Earned, never given. A phrase we hear quite often to instill upon us the level of difficulty a particular achievement is.
I have earned something I never thought I would. I have earned a Black Belt in Taekwondo. Yes, martial arts is hard. Everyone knows that it isn’t easy to go learn these kicks, and forms. It takes discipline, dedication, and lots of hard work. Something a lot of people don’t know, it takes passion, it takes desire, and it takes every single ounce of energy you may have on each and every day.
I started my journey in June of 2014. I went to a ground self defense class at our local dojang. I really enjoyed it. So I signed up for a trial 2 weeks of Taekwondo. We also signed our daughter up . My 2 other partners at the time were already in TKD at this school. After the first class I was ready to commit to a 6 month contract. Just wanted to see how I would do. By the 3rd month and after receiving my green Stripe, I was ready to go all in.
As I progressed, I made friends in the dojang. Teammates. and we encouraged each other, helped each other, and started to form what we now call “Team P” When we all hit Blue Belt together, we knew the 6 of us would not quit. We were there 3 days a week, no matter what. Sometimes, I wonder just how much I was going to support my team mates and how much I was going for myself. There were days we were in tears of pain, tears of joy, and tears of exhaustion. Yet, we never quit on ourselves, or each other.
Personally, I have suffered 3 major injuries along the way. I rolled my ankle the first time in sparring drills so badly I had to be carried off the mat. The second time it was the other ankle. Those kept me off the mat for a couple weeks at a time, but I healed and came back strong. The last was the worst. I pulled my lateral groin muscle. More about this in a bit.
Along the way we participated in tournaments. My first was the Yong In Presidential Cup. It was an international level event. I participated in one event- Board Breaking. I place 2nd in my weight and Belt class. I was very happy with that and learned a lot from the experience. The next tournament I participated in was smaller.
Master Ha’s Tournament. By this time I was a Black stripe and I was very confident in my skills. I had Joined the Adult Sparring team and was now attending classes 5 days a week. It was October 2015 and the tournament was on Halloween. Two weeks prior, I was in Sparring class, and we were doing core and leg drills, affectionately known in our group as “oh S**T Im gonna die” Drills. They consisted of crunches, side crunches and A.B,C’s. (leg lifts at different intervals, 90 degrees, 45, and 15. ) It was during one of these ABC drills that I felt my groin pull happen. It was like my inner upper thigh and extreme lower abs had been lit on fire. I couldn’t lift my leg. After the drills I could barely walk. I decided to take a couple weeks off and rest it before the tournament. My master agreed that was the best decision.
In Master Ha’s tournament, I was to compete in Poomsae (forms), Board Breaking and Sparring. My board breaks were Knife Hand Strike and Flying Side Kick. My Form, Pal Jang (Red Belt Form). And my sparring match was the last event of the day. I was still sore but I thought it was manageable. I took my Aleve and had on muscle tape, and icy hot. I was ready. Board breaking, 1st place, Poomsae, 2nd Place. Feeling good about my day I went in to sparring pumped and ready. After the first round we were tied at 3. Halfway through the second round I got racked by a kick and could not recover. He won 6-3. And my groin was in extreme pain. I went home after that and questioned my ability to return on time for black belt testing in March. I was only a single Black Stripe. 2 belts away from Black.
By the end of November, I still was hurting and I went to my doctor, who confirmed my thoughts of a torn groin muscle. It was minor, but he said to stay off of it for 6-8 weeks. THAT’S 2 MONTHS! I knew I wouldn’t make it for sure now. I had decided to just wait till September. I went to Double Black testing to support my team mates, I watched as they learned and went on without me.
By mid January I was feeling better not 100% but better, and I had been doing some light workouts at home. I went to class for the first time in almost 3 months and I realized how much I missed it. being on the mat with my team mates and that feeling of togetherness was great. Everyone welcomed me back with hugs and high fives. It was great. I was talking to one of the front office staff after class one evening that first week. And she asked me if I was able to come to class, and make testing in March. I wanted to. But I wasn’t sure it was possible. She said, If you can commit and do the work , I will make sure you test with your team in March. It would be a shame to miss it.” I told her I would think about it and let her know at the next class.
I went home and thought hard about it . If I were to agree to this it would mean doing 4 months of work in 1 and a half months. A seemingly impossible task. It wasn’t something to think lightly about. This meant giving up my social life, going to class 6 and 7 days a week sometimes 2-3 classes a day. But the reward would be testing with the people I had trained with for almost 2 years. So I agreed to the challenge. I wanted to prove to everyone that I was ready. My first Belt test was for Double black at the end of January. Then four hour class. OH GOD FOUR HOUR CLASS. that was brutal. and painful. But I survived.
February came time to relearn my initial 4 forms and perfect my spinning kick. ( Im not a big fan of this kick). I went to so many classes in February. LOL I think I was in class more than I was at home. 🙂 I was pushing hard . Then I made my 1st maintenance test a teh end of February. I was starting to believe that this was going to be possible to do. But I couldn’t miss anything. Any stumble, injury, loss of focus…. I would be out. done. Second four hour class came and It was not as bad as the first. We learned our self defense partners and started choreography.
Second maintenance testing was in 3 weeks. Then 2 weeks later was Black belt testing. Talk about cutting it close. I was on a razor thin time table. No Mistakes. I made it through 2nd testing and was well on my way. Finally It seemed as if I could breath a little easier.
Black belt testing day……. I was fine till I sat on the mat in the waiting area. then it hit. All the pressure, all the nerves all at once. Would I stumble? Would I remember the forms? That darn Spinning kick still isnt right. Self defense should be fun though. Im called up … I do my thing….Break 2 toes while doing my forms. I didnt even realize I had broken one of them until I got home and saw the bruising. LOL. Self defense, that was a lot of fun! Board breaking time, Knife hand, Break! Spinning kick, 2nd try…. FLying side kick, nailed it (again… this is my favorite kick).
We are awarded our uniforms and Poome Belts. It’s done. We made it. After 20 months of training our journey has only just begun. Becoming a Black belt only means you are ready to begin your training in the art. You have mastered the basics. Now the real work begins. I cant wait till I am back on the mat. Ready to bow into class, and start learning Koroi.
The moral of my story and my lesson learned is this, If you want it, do whatever it takes to earn it. Earning a black belt is NOT EASY. This was the single most difficult task I have ever undertaken in my life. When I was injured, I considered giving up. But I didn’t. I fought on. Because it was important, because I wanted it, because it was worth it.