Black Belt - 1st Dan
The week before Thanksgiving I did my Black Belt test. Somebody in the comments section asked me if I passed. If you make it to the Black Belt test, you're not failing. You've made it that far because you met all the training requirements, including a 24 hour fast, a three hour meditation and successfully passed four other tests (gup tests). I suppose it's possible screw up so badly at the Black Belt test that they make you do it over again. However that would mean pulling the all-time choke job.
I actually was pretty relaxed going into the test. I think I was more nervous during the four gup tests I had done in the last year. I think that's because I never knew what I would have to do. I would be told I would be doing certain color belt forms, but most times I ended out doing other ones instead. It often depended what color belts were testing at the same time. For this test we knew exactly what forms and one-step sparring routines we would do and we knew what type of breaks we would do.
Everything I did leading up to board breaking had gone well. I didn't mix up the forms and I remembered all the defensive moves in the one-step sparring. In the picture below I'm completing the take down move of this particular sequence.
After all the forms and sparring, Grandmaster Kim had us doing pushups, situps, some endurance drills of 100 punches and then 100 kicks. The 100 kicks are particularly exhausting. In the picture below I'm doing the 100 punches. If you look at the picture you'll notice I'm the lone adult on that one row. That's what happens when you're the shortest adult test candidate. There were 5 people in each row. With 14 children there three row of kids, but I filled out the last spot in the last row of kids.
Fortunately in Tae Kwon Do I don't have to compete against kids like I do in chess. Given my "success" in chess against kids I found it kind of amusing that I would be the one adult in the row of little kids. There were two teenage kids in the row behind me. Teenagers are treated like adults in these tests.
By my feet is the board that I was supposed to break using a speed chop. I hold the board in one hand and break it with the other hand. The Monday before the test we had a board breaking class. In that class I nailed my breaks. The speed chop and back kick breaks I did on my first try. The spinning hook kick break took a few tries. However that was vast improvement over the previous month where I had a lot of difficulty with it.
Notice everyone else is watching because they're all done.
For what ever reason I could not do the speed chop on the first try. Nor could I do it on the second, third or 4th try. Each attempt got me more flustered and my focus was rapidly vanishing. Finally they held the board and had me attempt the chop. I still couldn't do it. They finally had me do a hammer fist break. The hammer fist break is the most basic break. That's the break a new student does in the trial lesson. It's also the break that a newbie does in his first belt test. Here I am having to resort to that break to do a hand break. Note: Last week in board breaking class I once again nailed it on the first try.
Once the speed chop went awry I could not get my focus back to perform the back kick and spinning hook kicks. Again I was the last one to finish. I eventually got the back kick done but they held up two children's boards instead of the regular board. The spinning hook kick did not happen at all. That's a kick I have difficulty with even under normal circumstances. Under pressure to perform I couldn't do it.
What happened during that portion of the test reminds me of some of my chess meltdowns. It's hard for me to get back on track when I'm still thinking about what happened before. Since taking up Tae Kwon Do I have found many similarities in the mind skills necessary for chess and martial arts. The same type of concentration and focus is needed to progress and be successful in both. As I discovered in this test, the loss of focus or inability to move on can disrupt one's form in Tae Kwon Do just as much as it can in chess. I know doing a martial art has helped me in chess though at times my results don't necessarily reflect it. I've been working on a post reflecting on my Black Belt training and preparation and how it compares to chess training. I will finish it eventually!
This picture was taken at the Black Belt Tea Ceremony that was held several weeks after the test. One does not receive the new black belt at the test like one does for color belts. Instead there is a waiting period and then this formal ceremony where you are presented your belt. It's a lovely ceremony and steeped in much Korean tradition. Grandmaster Kim ties each belt first around his waist and then around the recipient's waist. The reason behind this is a symbolic gesture of the bond between teacher and student. The teacher being loyal to his student and his student being loyal to her teacher.
I started this post Wednesday night. I continued working on it sitting in the airline lounge at JFK yesterday evening. I'm finishing it in between rounds at the National K-12 Championships in Orlando. I will be taking pictures for Chess Life Online and also writing another article for Chess Life. Come back for the adventures of Polly the chess journalist. Getting to the airport was just the beginning of my adventures. Stay tuned.