My Kempo Journey. . .So Far

In late November 2016, I stepped foot in a dojo for the first time in my life. I was scared and excited. I didn’t know what to expect. I assumed it wouldn’t be full of people doing crazy kung-fu movie choreography, but other than that? I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

During my entire tenure as a white belt, I came to the dojo fully geared up in gi and pre-tied belt. I would tie the belt at home because it took me fifteen minutes to figure out how to get the damned thing on. Every. Time. It took me nearly three months to figure that thing out.

There is nothing quite so unflattering to the female form as a gi.

Usually when someone tests for their yellow belt (the first colored belt after white), the senseis go easy on them. They’ll get tested in another room, or in the corner where no one else is paying attention to them. Not me. My teacher decided to test me in front of everyone. Li’l old white-belty me.

Thank goodness he hasn’t done that since.

So proud of this yellow belt! I finally wasn’t a newb anymore.

I moved through the rest of the beginner belts at a decent clip. Each of the beginner belts required a minimum of fifteen classes before you could test (and you had to prove you knew your stuff before they’d consider it). I was always ready by then, if not sooner.

White, yellow, orange, and purple. These are the belts of Beginner Kempo Jiujitsu.

At our dojo, most of the tests are low-key and unofficial. You have to be able to do the required techniques and form efficiently and well, but the tests generally don’t take longer than fifteen minutes or so.

We do, however, have milestone tests that are longer and harder. You have to show that you know all of the techniques and forms up to that point. There is also physical training involved: drills, sparring, burpees, push-ups, and all kinds of other tests. You first experience this at Blue Belt (the transition from beginner to intermediate).

I was not prepared for the intensity of the Blue Belt test. If I’m being honest, I think my classmate and I were both tested harder than some others have been since. They put us through our paces, and I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t completely unprepared, but whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t what I experienced.

But it was a good experience.

My blue belt: this was when I realized I was in this for the long haul. 

At First-Degree Green Belt, my next rank promotion is Brown Belt. There are no more low-key, unofficial tests for me. Everything from here on out is considered a milestone test. For every stripe (three for brown), and color promotion thereafter (black and its red stripes) each test will be a long, difficult process of remembering everything and being pushed to my physical limits.

At Kempo camp this past August, my sparring partner and I (the one in black) run a technique while Sensei watches. Picture courtesy of Martial Way Self Defense.

This time, I’m in no rush to test. Since I’m taking it slow, I have the chance to enjoy the process. I can fine-tune my punching/blocking/kicking techniques. I can start practicing everything on the left instead of playing it safe and doing everything on the right. I can help the lower ranks on the things they’re learning. Because helping them helps me.

I am so immensely grateful I found this dojo and the community that is thriving there. As a non-sporty person, this is really my first experience pushing myself like this. It is fun and challenging. There is always something new to learn, and always another way to push yourself a little farther. If that’s what you want to do.

I once again get scared and excited to think about the Brown Belt test. It will be a huge accomplishment when I receive that promotion.

But for now, I’m happy just to go and kick the living shit out of a kick shield of an evening.

I prefer to keep my eyes shut when getting elbowed in the jaw. Adds to the excitement (photo courtesy of Martial Way Self Defense).