Shodan / by Simon Abrams

With Shihan Alfred DiGrazia after the Black Belt Test

With Shihan Alfred DiGrazia after the Black Belt Test

Well, it's done. Those weeks of anxiety are over, the black belt test has come and gone, and I did it. And it was absolutely the hardest thing I've ever done. The physical aspect was grueling and unimaginably hard - I don't think I've ever sprinted, kicked, punched, burpeed, or done so many push-ups in my life. I have no idea if it's possible, but I think I might have sprained my diaphragm, I was gasping for air so hard. But the hardest part — by far — was not quitting. 20 minutes in, every part of my body was screaming for me to just sit down on the mat and stop. My head was spinning, I was panting for air, everything hurt like hell, it took all of my concentration to keep my balance and not fall over during kicking drills and kata… Every time Shihan said run, I wanted to flop down on the mat and tap out. During the kumite, I got knocked over (I tripped or lost my balance — really, I swear!) and lying there, even just for a few seconds, felt so damn good. But I got up.

Now, in retrospect, I'm kind of sad I didn't look stronger, and I couldn't have been more impressive in my fights. By the end I was just flailing and getting hit. But I know that's just the vain part of me thinking that. The whole point was for me to be utterly beyond running on empty by the time the fights came around, and that my real test was whether I'd quit or keep going.

I'm really proud that I didn't quit. I have a pretty strong competitive drive sometimes, especially against myself. But I couldn't have done it without the constant encouragement of Shihan Al, Sensei Allison, my fellow classmates, and the presence of both my former* senseis Brian and Edwin, and my wife Stephanie.

People have been asking me what's next. I'm going to keep training - I want to refine my technique, improve my form and my stamina, and maybe even start teaching. And I want to improve my fighting. I still get a little freaked out when sparring, so I need to be more relaxed and comfortable with that. The next level of black belt is a long road and many years away, though - I'm nowhere near being ready to even think about that at this point.

Most importantly, though, I want to remember exactly how every minute of that test felt, so I can remind myself that when things get hard, and my brain is yelling at me to give up, I can overcome that need to quit and that I can do anything I decide I want to do.

*Brian and Edwin will always be my teachers, so "former" probably isn't the right word - it's just that I don't currently train with them on a regular basis.