Just over six years of martial arts training will culminate one week from today, when I will be testing for my black belt (shodan) at Midwood Martial Arts and Family Fitness Center.
When I was a kid I wanted to take karate lessons, but I never bothered to ask my dad about it - I just assumed he'd say no (looking back, I honestly don't know why I assumed that). I happened to mention that childhood desire off-handedly to my boss one day, and in a case of pure coincidence (aka serendipity), her husband had just opened a karate school in Brooklyn. He gave me one free class (it was a slow day, so it was just me and him), and from then, I've been hooked.
You a fan, a phony, a fake, a pussy, a Stan I still whip your ass, you thirty-six in a karate class You Tae-bo ho, tryna work it out, you tryna get brolic Ask me if I'm tryna kick knowledge - Nas, Ether
There's a recurring joke in our culture about grown men taking karate classes - I don't really get it. It's such a good workout, no matter how old you are, and beats hanging around waiting for some gym rat to get finished with the dumbells. Plus, you learn some usable self-defence skills. I won't claim to be the toughest guy in the world, but at least I know I can get punched - hard - and it won't shock me into paralysis. I'll hit back.
Back to my black belt test: I'm terrified. I keep having little minor panic attacks about every possible aspect of the test. Will I get enough sleep? What should I eat beforehand? I hope I don't get a nervous stomach and have to run to the bathroom before the test. Will I be able to make it through the conditioning portion of the test? What about the fights (kumite)? There are black belts coming in from at least two other states to help with my test. I will have to fight all of them, multiple times, over the three-hour duration of the test.
The reality of it is I know my teacher, Shihan Alfred, wouldn't even have me test if he didn't think I was ready. The noise I'm hearing in my brain is just that - noise. And a big part of what we learn in karate is how to face our challenges, and to have faith in ourselves and our abilities. In fact, it's all right there in our dojo kun (mantra):
You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
That quote comes from the great philosopher Winnie the Pooh.
I'll check in again in a week or so to record my post-test thoughts. By then, if all goes well, I'll be sporting the black belt, and will have completed the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life.