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."


SueC said...

Brilliant Ariel, just brilliant! I'm so pleased for you. It sounds like a really tough and thorough grading - you really deserve your black belt, congratulations....

Felicia said...

Awesome is right. Congratulations again, Ariel, for a job well done! I'm amazed that you remembered as much as you did. Welcome to what the Okinawan and Japanese arts call Yudansha (dan or black belt). YOu certainly earned it...

Ariel said...

Thank you, Sue! It was an amazing experience...and one I'm glad I survived, haha!

Thanks, Felicia! It really was a lot to remember, but taking it one section at a time helped. Out of anything I've ever accomplished, I am the most proud of earning my black belt.

The Strongest Karate said...

I just finished reading all 3 parts of your test experience. And it really sounds like they put you thru the ringer!

Congrats on your win. You earned it!


Ariel said...

Thanks, Brett! And yes, "put through the ringer" sounds about right. I felt like I had been run over by a truck the next morning....

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