On Tuesday December 10th, the Road to Black Belt became just a little bit shorter.
I, along with six others, braved our brown belt tests. Four of us tested for promotions to Brown Belt, two of us (I was one of them) tested for our First Degree Brown Belt, and one tested for Second Degree Brown Belt.
Because our dojo is in the process of changing their belt requirements, it was a very different test from my Brown Belt test in May (was it only May?). We started by running every form we’d been taught for each belt; so, depending on which rank we were going for, we each did eight to ten forms multiple times.
Forms are generally my strong suit and where I’m most comfortable. Because of my dance background, I see them more as choreography and I tend to approach them as short, deadly dances. I did eight of my nine forms confidently and free of egregious errors. When it came to my last form, however, my brain decided to take a coffee break and left me out on the mat, completely unable to remember any of it. To say I was perplexed would be the understatement of the century. But I persisted, and after ten minutes of false starts and missed steps, I finally managed a minimally acceptable Kata Two.
From there, we moved on to pad work—hits! Kicks! Push steps! Blocks! Evasions!—and then reactionary drills. This was where our drilling of techniques came in handy. We all had a solid base techniques to draw on, should we be attacked with a club, have one of our wrists grabbed, or be faced with someone choking us. We ran through scenarios multiple times: what if we just need this person to let go? What if the level of force suddenly becomes deadly? How should we target our hits/kicks for maximum effect and minimal injury to ourselves?
At two and a half hours of nearly constant movement, it was an intense test. It could have gone on longer; I have no doubt that had it not been 9pm at that point, we probably would have. I surely have longer tests in my future. But I know I worked hard . . . I was so sweaty by belt was damp.
In the end, we were all promoted. I think we should each feel very proud of all we accomplished. I know we all worked hard to get to where we are. I think we’re all looking toward a very specific goal: Black Belt. It’s exciting to think that I’m a “mere” two stripes away from something that evokes awe from so many people. After all, saying you’re a Black Belt is almost universally acknowledged as a Big Deal. People who have no martial arts experience understand what that is and are impressed by it.
For me, an artsy-fartsy kinda person who was never into sports of any kind, to be so close to something so inspiring and mysterious is hard to wrap my mind around. Never in a million years did I ever think I’d be a Brown Belt of anything, let alone a Black Belt. Yet here I am, on the road to Black Belt, just a few exits away. It’s an exciting, terrifying thought.
I know I have a long way to go, and once I get there I’ll still have more to learn. The practice of martial arts is a lifetime practice—there is always something new, some spin on an classic technique, some nuance to tweak on well-worn forms. It is an art as much as a sport, and can inspire as much as empower.
I am looking forward to continuing on with this practice, for as long as I am able. I have found a new level of confidence, inspiration, and empowerment that I hadn’t even realized I was looking for three years ago when I signed up for my first class. But here I am. I can’t wait to see how the path unfolds. Oss!