Like most people in the weeks before Christmas, I was busy preparing. Unlike most people, I wasn’t preparing for Christmas, but for my Taekwondo Black Belt Test on the winter solstice – three hours of aches, pain, and overall exhaustion. Every time I thought about it, my stomach fluttered with a feeling that was quite the opposite from Christmas cheer. Not even ding-ding-dingly music could ease my nerves.
Technically, I’ve been preparing for that test ever since I first stepped onto the mats nearly eight years ago. It always seemed so distant, so far away, which was why it felt so surreal when the day finally arrived.
Stretching is very important. As are smiles of trepidation.
As I stretched with Micah (who was also taking the test) a curious mixture of nervous anxiety and excitement bubbled through my veins. Part of me was doubtful, wondering if I had prepared enough, if I was truly ready to undertake this ultimate test of everything, from technique to willpower to board breaks. The other part was eager to demonstrate all of my obvious awesomeness.
I couldn’t decide which one I was truly feeling, hence this face:
I believe I was alternating from giggling nervously to grinning excitedly.
After a brief pep talk from my instructor, we started off with fifteen burpees (easy), fifty squats (medium), fifty crunches (a bit harder), fifty push-ups (my fatal weakness), and two hundred punches (?!!! I thought my instructor was kidding. Nope. He never jokes.)
Then a long, exhausting hour of endless kicks, hand techniques (which are more punches, other strikes, and blocks) and running. I always knew I would have to do this, but I didn’t expect how hard it would be. I’m used to cardio exercise from swimming. I’m not used to being drenched in buckets of sweat, keeping my leg off the ground for sooo long, and finding the energy to run and leap a respectable height.
But I hardened myself in the determination and perseverance I had worked so hard for and plowed through that hour with everything I had. I gathered up every ounce of strength and concentration and used up every last bit of willpower and stamina to execute those kicks and hand-techniques swiftly, sharply, perfectly.
A prime result was my murderous face.
Another result was my skin literally throbbing, as if the walls of my heart extended everywhere. Heat emanated off of me. I felt so dizzy, and not just from those spinning kicks. Above all, I discovered what thirst was, how it truly felt to have your tongue cleave to the roof of your throat, how swallowing could hurt so much.
Now I do.
During that whole time, we weren’t allowed to drink, but when the time finally came, my energy drink was the most deliciously, pleasurably, refreshing thing I have ever tasted. Nothing was ever so sweet.
Next was self-defense and forms (complicated assortments of hand-techniques and kicks done in a particular order.) I think all those years of tedious repetition really paid off, because though my head throbbed from a haze of heat and exhaustion, I did quite well.
A full contact sport in which the victims – I mean, sparrers – are geared up in arm, leg, feet, and torso pads, a helmet, and a mouth guard. This is for protection against kicks and punches (and the gear also happens to trap in all the heat and sweat) but it doesn’t cover everything. If I come out of a sparring class with just bruises and no further injuries, I call it a success.
But one of the (few) good things about sparring is that it allows me to write better battle scenes in my stories.
After hours of running and kicking, I was already tired out, unlike usual sparring classes. My opponents, those lovely volunteers, were absolutely fresh. I deeply appreciated them for sacrificing time out of their Saturday for me, but that didn’t mean I was looking forward to sparring them.
And I’d seen people during their Black Belt test sparring rounds. Throwing up, getting kicked in the face, bloody noses, broken bones, sprains…the list goes on.
I was grateful, but not excited.
There was more good news, sort of. My instructor promised the harder we sparred, the more aggressive we were (aggressiveness is a good thing in sparring), the shorter the rounds would be. The more rest I’d get.
I’m usually more of a counter-attack sort of person, but I wanted rest, so I went all-out.
First round: relatively even match. This flexible young lady (on the right for both photos) has excellent head-level kicks, so I had to watch out for those.
Kick kick kick, bam bam bam. Punch, slide, block, kick. A shot to the head, a spin and kick to the midsection. More blocking. I’m afraid I can’t come close to conveying the intricacies of sparring in writing, but just know that it was hard work.
True to his word, my instructor ended the round fairly quickly. I got to slow down my breathing a little before the next one.
This round was much harder. The guy was taller, stronger, and had powerful punches.
I fought as hard as I could, but I could tell my stamina was wearing down. My heart was beating so hard, it was ridiculous, and I couldn’t stop panting. The mouth guard didn’t make it easy to suck in nice big gulps of air. But my sparring partner was very nice. He didn’t go all out, only fighting hard enough to push me to try my hardest, not to beat me up.
In fact, contrary to popular belief, no one is ever out there to beat people up. It’s a sport, a martial art, not a battle. And we’re all friends. We’ve literally spent a vast majority of our lives training together.
See? This is one of my closer friends giving me a thumbs up and some encouragement before she sparred me.
Finally, to finish off the sparring portion of the test, I had to go against two other people. Two against one.
It was overwhelming. It was intense. My senses were all on ultra high alert, straining to catch every movement. But I was more of a counter-attack type of person, and I actually fared much better than I had feared.
