Tag Archives: black belt

An Emotionally Challenging Test

Breaking out of a bear hug.

This year’s Tenchi Dojo Karate Camp was a special one for me. I had the honor of testing my first born for his black belt. Though I have to be honest and tell you it wasn’t an easy task testing my son. As a mother, my natural instinct is to protect my children, not pummel them (…even during those times when they test my patience and drive me so crazy the urge to kick their little butts give them a stern “talking to” runs strong…but I digress…).

Anyway…I never thought the emotional vortex of my own black belt testing could be rivaled. But it was on that weekend. The teacher in me wanted to push my student beyond his limits. The mother in me didn’t want my “little boy” to hurt. At one exhausted point during the four day camp, his body language screamed “Mom, I need to lean on you.” My arms ached to wrap him in a comforting hug. It killed me to walk away. He probably doesn’t even remember that, but it’s a moment I will NEVER forget. In the end, he got his hug (probably more hugs than he ever wanted to get in front of an audience), and his mother couldn’t have been more proud. Congratulations, Gregory, on your well deserved promotion to shodan (1st degree black belt). You are an amazing young man!

Mom congratulating her son. I wonder if he remembers what I whispered to him.

Notice the look on sister's face when she smells his filthy, sweaty gi (uniform)...priceless.

The new shodans with Sensei Fawcett. In case you were confused, Sensei Fawcett is the clean one in the middle. :)

That’s three Fawcetts down and one to go.  It won’t be long before our little girl is ready to test for her black belt. <Gulp> Why do I get the feeling that THAT testing will be my most emotionally challenging one yet?

~ K.M. Fawcett

You Give Karate a Bad Name

Disrespect is ugly. Especially when it comes from a black belt and parent, and is directed toward a nine-year-old child.

A few weeks ago, we took our students to a karate tournament. While our school’s focus is on self-defense, not competition, we do offer our students two opportunities a year to participate in a no contact/light contact tournament. Every time we go to one, I am reminded again why I dislike them.

It was the nine-year old brown belt group’s final match in point kumite, (or “tag” as I sometimes call it since the first person to pass the other’s guard and make contact receives a point). A boy from our school and a girl from another competed in this final round, which would determine first place. Both competitors fought aggressively. Then the girl popped our student in the face. Twice. Hey, karate is a contact sport. It’s a fight. These things happen. Increased adrenalin paired with excitement or frustration often leads to lack of control. The girl was disqualified as per the rules.

Now, as anyone who has been popped in the nose knows, the body’s natural response is to tear up. When the boy wiped his eyes, a black belt man (the girl’s dad?) enthusiastically jumped in front of a black belt woman with a camera (the girl’s mom?) and exclaims, “He’s crying. Get a picture!”

Excuuuse me!

A grown man of advanced rank was excited about the tears of a nine-year-old to want a memento of it?

I was pissed. I didn’t care what rank this guy held, I let him know what he said was disrespectful. They ignored me and slinked away (I’d like to think it was because they were embarrassed, but more likely they went to show the girl the picture). Another sensei (teacher) with a red and black stripe belt (meaning 7th degree or higher) from the same school had been standing between the mom and me, and asked what happened. I don’t know how he missed it, he was standing right next to them when the guy said it…loudly, I might add. After I told him what happened, he started his spiel about how they have tough girls in their dojo and that they don’t treat their girls differently from the boys. Um, hello! I don’t give a flying front kick how tough the girls are in your school. You’re totally missing the point. This isn’t about the girl. At all. This is about your adult black belt parents disrespecting a competitor, disrespecting the competitor’s teachers and parents standing nearby, and demonstrating poor sportsmanship.

Seriously, is that really what you want your students to learn? “Hey kids…it doesn’t matter if your techniques lack control or you get disqualified; we’re going to celebrate the fact that you made a boy cry. And here’s the framed photo to prove how tough you are!”

I wonder if they’d feel the same way if the boy popped the girl in the face and his parents said, “Quick take a picture. She’s crying.”

~ K.M. Fawcett

The Testing Process

Following up on Rayna’s post from last week, and since I’ve just finished up testing for my second degree black belt, I’m in the mood to describe the process.

Four months of intense preparation and physical conditioning.  There are numerous pre-testing classes during which candidates are assessed and judged to be ready for the actual test.  Then the grand finale, six hours of balls-to-the-wall curriculum under a microscope of scrutiny of a dozen 3rd to 10th degree black belts.  These sensei seem to thrive on finding every flub—and they take notes.  There’s also a sparring test.

Picture this:  40 sweating adults lined up in rows in a studio designed for 30.  Everyone is dressed exactly the same, plain black gi with white Kenpo patch sewn over the left breast.  Zero air circulation.  The most senior sensei sit at a long table at the front of the room, jotting down notes on candidates’ score sheets. Other instructors walk between rows, stopping to pelt candidates with questions on techniques, movements, Kenpo theory and history.

My favorite question is “are you sure about that answer?”

To this I always answer with an emphatic “Yes, sensei!”  After all, screwing up is one thing, but who wants to look like a weenie?  Every candidate on that mat will make mistakes.  The key is not to get flustered over them.   So your kata was a train wreck?  Move on.  Let it go.  Get over it.

See, that’s part of the test.

The instructors know the candidates are ready.  No sensei will recommend an unprepared student test for black belt testing.  The point of the whole exercise is to force every candidate not to his breaking point, but over it.

Passing the Test

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in a previous post, there were two main reasons that I started taking karate. Obviously fitness, but also because there is an end goal that you’re working toward, earning the coveted black belt.  As the saying goes, with a little hard work and determination, you can accomplish anything. I recently had the opportunity to see this adage in action while observing part of the testing that I, with a little luck, hope to be participating in myself one day.

Picture a room full of  gi(uniform) clad people, standing before a row of instructors. Now imaging going through a collection of forms/katas over and over again, your every move scrutinized.  All the while the instructors are throwing out questions about the various techniques. What’s the name of that move? What’s the theory behind the collection of moves that makes up this section of the kata, etc, etc. It’s not enough to know the blocks and strikes to perform, but also why you’re performing them and how to vary them. It was intense to watch. I can only imagine what it was like to be out there.

The next section of testing was sparring and, for me, the most intimidating part. First because up until now I’ve basically been beating the heck out of an invisible attacker. So the thought of really getting hit is intimidating. This was no Daniel Larusso, first to three points wins thing. This was a sparring and endurance test all rolled into one. One person stayed on the mat for four minutes while facing fresh opponent after fresh opponent. I was exhausted and sore just watching, but I did understand the point.  In part it was about conditioning, but more so it was about not giving up.

For a lowly orange belt like myself I have quite a ways to go before I’ll have to face this particular challenge, but I didn’t start this journey just to quit. I suppose the same thing could be said about being a writer. I don’t think any of us started writing and trying to get published just to walk away when things don’t go the way you expect. In a lot of ways it’s similar to testing. You start all eager and somewhat clueless. Then you get scrutinized, judged, and knocked down a few times. Through it all you keep you eye on that end goal. In then end, I like to think, we all achieve some degree of success be it simply completing a manuscript, hitting it big on the New York Times list or a myriad of possibilities in between.

In conclusion to my story about black belt testing, I’d like to offer a huge round of congratulations to Melinda Leigh for earning her second-degree black belt.