keeping the same intensity for nine forms in a row and see how that goes. Not even 30 minutes into the test, and I'm already dripping with sweat. Those went pretty well and I was glad when I finished the last one and could stand and breathe for a few moments.

Mr. R.S. came up next for a kicking demo. He asked me what my best kick was. I said a front snap kick and had to demonstrate several with both legs, then for my most powerful kick, I demonstrated a spinning back kick. After I did a few of those, he grabbed a couple targets and stood in front of me in a solid stance, holding the target pads up. My instruction was to do the kick and knock him back. It took me about six tries to do this. My first few were good technically, but didn't knock him back. The next few rocked him in his stance, then my last one finally made him move. Mr. R.S. then told me that he was going to move the targets and I was to hit them with whatever kick I wanted - but to do it quickly. and with power. I stuck with my basic kicks - front, side, and roundhouse, and was breathing hard when he finally stopped me.

I think I'm getting this a little out of order, but I'll continue as is. Ms. S. came up to me holding something that I'd hoped I would not have to have during my test. A blindfold. She put it on me and told me to do one of my forms. I don't remember which one it was, but I do remember smiling a bit at hearing this. Normally, I would have been anxious about doing something blindfolded, as I've really never practiced any of my Tae Kwon Do while blindfolded. Thankfully though, on the Tuesday before my test, Mr. O blindfolded me and had me do forms, kicks, and self defense. I was relieved that I had already had a little practice with the blindfold, and not having it come up on the test as a big surprise. I did the form, and when I took it off, I was off at a slight angle instead of facing the front of the room. Not ideal, but thankfully it was just a slight angle, so nothing was said about it being off.

My 8 self defense techniques were up next. I got a little breather - no water breaks so far - while the students pulled the mats up to the center of the room. When Ms. S. stepped up to my partner, my uke for self defense, I knew that there would have to be some adapting of technique on my part due to size and reach. The last two people who worked with me on my self defense were Mr. O and Mr. Mc, and both of them are much stronger than me. I was right. The first thing I had to do  was walk through the technique, explaining what I was doing, what the threat level was, and answer any follow up questions that the black belts had. Then, I was to do the technique at combat speed.

Self defense has never been on my top ten list of favorite things to do in Tae Kwon Do, but it is essential. Just because I appreciate the need for it doesn't mean I have to like it. Maybe I will when I feel I have more options that I don't have to think about and I can react instead of thinking all the time.... Anyway, I had accepted that things may not go exactly as I had planned, but told myself that whatever happened, I would keep pushing forward and not dwell on it. Boy, did I push. I think Ms. S. stepped up the difficulty and really made me work for each and every scenario I set up. I had to repeat several of my scenarios and adapt on the fly when I couldn't manage to follow through on some of my set-ups. At one point, I had a technique that I had explained as a shoulder grab with a punch held up - threatening. A follow up question was "Is it just threatening, or is she trying to hit you?" I thought about it and said the latter. Mr. G told me that this changed things a bit and I had just given Ms. S. permission to hit me. I told him that I understood. For the combat speed demo, I stepped through my technique, getting offline of the punch, but before I could throw an elbow..... Whap! Punch to the head. Ow. Immediately I was asked why I stopped. Even though I was hit, it wasn't a full force punch and I should have kept going. Oh well. Lesson learned.

Part 2 - Freestyle Self Defense-Teaching

Black Belt Test - Results


By the time everything was said and done, the test clocked in at around four hours. I'm exhausted, bruised, my pinky finger is hurting for some reason, and I have an on and off headache, but other than those things, I feel great. The black belt test was an amazing experience. I had so much support and encouragement from family, friends, the other students, and the black belts.

A big thank you especially to all the students from our sister class who came! I can't express how refreshing it was to have a room full of adult students with a mix of experience levels...and height differences! There were white belts, yellow belts, green belts, and blue belts in attendance. 

A full report will be forthcoming as soon as I recover from the ordeal and obtain pictures from those who brought cameras.

