Tag Archives: sparring

//03// Why I Got a Pedicure Before My Black Belt Test

24 Apr

[Currently Listening to:] Degrassi! It’s the last episode of the season, omg!


Last time I posted I was getting ready for my black belt test at my new dojo. It was about seven months in the making. I joined the dojo in August and worked hard at learning all the new katas. I actually love learning katas so this was a great time for me. I couldn’t believe there were two katas per belt. That’s a lot of katas… more than I’d ever learned before. It seemed overwhelming! But I chugged along, learning kata after kata after kata. I slowed down during November and December with the holidays. Then in January we were having a tournament so I spent most of the month trying to perfect the purple belt kata I decided to compete with (I was going to do blue but then I saw the 9 year old doing it better than me so I nixed that, lol). Finally in February I really committed myself to learning the brown belt katas. I finished learned them and announced it to my Sensei. She was like, great, so let’s get you to test!

I was like, uh-oh.

But this was what it was all leading up to, right? We picked a date about six weeks away. Sensei sent me an email with all the test requirements and I read it at work and had the closest thing to a panic attack I hopefully ever have. I had to walk away from my desk and hide in the bathroom. I thought I was going to cry. I was like, how am I ever going to do this? Why did I agree to do this in six weeks?! I wasn’t going to remember, wasn’t strong enough, didn’t want to. Karate wasn’t that serious! It’s just a hobby! Hadn’t I already proven myself? I went through a variety of emotions in a couple of hours and then finally I came around to acceptance and replied to the email to confirm the date.

Everyone was full of advice but of course they couldn’t tell me exactly how to prepare for my test. I knew it would be a test of endurance so I started running. I practiced my katas and self defense moves. I had to invent a kata and I needed to invent three self-defense moves that I had always slacked on. So I finally finished inventing my kata about two weeks before the test and then invented the self-defense moves around the same time (I just couldn’t think of anything that was really cool!).

I practiced my katas after running a long distance (for me) in parking lots and on the high school track, messing up the moves, not putting any power into it, mixing orange with my invented, green with blue, purple with brown, screwing up the white belt ones. I looked at the sky above me and I was like HOW AM I EVER GOING TO DO THIS?!

Two weeks before the test we started doing fitness tests in class and I hurt my right thigh, stretching it the wrong way or something. It was an ache that wouldn’t go away. I was having a hard time standing for my job the next day, rubbing IcyHot and Aspercreme on it and praying that it would go away. I mostly took that week off from karate and practicing but my anxiety continued to build.

I got back into class and I could still use my right leg even tho it felt funny so I was like, okay. I’m going to practice every day this week. Of course I didn’t. Finally, I got it together on Wednesday, speeding through my katas so I wouldn’t be late for American Idol. Thursday was really helpful because I practiced all the katas before I taught my class and during class that night. (And had this illuminating conversation: “Do you know the names of all the katas?” “Yeah!” “What’s the name of this one?” “Blah blah blah.” “Uh… that’s not it.” “I hate my life.”)

I was useless at work on Friday, the day before my test, but I made a decision.

I was going to get my nails painted red.

I remember watching a Behind-The-Scenes special about High School Musical on Disney Channel one night. Director Kenny Ortega explained the final scene of HSM1. This one!

He said that he thought red was a power color and that he wanted everyone wearing red and white and the walls painted red to give the scene really good, high, positive energy. Ever since then I’ve been convinced that red is a power color and since it’s the color of my dojo and my favorite color to wear I knew it would be the perfect way to power me through my black belt test.

So I got my pedicure and dutifully studied my terminology as the kind woman dealt with my feet (except for the part when she scrubbed the bottom of my feet with that loofa bar, which is horrible if you’re ticklish and the part where she cracked my toes, which is horrible if you’re me) and painted my toes and then we did the manicure and I messed up my nails trying to get my keys out of my purse. Even with my power color activated I still wasn’t completely relaxed. I knew I knew the self defense moves and the katas (and now the names of the katas!) and the terminology/knowledge items pretty well but something was holding me back.

