Sunday, September 16, 2012


On September 15th, 2012, I went on a cool trip I'm not gonna forget, to see the HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON Live Spectacular with the drama club.

    First, I was dropped off at the Pottstown Mont Co campus, and almost immediately met up with a few of my friends from the club and the few family members brought along for the ride. Twenty tickets had been available, but I think we had two extra cause two people bailed. I'm pretty sure...
    Anyway, we got on the shuttle bus parked right outside around four o'clock. We sat for a while 'cause a few of us ran late and we were supposed to wait till everyone was there. That already made it better than any random bus trip. The shuttle wasn't very big, maybe eight rows of seats on one side, so it was easier to interact with the others. That was key to more than half the trip, to tell ya the truth.
    See, it's about an hour ride from Pottstown to the Blue Bell campus, and then the same amount of time from there to the part of Philadelphia where the show was gonna be. And as college kids and immature (come on, let's be honest) for the most part, we needed to keep our minds occupied. So we would all just name a bunch of random/stupid topics and discuss, laugh, and just keep each other amused. It went on after we went to the Blue Bell campus to pick up a few others who were coming.
    The only really annoying part was, that thing in the back (behind the last row in my column of seats) that's apparently meant for handicaps, I don't know what it's called; for when someone in a wheelchair has to get on and off the bus-- anyway that thing and the rest of the shuttle would rattle loudly when we would hit a small bump, or pretty much anything. So we had to speak pretty loudly just to hear anything. None of us seemed to be the quiet type anyway, so it wasn't hard :)

    Now, we got to Philadelphia and parked around ten after six, and then it got confusing. About half of us went somewhere to eat, while me and the others went straight to the door of the huge building to get our tickets scanned. It was pretty crowded, so I'm glad I went with them.
   After the tickets, then it got kinda scary. The escalator we took to get to the section of the theatre where our seats were, it was so high. Literally, one gigantic lobby with two escalators and two extra stories on the left side.. So we were going up a three-story-high escalator. I had to shut my eyes just to avoid freaking out. I was relieved when we got to the top. We walked around the long hallway and balconies upstairs, seeing the city from there. When we found a doorway labeled 202 and 203, we walked through it and into the "theatre." Or should I say "stadium"?

    Yeah! It was so freakin' huge, and we were on the third level of seats. THE THIRD LEVEL! So we were incredibly high and it was scaring the crap out of me. I did pretty well of not showing it very much except saying a couple times calmly that the height scared me quite a bit. Ads played in lights at the base of the third level, and it would make me jumpy when they would switch between ads 'cause for about a second it would get dark and then bright again. Not all of us were in our seats right away so I was able to slip out and wander the upstairs 'lobby' for a while until about ten to seven o' clock. I made my way back to my seat and finally relaxed. Took a few minutes, though.. Especially when the show finally started.
   IT WAS INCREDIBLE! Ok, three quarters of the stadium were the seats, and the last bit was covered by black curtains and a giant screen. The floor was covered by a giant screen too, so it look like am Imax theatre or something. Besides the screen, the actors did a good job with the combat, weapons, and riding the dragons-- OH MY GOD THE DRAGONS! If you couldn't see the bases that were attached and making them move, you'd swear they were real. Pretty much every detail was exact in terms of how they all looked and sounded. I had never seen anything like it before, nor did I ever guess that I would. A bunch of people in the audience were taking pictures, so I took out my phone a few times to get some shots (unfortunately my phone takes really crappy pictures so I didn't have a lot of luck). There was a twenty-minute intermission around eight, and by then the huge windows were black and the lobby and halls looked a lot brighter 'cause of the darkness outside.
    After the show, we walked out of the stadium and most of us were together. The rest of us would meet at the bus later. Going back down the escalator was easy, and we just walked straight out and got back on the shuttle bus, taking our seats and waiting for the others. When they finally got on and were seated, the bus lights turned off and we could hardly see each other but we could see the lights outside, which actually made it a bit easier to see each other.