Now, to bed. I'm going to sleep well tonight.

3 Days Before the Test - Thoughts and Advice

When the countdown reached 7 days, I couldn't believe that my test was only a week away. Now it's 3 days until d-day. 3 days! That means that today, Thursday, and Friday are all I have left until test day.

I've been to two 1st dan tests before. The first was in 2008 when I was a blue belt, and the second was in 2010 when I was a brown belt. My test is in 2012. It seems as though we're starting a two year trend. Before 2008 though, I'm not sure when the last 1st dan test was. Both the 2008 and 2010 tests were students from our sister school. It's been several years since we've had a black belt test here.

Which also leads me to believe that come Saturday, there's going to be a crowd. Normally, we have between two and six instructors who come to class regularly. I'm guessing there's going to be a minimum of twelve, which includes the grandmaster of the association. Then there's the possibility of more black belts, since the whole organization has been invited.

Plus a few guest black belts from other schools....and students from our kids class and adult class....and students from our sister class.....and quite a few family and friends who I've invited....and of course, the only one who will be out on the floor, having everybody watch her every move like a hawk? That's right. Me.

No pressure, right?

I've known for a while just what the black belt test is like, but no black belt test is the same. Our black belt tests are tailored specifically to the person. You could say that the flavor of each test is different. It's all ice cream, but the flavors are different. One of the black belts is in charge of coming up with the itinerary. Or should I say "The Itinerary from Hell." I know the bare minimum of what's on that itinerary. I will have to demonstrate my forms, kicks, self defense, sparring, 1-steps, and there will be a teaching section and questions (of what nature I don't know).

That's the minimum. Mr. G told me months ago that Ms. J.S. was in charge of the itinerary. A few weeks ago, he comes up to me and tells me that he's seen a copy of it. I waited for further explanation and he told me that "You won't be bored during the test" (that was a given) and "There's a lot of surprises - lots of twists and turns." I think there was an evil smirk thrown in there too. That was the only explanation I received. I didn't like that answer then and I still don't like it now. I don't like surprises. You can't plan for surprises. I am a planner. I like to prepare. Surprises on this test are going to be...interesting. I guess there will be a good bit of me improvising and adapting to the situations as they present themselves.

At Thursday night's class and also at Tuesday's class, Mr. G and the other black belts gave me a lot of advice for the last few days before the test, what to bring to the test, etc. etc. Some of the highlights include:

  1. Hit with authority. Ie: Make everything count.
  2. Intensity, intensity, intensity. Give 110% throughout.
  3. Show attitude. Small mistakes can be forgiven, but going through the test doing forms and techniques like a robot with no personality is not acceptable.
  4. Be confident in everything you do. Be confident in yourself and your abilities. Don't let mistakes get to you. Show your confidence by holding your head up and looking the black belts in the eye as you answer a question.
  5. Stick to your guns. This has to do with being asked questions. If you're asked a question and you give an answer that you know to be true due to your training and/or convictions, stick with it! The black belts may be trying to make you waver in your answer and doubt yourself to see if you will stick with your line of reasoning.
  6. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is a pressure test. A gut check if you will. You will be pushed. Everything is not going to go 100% according to plan. There will be surprises and being able to deal with them and not freezing is an important part of the test.
  7. Be alert and ready to act at all times. Example 1: It's toward the end of the test. You're tired. Exhausted. Your breathing is labored and sweat is soaking through your gi. Someone comes up and with no warning, throws a punch at your head. Not a slow punch. It's coming, and if you don't react, you're going to be hit hard.
Those were the ones that really stuck in my mind, but there's been more. "Make sure to bring Gatorade," "Don't drink anything carbonated or with caffeine," "Carb up before the test," "Don't eat a big meal before," and those kind of things.

If any of my fellow bloggers have more advice on the prep for the test or during the test itself, please share!

