Just a quick Highlight video I did for one of my friends and training partners Midwood Martial Arts. This was a fun first attempt at editing in Adobe Premiere—I'm much more of a still image guy. I learned a lot, and look forward to learning more.
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.
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.