Preparing for Black Belt

ATA2.0

After six years of training, I’m finally going to test for my Black Belt in Taekwondo. I honestly thought I’d feel differently at this point.

Just after I started training, I had the chance to see a black belt test with our school. It was a small one, just two young men testing. They both did really well. That was no shock, though. Both were natural athletes who’d been training since grade school. Both were in their early teens. Both were dedicated to their art.

The test was intense. They did nine forms one after the other, then did 10 self defense techniques, sparred 10 Black Belts apiece, and broke boards. Then, they each read a short paper they’d written about their Taekwondo journey. That last one provoked tears, both in the audience and in the candidates. I’ve watched many tests since then, and they’re all long, intense, and kind of grueling. Our Master really treats the Black Belt Test like an entry into a bigger realm, one that requires specific skills and strengths beyond the purely athletic. Not everyone passes the first time around.

I expected to feel confident and ready in the weeks before my test. I expected to be bored with practicing my forms, board break techniques, and self defense. I thought the only part I’d be sweating was the fitness test, which happens sometime in the week before the Black Belt test. Ours will be a timed session in which we have to do 300 sit-ups, pushups, and kicking/punching techniques combined. I’m slower than the average bear, so the timed bit was what I thought would worry me. I’ve taken mock fitness tests a couple of times and scored well, but that was more than two years ago.

The last couple of years have been tough on my training. I’ve missed a lot of classes, gained weight and lost overall fitness, all thanks to exhaustion and hormonal flux. I’ve often wished I’d done this a decade ago, when I was a lot more stable than I am now. I’ve felt sorry for myself–which explains the weight gain right there!–and struggled with a host of conflicting emotions over taekwondo. On top of that, I twisted my knee a week ago practicing on of our self-defense moves. It’s not as serious as it could have been, but the healing process is achingly slow.

I’ve watched people who started after I did test and become black belts. I’m testing with a few who did just that, and it kind of feels like I’ve been robbed of my place in rank. It’s not fair they get to move forward so fast while I’m struggling for so long, I keep thinking. Yet, it’s not that I think they ought not test as much as I feel frustrated with my own progress. I don’t lack determination or will power; I lack physicality and a generally stable state of health in my body. I make good choices for myself–eat right, take the right herbs, do acupuncture and yoga regularly, sacrifice a lot for sleep and diet–yet I still struggle with extreme PMS and perimenopause that makes life in general a whole lot harder than I think it ought to be. I’ve checked with doctors and done tests, the whole nine yards, and I’m actually perfectly healthy for a woman of my age and constitution. This is just how it is, thank you very much.

So, here I am, just weeks away from my big test, still working on my forms and hoping I’ll remember every detail. (Doing them with a bum-knee really changes how my brain thinks about each move!) I’m still worried about remembering all the self-defense in the right order, but even more so I’m worried about my fitness. Will I do okay on the fitness test? Will I have enough stamina to spar 10 black belts in a row…or 12, which is the number the last group of black belt candidates got to face? Will my knee be well enough in time…and will I injure it all over again in the test? Will that fear totally mess me up during the test? Is this truly a young man’s sport, an arena in which I have no business being?

The worries are stacking up, fast. I’m struggling to stay focused, remember to breathe, and hold back enough to let my knee heal fully while not losing what ground I’ve gained in cardio and general stamina. You’d think at age almost 45 I’d be done sweating stuff like this. What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll fail? I can just take it again in a year, right? Nothing to worry about, right? Failure isn’t that bad. I’ve failed at stuff before. I’ll probably do okay, anyway, right?

The only part that doesn’t worry me is the paper. I may not be an award winning author, but I know I can turn a phrase or two well enough to get by and reading my work aloud is no big deal. The paper, I can do. At least there’s that.

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