16 Days Before the Test - Practice Makes Perfect

With only sixteen days left until my test, I'm trying to fit extra practice time into my schedule. I'm working extra on my cardio to improve my stamina as much as possible, writing down things I need to work on, and writing out what I want to say when presenting my self defense scenarios.

My test has overtaken almost every waking thought...literally. I've caught myself thinking about self defense in the middle of church and imagining my techniques working. When I go to bed, I'm awake for longer than normal because I can't help but go over forms in my head.

Tuesday night at class, Mr. G and Mr. Mc were opening up boxes from an order they had made with Century. I was getting ready for class and glancing over every few seconds because I had an idea of what was going to come out of one of those boxes. My black belt. Mr. G held it up for me to see, told me not to touch, but to look and see how pretty it was, and how pretty it will be with my name embroidered on it. I'm sure I was wide eyed as I stared at my belt. Mine. Well, mine in sixteen more days.

No More Mat Burn. . . .Here's to Hoping

I thought I had solved my mat burn problem.

After searching through a lot of forums and a few articles, I set out to the store to buy athletic tape and also some first aid tape to wrap up the mat burn on my foot which was still healing. Before Jiu-Jitsu on Saturday, I wrapped my foot up nice and tight so that the mats wouldn't have a chance at making the sore spot worse,  then headed to class.

Throughout the class, I was careful to not let the tops of my feet rest on the mats. I made it through the warmup and drilling (the first half or so of class) without causing another burn or irritating the one I taped. At this point, I was feeling happy with my solution.

The problem came during rolling. The tape stayed on, but I had gotten too close to the edge of the mats without realizing it. I was on my knees, and when I shot in for a takedown, my foot found carpet. In the past, I've never felt the burn until after class. I felt this one immediately. Cue pain and I was sure there was going to be blood involved. I was in the middle of the roll with about a minute left on the clock, so I kept going anyway. When I sat down to watch the others, my foot was starting to bleed, and this burn was bigger than the others.

Darn it.

All my barefoot years of Tae Kwon Do have built up callouses on the bottom of my feet, but the tops of my feet are obviously very soft and wimpy.

I wanted to tough it out because I'm used to going barefoot, but when I keep adding new burns every week. . . I decided enough was enough. I  caved and bought some of these to help protect my girly feet.

These are Toe Sox for Pilates, Yoga, Martial Arts, etc. etc. As soon as they get here and I try them out in class, I'll write a review and post it. I've never liked toe socks before, so we'll see how these do.

28 Days Before the Test - So Much to Do, So Little Time

When I signed in to my blog and looked at my countdown clock, I did a double take.

28 days.

Back in October when my test date was just getting set, I was thinking, "Oh, five months. That's so far away. I have plenty of time!"

Today is February 11th.


Just where did all that time go?

Everything is starting to come together as it should be. I've been reminding myself that there's always going to be things that I need to work on or that I'm not happy with. My perfectionist side has been rearing up the past few months, but I think I'm doing better at pushing it aside and not putting myself down for every single thing that I do wrong.

At this point, I'm concentrating on upping my stamina and fine tuning my forms, basics, and kicks at home. Sparring and self defense are two areas that are hard to work on without a partner, and I have expressed to my instructors that I want to get more comfortable with both so that they become more reactionary. At this point, I'm still thinking and analyzing too much instead of just reacting.

We focused on sparring at Tuesday night's class and Mr. G announced that we're going to be working on both sparring and self defense almost exclusively in class until my test.

If there is one area on my test that I'm the most apprehensive of, it's freezing up and going "deer in the headlights" when I'm asked a question. The combination of being afraid to say the wrong thing and wanting  to have the answer fully answered in my head is not going to cut it. The black belts start thinking of what questions (mostly opinion questions based on previous training, but also some technique "why's?" and philosophical questions) weeks and months before the test, so my instructors have been working with me on answering impromptu questions more quickly and having me just start talking the answer out instead of standing there looking like I don't know when I'm actually just deep in thought.

Four more weeks. *Takes a deep breath* Okay.

Burned Out About Mat Burn

Rant time! Be forewarned.