My strategy was to wait for that split second when the two are launching kicks at me, and to lunge to the side while they crash into each other. It didn’t work every time, especially as I got more tired, but it was rather fun. I felt like a warrior.
Sparring being finally finished, I got to peel off the sticky, slimy, sweaty gear and gulp down that heavenly energy drink. There was only one more portion of the test, the one I was the most nervous for, the one I had been dreading: board breaks.
Board breaks can go two ways. You can break the boards and feel like you’re on top of the world. Or you don’t break the boards, and that poor piece of your body is bruised for weeks.
The first one I had to do were hand techniques. I made up my own sequence, the boards were all set up, I made a knife with my hands, and I went for it…
…and slammed my hand on an unmoving slab of wood.
I tried again, and again. I used all my willpower to force that piece of wood to break, but all I succeeded in doing was to wreck havoc on my poor hand. That was probably why I simply couldn’t go for it with everything I had. It was incredibly difficult to force myself to try again and again, bruising my hand again and again.
I didn’t break that board.
And I didn’t break the other ones either, not even my aerial kick, which was a 360 spinning hook kick, in which I spin around, jump in the air, and throw out my hooked leg to break the board with my heel.
The fact that I didn’t break any of them was incredibly disappointing and didn’t exactly boost my morale for the last board break I had to attempt. The famous step and back kick, on nearly four inch boards.
This break is a notoriously hard thing to do. People take months to accomplish it, because it’s not just about strength and, being relatively simple, about skill. It’s about the mind, the heart.
Being such a powerful, massive kick, two people have to hold the boards and another four have to support them. It was an intimidating sight, but, despite my previous board breaking failures, I was determined to succeed in this one. I channeled all of my stubbornness into my leg and commanded the boards to break.
But, judging from everyone’s gasps of excitement and my throbbing heel, it was a solid kick.
I could do this. Ignoring my heel, I prepared to try again. My board holders braced themselves, I blew out a focused breath, and glared at the boards before I slammed into them.
Still, they didn’t break.
The gasps were louder and my heel throbbed more insistently, making me do little hops. But I was so close to breaking through, as everyone said. My instructor told me to start a few inches to the right. One holder said something about the third time being the charm.
This added some pressure for my perfectionist self. I had to do it the third try.
Once again, I readied myself, doing a practice kick. Then I planted my feet in the spot my instructor told me to. The holders braced themselves. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, all my energy focused on the boards. This was about the mind and the heart. About the spirit. I had plenty of spirit.
In fact, I had the Holy Spirit. As that verse says:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
I don’t think St. Paul had board breaks in mind when he wrote it, but that’s the beauty of ‘all things.’
With this in mind, I clenched my hands into fists. I let out a loud keyop (yell.) And I launched forth.
My second keyop was still on my lips when I heard a cracking sound and felt my heel slam through the boards. It was a fast moment, and before I knew it, everyone was high-fiving and hugging and cheering.
I did it. Praise God.
I was eager to accept the broken boards when my instructor proudly presented them to me. Little did I anticipate how heavy they were, or how much my heel hurt afterwards, but this was all washed away from the pure joy of my accomplishment and gratitude for everyone who had helped me reach that point.
Unashamedly caressing my heel.
These feelings, almost exactly a month later, have not gone anywhere. My sweat is long gone, and my bruises and aches are all healed (though my heel does randomly throb sometimes.) I still have to reshow a few techniques and, of course, break those remaining boards, but I’ve jumped over the challenging hurdle of the test and have passed into what my instructor has dubbed Purgatory (apparently he can joke after all), awaiting the moment I will receive my Black Belt.
And every time I face a challenge, I will look at those broken boards and know I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me, and how it feels to be on top of the world.
It’s been a long journey from the moment I first stepped onto the mats to the time when I smashed through those boards to the day my Black Belt will be tied around my waist. But that’s a story for another day.
For now, here’s a video of that board break, filmed by my enthusiastic, number one fans, Papa and Mama. I couldn’t have done it without them cheering me on.
7 thoughts on “My Black Belt Test”
That is incredible Elisha, congratulations!
And wow. *shivers* Your writing was so vivid. I can’t believe you went through that.
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Thank you so much!!!
*shivers at the memory* I’m quite honestly glad it’s over.
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Wow, this was amazing to read! Congratulations on breaking the board, and thanks sharing the video! You did an excellent job of telling this story. I was cringing as I read it (and feeling kind of thirsty). I can’t imagine pushing myself that much, but it’s kind of inspiring. Well done. I also love how you mentioned that one of the perks of sparring is that you can write fight scenes better in stories. I am always thinking of things like that.
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You just made my day, thank you so much! That’s so encouraging. Aw, don’t say that. You totally could push yourself that much and more. Just think of all those awesome story scenarios you could then write realistically! (That’s one of my life mottos I tell myself whenever I’m experiencing something unpleasant. xD)
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You are probably right, I could push myself if I needed to- especially if it was for story research. 😉 I always imagine how I can use unpleasant experiences for stories. It’s a great motivation for doing things! (Unless of course you are writing about a murderer or something- then personal experience is not the best option…)
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Yep! (Lol, no, I guess we’ll just have to stick with good old-fashioned imaginations for those sorts of things. :P)
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