The pushups.

I planned to practice them. I even bought a yoga mat! But… I never really got around to practicing those pushups except for the one time I did 47 in a row and then collapsed on the mat in anguish. I was really worried about those push-ups because I knew it wouldn’t be pretty.

Everyone told me that the black belt test was designed to break you down, to exhaust you and then make you push further, use your inner-strength. But what they didn’t say is that the test is also designed so that people see you struggling. I didn’t want anyone to see me struggling through my push-ups. I hate for anyone to see me when I’m less than my best. Whenever I’m having a bad moment it’s time for me to disappear. My worst fear was about to come true in less than 24 hours.

I woke up on the day of the test and laid in bed for a little while. My dad gave me a pep talk over the phone and my mom texted me and my aunt was excited and I just wanted to get it over with.

I couldn’t help lamenting about all my handicaps. I’d only been at the dojo for seven months. I hadn’t been practicing the katas for years and I hadn’t been hearing the terminology and saying the sayings, hadn’t been witness to a lot of the traditions and rituals. I hadn’t seen a black belt test before. But in a way this also worked to my advantage because I didn’t take anything for granted. I knew I had to work really hard in order to remember anything. I wasn’t scared off by watching any of the previous tests. Even though I had never tested at that particular dojo I had tested many times, working my way up through the ranks at two different dojos and had done a black belt test before. So despite my lack of specific experience I knew that I could do it.

The most repeated piece of advice I got was to always take the water break when Sensei offered them. I think people said that to me so much because I rarely get water when we have a water break in class. I like to stare at myself in the mirror instead (I enjoy the mirrors in the dojo). So that was on my mind when I started the test.

The first part of the test was the endurance. Jumping jacks and the sit-ups and the push-ups. I turned away from my classmates watching me and closed my eyes during the push-ups but unfortunately it didn’t make them disappear. However, it wasn’t as bad as I thought because everyone was very supportive and cheering me on and I liked it more than I thought I would.

Every moment I got a break I would assess the situation. How much more did I have to do? Once I got through all the katas I was so relieved. Then I realized I still had kumite AND breaking. The test seemed never-ending. I couldn’t breathe. I have asthma and I’m terrible at managing it so I can’t breathe a lot. I’m used to it but I think it concerns other people. I was just thinking, once it’s over I can breathe again.

I remember doing a break with a flying side kick and I missed the first time. The holder was asking me if I wanted it higher or lower and I was just staring at him like I have no idea what is going on right now? How am I supposed to know? I really don’t know how I’m going to get from here to there and break that board. Eventually they stopped talking to me since I wasn’t giving any helpful replies and then I squeezed my hands in fists tightly and told myself to commit and I broke that board.

There’s a lot more to say but in the end it was a really good experience. It was about pushing yourself and triumph over your own fears and having other people be a witness to your good and bad moments and trust them to keep cheering for you. It was about the inner strength that the martial arts teaches you and also about the physical skill that you find somewhere deep inside. It was about connecting mind and body and soul for one purpose. It was also kind of fun! My favorite part of the test was when I meditated at the end and then one of the other black belts came to help me to my feet and the smile on his face was so sweet. Then it was over, hurray.

Still, I have a lot to learn and there’s a lot that I want to accomplish in this upcoming year. When I test for second degree it’ll be even better than the first time. I’ll probably get my nails painted again.


//02// Kids! Games! Karate!

25 Mar

[Currently Listening To:] Worth the Wait by Anoop Desai


I’m really lucky because I get to be the kids’ class instructor at my dojo. It’s wonderful to me because I really love it and I feel honored that my sensei would trust me with such a responsibility since I’m new to the specific style. I wasn’t new to karate so a lot of the basics are the same. I worked hard to learn the differences and overcome my own bad habits. It’s still a work in progress, obviously. It always will be. But it’s great to have my own group of kids to watch and teach as they work their way through the ranks.

