Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Journey to the Black Belt

 How does the journey to become a black belt feel? To have mastered the basics is a different experience for everyone, no two paths are the same.

Here is one account:


"The first time I walked into the dojang – now my home away from home – I knew I was in the right place. Years earlier, when I was about 10 years old, I saw a black belt demonstration at my local school and I was hooked. As the man did his demonstration with the forms and breaks, it seemed as if his moves were effortless – every jumping kick higher and higher – like he could fly. Although I grew up in a small farming community and didn’t have the means then to take lessons, I made up my mind that someday; I would find a way to learn how to fly. Fast forwarding 30 years; I found myself barefoot in the training hall staring at the words imprinted on the mirror that runs the length of the hall,  
                                         “YOUR GOAL IS TO BE A BLACKBELT”.

   As I started to dream, my thoughts were quickly interrupted by my master instructor when he smiled and said, “Are you ready?” After nodding and a quick “Yes Sir!” my journey began and every day just keeps getting better.

Even though I frequently dreamed about testing for black belt, when I earned my Candidate belt in August 2011, my feelings intensified. All of a sudden, it went from distant dream to potential reality. In an instant, my 30 year dream was within my grasp and I kept pushing myself to refine my forms and improve my technique. At our dojang, we need 60 lessons in between Candidate and Black Belt and at least 6 months between tests. As I train 4 days a week and earned my 500 lesson patch on February 10, 2012, it was really just a matter of patience getting through that six months. I know patience is a virtue, but it sure wasn’t easy waiting that long.

After training the day before the test, my instructor told me he had a big challenge for me. He explained that although the next day would likely be “one of the biggest days of my life”, to just go into it as “just another Saturday” – just another day. I agreed, but my heart was racing! That night, hard as I tried, I could not get to sleep. After going to sleep at midnight, I woke up at 1:00 a.m., 1:30 a.m., 5 a.m., and 7:30 a.m., respectively. I honestly tried to sleep better, but every time I woke up I started thinking and couldn’t stop. At 7:45 a.m., I gave up and took a shower. After I got ready to go, I had the choice of waiting around the house until 2:00 p.m. or going to an open rank class at 10:30 a.m. and then just staying after and working on keeping loose until test time. Knowing myself, I KNEW I could not pace around the house for 5 hours before leaving, especially with my family there continually asking if I was nervous. I was truthfully more excited than nervous, but I needed time to focus so I went in early.


   As our dojang has an active enrollment of over 200 students, our pool of black belts is constantly growing and my testing panel consisted of my master instructor (6th Degree), 2 5th Degree Black Belts and a 4th Degree. As we lined up to begin, my left leg was shaking a bit from nerves and I was grateful when it stopped during warm-ups. The first section was hand strikes and kicking drills followed by a roundhouse drill consisting of 10 roundhouse kicks up the floor and sprinting back to start again. Once I felt that my legs were going to fall off, we did kicks with x-ray targets demonstrating various kicks and kicking combinations. From there, we started forms and since I had to perform every form I’d learned so far, that meant 10 forms all the way through Koryo. Going through the forms, I felt really on track and when I finished Koryo, my confidence doubled when I didn’t have to redo any of them! I’s seen other members test and watched many redo’s and even some Candidates space a form completely!

   After forms, we were permitted to get water and instructed to put our sparring gear on for 2 on 1 sparring. This was one section that unnerved me a little bit because I didn’t know who I’d be put up against. Plus, although my sparring has improved greatly, it is my weak point and something I continually work on. The challenges just kept coming when I was put up against 3rd and 4th Degree Black Belts. After getting in some decent shots and trying desperately to keep ahead of them, I got knocked down and scrambled to stand up. When my round was over and I got some water, I put my hands on my back to stretch and came back with my hands dripping with my own sweat. The back of my dobok was absolutely soaked. When all the Candidates had their turn sparring, we lined up for one-steps where we needed to demonstrate all the one-steps from every belt level we’d passed so far. It was at this point I found my second wind and felt the power in my legs come back. Subsequently, this helped my memory a lot and I performed all of my one-steps at full power. Following one steps was 100 horse stance punches into a focus pad which - after regaining feeling in our legs – was probably designed to take it out of our arms! The last section was breaking and when my turn came; my instructor had 3 boards in a stack set up on concrete placeholders. I’d gone through 2 boards before so I focused on going through to the floor and took several deep breathes before I made my first attempt. As I began my attempt, everything my instructor said about that break flashed through my mind and my hand went straight through!! My momentum was so quick – in fact – I almost tipped over the bricks. My other breaks were a back kick and a jumping front kick, but the 3 board break is something I’ll never forget! From there, we had to recite the school rules, membership oath, and the definition of tae kwon do from memory and then it was time for the belt presentation.


   At our dojang, our instructor always asks the black belts in attendance to indicate by applause if the individual Candidates are worthy of joining their ranks. He asked about me first and – despite their continued friendship and support – I closed my eyes and prayed that at least one person would clap. When they all did, I dropped my head and had to bite my lip to keep from crying. When my instructor called my name to receive my belt, it was almost like a dream! As he tied it around my waist, all I could do was stare at it and when he reached out his hand to shake mine – he smiled and winked and I knew I had made it. By tradition, every black belt test concludes with 50 knuckle pushups and I’ve never felt happier doing pushups!! Never before in my life had I felt more sweaty, exhausted, and proud. I had absolutely left it all on the mat and although Black Belt is considered the “beginning” of serious study, the end of my first phase is a day I’ll never forget!! And the journey continues…… "

Kris Selting - 1st Degree Black Belt - KOR-AM TKD - Minnesota USA


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was very happy to get my black belt recently, it meant a lot of hard work had finally paid off. I am now working to continue to refine my understanding of Taekwondo and improve my kicks and technical prowess.