I now have one gripe about BJJ and grappling in general. My feet are becoming spotted from three instances of....mat burn. We have these thin little puzzle mats and they just tear at my feet. The bruises and occasional cuts and scrapes are not a big deal, but the mat burns on the top of my feet are worse than carpet burns. I'm even thinking now that it's worse than the shin to shin clash during sparring matches at Tae Kwon Do, and that's saying something. I'm serious. At least when your shin is bruised, it doesn't get stepped on or squashed by a shoe or dragged along on the ground at Judo class when you're sitting on the floor trying to stretch and attempting to avoid agitating said burn.

Of the three I have, my left foot is the best. I have a tiny one on the knuckle of my big toe that's not hurting whatsover. The one closer to my ankle is better now and it looks like it's going to scar. The burn on my right foot on my toe knuckle is the worst. I wore an ankle support which covered the one on my other foot, but every time a Band-Aid is ripped off in Judo or Tae Kwon Do, it pulls off more skin on the newest burn.

I'm considering buying stock in Band-Aid's now. I'm going through them quite fast. I've also tried a liquid bandage - the kind that looks like fingernail polish and covers a cut to keep the germs out - but taking my shoes off at the end of the day messed that up and made it bleed. Not good.

I could probably avoid the mat burns more if I sat more on the balls of my feet rather than my heels when I'm in someone's guard, but this newbie is having trouble with focusing on her feet when the opponent she's rolling with is attempting to armbar her.

Anyway, that's my rant on mat burn. It's annoying, but I guess I can't complain. It could be worse. It could be something like Mr. Mc dislocating his little toe and having to pop it back into place during a short sparring match on Tuesday night. Um....yeah. I think I'll take the mat burn.

New Year and New Opportunities

With this being my first post for 2012, I'll update what's been going on in my martial arts' world since the last time I wrote in this blog.

Tae Kwon Do is going well. We had our last class of the year and Christmas party on December 13th. The kids' class and adult class were combined, and we spent around two and a half hours breaking boards, eating snacks, and watching the black belts put on demonstrations. For the board breaking portion, J.M., (one of the blue belts in the adult class) and I assisted the kids with setting up axe kicks and hammerfists for their board breaks. We also did several breaks in between. Of the five breaks I attempted, I broke three. One with a left hand hammerfist, one with an axe kick, and one with a front snap kick. The two that I could not get to work were a two board hammerfist break and an inverted punch. Both, I were told, were because I did not commit fully to the technique and slowed down before I hit the boards.

The black belts also did several demonstrations. There was a self defense demo, a Tai Chi for self defense demo, an escrima stick demo, and then I was asked to do a demonstration of my 8 self defense techniques that I had to have for my red belt test, and will also have to do for my black belt test in March. I was slightly caught of guard with this as no one had forewarned me, but somehow I just knew that I was going to be called upon that night. I stepped on the mats and was told to choose a partner for my demo. I chose Mr. G because I've worked with him the most on my self defense techniques and I was more comfortable working with him on a last minute, not much preparation situation. Anyway, my demo went well and the kids in particular loved watching me toss my instructor around.

Our last class of the year was the 13th. We didn't start up classes again until January 10th. That was way too long for me. I start getting anxious when class is called off or we have an extended break, so I was more than ready to start back when we did on the 10th.

I'm getting ahead of myself though. On January 7th, several of our black belts, blue belt J.M., and I went up to another Tae Kwon Do school and did a five hour long seminar on a variety of topics. I know we covered sparring, groundfighting, hapkido, joint manipulation, and kicks. I was so excited to be able to go and be a part of the seminar. Ms. J.S. worked with me on some techniques on the ground, and it was great to work with new people in a different style of Tae Kwon Do. From my observations, I saw that they are more sport oriented than I am used to, they don't hit to the head (something that we allow), they wear more sparring gear (we wear only foot pads, hand pads, and sometimes a mouth piece), and they have quite a few kid black belts. I'm not exactly a fan of that, but whatever. . .