And it is WORK. Sensei said don’t be surprised if the kids stay white belts for a year. If you think about it that’s a long time. Especially as a kid. That’s a big commitment where interests change from moment to moment. But we have high standards at our dojo which I appreciate. I didn’t start karate as a little kid. We have students 5 and 6 and 7 and 8. That’s pretty young. So it’s going to take a while for the many many many moves of karate to sink in.

However, I want to keep it fun and engaging. We have a lot of work to do. I want the kids to learn actual karate and not play games all the time. We go over proper technique and form and stances and kata. We go over where to strike, how to strike, what part of the foot/hand to strike with, why we’re doing such things, when we can do them. We learn terminology, we learn sequences and combinations and do sparring drills. It’s a lot to teach two days a week for 45 minutes. So there’s really not a lot of time for games.

But I love games.

Games! It’s what the kids always remember. It’s never, oh hey, remember that time when you showed me back stance?! That was awesome! No, it’s always, can we play that ball game again? Or whatever we did last class? Of course, I am pleased they remembered anything about class at all so I’ll take it. I remember in karate class when I was a kid I liked games too. My favorite one was Crabwalk Wars. It was when everyone would scurry around the mats in a crab walk and try to sweep someone else’s foot so they’d fall down on their butt. Once your butt hit that mat you were out! Oh, it was vicious. But it was also so much fun. I’d love it to play it with my kids but I don’t trust them not to kick each other in the face, which is not really the point of the game, though it could be entertaining.

When I first started teaching I scoured the internet looking for a big bank of martial arts classroom games I could play. There are so out there. I think there’s even a book or two about teaching karate to kids, which is great. But I never found that site I was looking for, the one with tons of resources about great, educational, helpful karate drills/games to do with kids. If you know of such a place, please share. Or maybe everyone is keeping their own secrets!

So I decided to make up my own games. I’m kinda slow in creating them but I’ll keep thinking about it. I usually plan my lesson on the drive to karate but I keep it open. I never know when I’m going to have 5 kids or 20. I like to save the good stuff for the big class.

On Tuesday I woke up and I thought, I’m going to get some balloons. Why? Because they are fun! Also I wanted to see if I could blow them up because I had a problem with that. So I sat on the floor in the middle of the mats before class and blew up my balloons (with no problems, thank you very much!) and the kids swarmed around me, full of questions. I let them play with the balloons before class and it was just fun to see how something so simple could make them all so happy. The sad moment was when a balloon burst while I was blowing it up. I guess I put too much stank on it. Ouch.

Anyway, my grand idea was to have the kids fight the balloons. We went over fighting stance and how to move in that stance when sparring. Then the kids “sparred” the balloons, meaning I pitched the balloons at them and they had to strike! You never know where those crazy balloons are going to go. I urged them to step up to the balloons using the moves that we had just learned. It was pretty fun and it almost worked the way I wanted to. There were some good strikes, some good kicks and good movement. Of course, some of the kids missed the point entirely and were just swatting the balloons. But I just might try it again.

The next part was a battle royale of sorts. I’m a big fan of teams and although I worried that one kid might wake up in a cold sweat ten years from now thinking about the moment they were picked last in karate class I allowed the kids (well one kid and one of my assistants) to pick teams one by one. I think it went well with no hurt feelings. Then we had a contest to see which team could keep the balloons in the air (using only karate moves! ha) the longest. It was a close fight but one team prevailed and we all clapped and it was nice. I think the kids like being on teams going head to head for victory. Competition is a healthy part of karate. Competition with your peers and competition with yourself as well. It’s definitely something I want to continue with in my karate classes.

I’m going to play around with the balloon idea and see what else I can come up in the future. However, balloons cannot last forever. It might have been fun to throw sais and pop them that way but not really a good idea seeing that we were inside and all. In the end I let the teenagers used scissors and I said farewell to my latest teaching idea.

We’ll see what happens next week!