    The ride back, holy crap it was awesome. It was like the ride to the theatre, except we were even more obnoxious. A bunch of the things we talked about led to me and couple of the guys singing a bunch of random songs and making fools of ourselves, laughing like crazy and just being goofballs. The driver asked us to quiet down a little (twice, I think). One of the guys brought up an "Epic Rap Battles of History" video (on his phone) of Albert Einstein vs Steven Hawking, which we hovered over and listened intently. He was sitting behind me so I had to stand up and hang onto my seat.
    I remember at one point he said we actually look better in the dark, and we all laughed at that.
    It went on like that till we got back to the Pottstown campus between 11:30 and midnight. I just waited a minute or so until most of the others left 'cause I didn't wanna leave right away. But when I did, mom and dad were right there in the car. So I didn't have to sit around for another twenty minutes or so.
    Overall, it was one of the best theatre experiences I've ever had, and not I'm not just talking 'bout the show.

PS If I see the show again someday (I'm pretty sure I will), lower seats PLEASE!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"I finally did it!"

I am sitting cross-legged on the gym mat floor. To my left is the wall painted like the American flag, and on the other side is a giant mirror. Directly in front of me is a table with a few candles, a pile of small rocks, and an incense burner. Thankfully it masks the smell of the SUBWAY on the other side of the wall.
    I am in the middle of the first row of many, maybe six or seven rows of three going down the gym. The rest of them who I see are barely older than twelve, some of them younger. Some of them are relaxed like me, but not many. Most of them are screwing around with the candles in front of them and making jokes. Don't get me wrong, I love jokes. But when it gets annoying and a bit disruptive, part of me says "Just don't get involved." But when they say something I actually find funny, I look over my shoulder to them and laugh or comment lightly.
    In front of each of us is a small plate with a little round candle, and for each of us, our Black Belts. To just look at mine and be that close to it is amazing. I have to grip my knees tightly just to resist grabbing it.

 At six, one of the instructors lights the other small candles laid out at the edges of the gym, and the ones in front of the other instructors sitting in front of the table. There are seven of them in a row, and Mr Morgan is in the middle, sort of facing me. The lights then go out, and the music player under the table (covered by white tablecloth) is playing a narration apparently by Haeng Ung Lee, the Eternal Grandmaster.

    My row of three is supposed to walk up to the instructors and we light our own candles by holding them to the instructors'. I light mine using Mr Morgan's, and I can feel my pulse pounding inside my head as I do it. It takes me a few tries and am sort of afraid I'll drop out or that it will go out before I go back to my spot. But when I sit back down with the lit candle, I am relieved.

   When it is over, Mr Morgan tells us to blow out our candles, and after a few moments, the first boy on my left is brought up to the front with his Black Belt. He takes his Red-Black Belt off and Mr Morgan ties on the black one. He says the boy's name, everyone claps, and then he shakes the instructors' hands before...

I am called up. Mr Morgan whispers a few congratulations to me while he ties on the belt, and asks if I'm gonna end up running the Pottstown school. Since I might as well, I say yes and then he says it to Mr Wolfel, one of the owners.

"First Degree Black Belt, Mr. Derek Bartlett."
   There is clapping, I shake a few hands, and I walk back to my spot. From a distance or up close, the Black Belts look bigger than colors belts, and that's cause they are. They're thicker by about half an inch, and maybe twice as long so you have to wrap it around once and then knot it. Mr Morgan tied it on very tightly around my stomach above my waist where I normally tie my belt on, so it takes me a minute to get used to that.
   One one end of my belt, my name DEREK BARTLETT is written in gold letters. On the other end I think it says "American Taekwondo Association" in Korean. When I watch the other kids get their (First Degree, and some others getting their Second Degree) Black Belts, I can't help but smile and help cheer them on. 'Cause that's what they need, motivation and encouragement.