In other news, my black belt test is still scheduled for March 10th.  I'm ridiculously nervous and a touch anxious about it. It seems to me that there is so much that I need to work on in so little time. So very little time. My countdown clock reminds me of that fact.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. At this point, I've only been to three classes, but I'm loving what I've learned so far. We took a few weeks off for Christmas, I had a test one day, our Tae Kwon Do seminar fell on another class day, and things like that have kept me from having more classes under my belt.

Speaking of belt, I just bought a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu uniform. I'll have to take a picture of it, but it's a blue Fuji Single Weave and it fits perfectly right out of the bag. Oh my word! That thing is heavy! I put it on when I got it and then when I put on my Tae Kwon Do gi tonight, it felt like nothing. I have an 8.5 oz gi, and it's like wearing a pillowcase compared to the BJJ gi. Another small thing that I've been giddy about is the color. After....what is it now? 9ish years of wearing all white to Tae Kwon Do, just being able to wear something colored makes me ridiculously happy.

Judo.'s the new opportunity I mentioned in the title of this post. I had the chance when I was working out my schedule for college to sign up for a Intro to Judo course. I thought it would be a good compliment to my existing base of Tae Kwon Do, since throws aren't our specialty. We do know some throws, but judo has so many more. I'm a week and a half into it, and I'm liking it so far. My muscles are not enjoying it though. We started out with breakfalls and rolls the first week. That wasn't a problem, other than the fact that I'm having trouble with rolling backward. There's just something about throwing your feet over your head that just doesn't click with me. Forward? Yes. Backward? No... I feel that something along the lines of this is going to happen and I'm going to crack my head or my neck on the mats.

On Monday we started throwing each other, and that's the culprit to my soreness. I went to an additional class offered at night and we spent almost an hour and a half throwing each other. There were mats involved and a thick springy floor, but landing awkwardly several times didn't help matters. Afterward, I counted up how many times I had been thrown that night, and it was right at about fifty. Needless to say, I. Am. Sore. Everything hurts. From my knee which I tweaked during one of my not-so-good landings, to my neck, and everywhere in between.

The majority of the others students in the class are guys. They outnumber us about 20 to 8. Martial arts don't attract many girls to begin with, so that wasn't a surprise in itself, but this brings up a couple of points. The first is that I discovered that the guys have a hard time throwing me because of my height. On several occasions I stepped onto the mats only to hear something along the lines of "Oh no. The first person I throw is the hardest person in class to throw...." Never before now (that I can think of) has Shortness + martial arts = beneficial. It's not helpful in sparring when your opponent has a foot of reach on you, and it's certainly not an advantage when working in pairs and you're having to stand on your tiptoes to get the arm around your tall partner's neck for a choke. With this "I'm hard to throw" thing, it's a refreshing and very amusing (to me) change.

Something else that I've noticed in class is that it just so happens that I'm partnered up with another girl. That doesn't bother me. I actually wish that we had more women come to Tae Kwon Do, but that's another tangent that I won't get off on right now. The issue that I had today was that I was all, "Okay! Let's throw each other!" and my mindset was "Getting slammed on the ground is fun! Throw me again! Harder!" This was not the mindset of the two people I was working with today. They were more apprehensive and standoffish, and many times, I had to say "Do you want to try it now?" before they would step up and throw me / I throw them. Behind me, the guys were just jumping right into it as soon as the instructor finished demonstrating the throw. I know, everyone's new at this and most don't have prior martial arts training, but it was a little frustrating. I found myself wishing that I could partner with one of the guys. That's who most of my training partners are in both Tae Kwon Do and BJJ, so I guess I'm more used to the "Okay, let's do this!" attitude.

I have to learn a good chunk of Japanese vocabulary words for the class and by the end of the semester, be able to demonstrate 8 throwing techniques and 5 ground techniques. I've checked out a book from the library on Judo and have been leafing through it, finding the throws that we'll be working on and studying them.