  After we are all given our belts, Mr Morgan walks around giving each of us a stone. Not like any stone I have ever seen. I focus on the one in my hand, feeling it smoother than almost anything I've touched, and it has cracks in different places. Mr Morgan goes on to explain how it symbolizes the whole path we each took, learning Taekwondo. There have been smooth spots along the way and some rough ones, he says. And I couldn't agree with him more. But most of the stone is smooth, which is the way I have viewed it. Some rough spots, but it is worth it overall. The candles, we keep as well.
    Finally able to wear the belt that I have seen hanging on a wall in the lobby for nearly three years, it feels amazing (despite the fact that it's squeezing my stomach right now, lol). I've come this far, working hard. Here's my prize, and my ability to keep going with my training. I FINALLY DID IT! I'M A BLACK BELT NOW!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Black Belt Testing Part I and II

PART I: The Fitness and Knowledge Test

It was nerve-wracking just getting there 'cause it was on a Thursday I had to miss one of my evening classes at Mont Co to get there. Thankfully I can always make it up later. Anyway, I had my uniform and gear bag in my mom's car so we could go straight to the Exeter school straight from campus. When we got there and I was able to change into my white uniform, the test(s) started in the gym/studio.

First: The knowledge test. They had two-page packets separated by thick binders so no one could see each others'. I was relieved to find out it was a written test instead of being asked the questions right then and there, 'cause you gotta answer in about a second. This time I could think a little. I was worried I had gotten about two of them wrong, but when I got it back, it was a hundred percent! :)

Second: The fitness test. There were five stations set up, each one being watched by a Black Belt, and they were all different. We were each supposed to carry a small piece of paper that the Black Belt at each station could write down how many of each exercise we did. The first station was crunches, which I liked. Now, the second was pushups. You had to go down low enough to make a pad squeak, or it didn't count as one. So i did about twenty-three, very painfully. The third station was punches on a pad, which I didn't mind except I was close to worn out and my knuckles were getting sore. No bruising or anything, though. The next station was kicks, and I was really getting worn out there. The last one was punches and kicks on a bag, and by the time I was done I was beat. Literally, when I had to slide myself over a few feet to move the line when more students went through the stations, I had to drag myself and then I'd fall in a heap. I'm so glad the rest of us were sitting instead of standing. The muscle pain was gone but I literally felt like a heap, my limbs little more than noodles and my head full of rocks.

After that we did a twenty-minute workout, and then we were dismissed after being told that the hard part was over. You have no idea how thirsty I was.

PART II: The Test

I didn't have college the next day (Friday) except in the morning, so I wouldn't have to miss anything. This time, my stomach was knotting for hours 'cause of the nerves, but I was thankful to just get it all over with. Ok, so here's how it went. Me and my parents go to the rec center where my other belt tests have been, and it was SO hot! I'm not joking, it was boiling and there were four giant fans set up. The only ay to get cooled off was to stand in front of one of them, or go downstairs to the basement where it was a bit chilly. At six when all the recommended Black Belts like me (and not to mention first, second and third degree Black Belts) were there, we were all lined up and then we all were put in a corner with our gear bags and the two wooden boards we were each given. They had our names written on them in black marker (they spelled mine wrong on one of them! It said Derrick B. instead) to not get mixed up, thank god.

The Black Belt tested, and it took a while cause there would be six of them on the floor at a time. Eventually, me and the other Red-Blacks tested for form and self-defense. When that was over, we all got our sparring gear on, which got us even MORE hot and sweaty. I was relieved when I finally got to spar against one of my friends from the Exeter school (I go to the Pottstown school, but in the summer last year I went to the Exeter for a while), 'cause I didn't wanna sit and stand around in line anymore.

We were dismissed from sparring and then the Black Belt tested for their board-breaks, which of course, involved real wooden boards. Me and the others sat on the floor watching, and for a bunch of the Black Belts, we clapped (and stomped, that "We Will Rock You" beat, which at one point I started by stomping with my feet and clapping) and cheered when the boards were successfully broken.

Finally, it was my turn. I handed the boards to both holders, readied myself, and then, CRACK! I split the first board clean through with my right forearm, and then I went to the other one to kick. Unfortunately I couldn't break it. But the cool thing is, those of us who couldn't break were given another chance after were were all done. So when I finally got to go again, my right foot shot straight through the wood, something I had never guessed would be possible for me.

I had never sweated that much in my life. We don't get our new belts until some ceremony on Thursday, and thankfully we don't need our weapons/gear bags. It's at six, ("Of all days of the week, WHY THURSDAY?!") so I will need to make that up, too. It shouldn't be too hard. Plus, the hard part is over, so I'm ready.