Friday, March 25, 2016

2nd Degree PART 2- The Ceremony

Thursday March 24th.
This was the day of the ceremony, and it was at the Pottstown ATA school at 7pm.
That, of course, meant I had to miss my 3:55 class at Mont Co. If I waited till afterwards to leave, I'd be late for sure. That was a risk I was NOT willing to take. I hadn't missed a single class this semester, so I could just use this as one of my free absences.
I couldn't miss my early morning class though, which was ok since the digital photography class is more enjoyable. Plus my girlfriend Jenny wanted to come to the ceremony by taking the 3pm shuttle from main campus, so this way I could meet up early and take the shuttle to west campus (closer to home) together.

Jenny had brought her camera, so before leaving home in the evening we took family-of-four pictures with me in my uniform. I'm still not the most patient when it comes to posing for photos, but at least there weren't very many.

We arrived at the ATA school plenty early, so the four of them could get decent seats in the small lobby. The place was decorated with the big flags hanging from the ceiling, a small table with a decorative cloth (and incense burner) on it, and spread out neatly on the floor were everybody's new black belts; each with a small plate and candle sitting behind it. My Second Degree Black Belt, with my name sewn in red letters, was in the second row. The first row was solely my friend Riley. It was all in alphabetical order so we sat right where we were supposed to.

Since we'd gotten there early and the other kids (I was the second-oldest seated there in front of the instructors) were all sitting with our neatly folded belts, I passed the last ten minutes or so by talking to a couple of them.

Finally, it all got started just before seven. There was some tranquil music/sounds playing, most of the lights were out, and the other instructors took turns lighting the candles in front of them from Mr. Morgan's candle. After that, Riley lit his. Then my row of three went up to light our candles from the instructors' directly in front of us.
While that was going on, the sounds playing went into a narration of Eternal Grandmaster Haeng Un Lee reading the Scrolls of Songahm (here's the link so you can read what it said). We sat there listening to him speak, practically still as statues. Sometimes I'd look straightforward, later shift my eyes to the floor or to the now-lit candle in front of me.

The Songahm Scroll thing lasted maybe five minutes. We blew out our candles, and Mr. Morgan gave us a really good pep talk before calling each of us to come forward. One by one, starting with my friend Riley, we each grabbed our new belts from where they sat in front of us, walked up to Mr. Morgan, and he tied the new belts on us as the old ones lay across our shoulders. After that, we shook hands with the instructors and cheered on the other students who received their new belts; first and second-degrees alike.
One of my classmates from the adult class, I remembered (in fact a LOT of us remembered) had tested on Saturday with a broken foot. She was called out positively for that, and applauded louder than others for that black belt attitude and motivation. She also received a bouquet of flowers from her parents right then and there when she got her First Degree Black Belt tied on.

 When we were all seated again, there was another thing Mr. Morgan gave us with our candles; A ROCK. Very symbolic, it was. We would feel the rock and he'd ask us about how it felt. Rough, and smooth. Just like the taekwondo journey, and life even. Some smooth easy spots here and there but also a lot of rough ones.
Just some food for thought there...

PICTURE TIME! After the ceremony (it was less than a half hour, I was pretty surprised) we all got into group pictures, making poses, smiles, fighting stances, GRRR faces and so forth. Didn't go on long though and nobody was picky. Later I took some family pictures, took a couple with Jenny and with Mr. Morgan too.

All in all, successful and feeling-accomplished evening :) took FOREVER, but I've made it another belt rank up.

Monday, March 21, 2016

2nd Degree PART 1- The Tests

Well, first off, on March 19th I had to get up at 7am just to have breakfast and make it to the elementary school early enough.
We were having our taekwondo tests in the gym that morning. It was for both the ATA students testing for full belt rank (like me) and those who were mid-terming. As a result we got quite a few, a couple dozen I think. Most of them were kids younger than twelve years old, though me and a few of my adult class friends were also there to test. I practiced my 81-move form once before it all started, making sure I knew which direction to turn in when doing the kicks, blocks and so forth. It helped me to sort of visualize (or half-visualize) the ATA school that I was so used to practicing in; like "ok so the waiting room would be over there, the flag wall over there..." that sort of thing so I didn't get disoriented. God knows that's happened plenty of times in midterms, to my slight embarrassment.
Getting there roughly a half hour early gives you time to warm up and practice, which we all needed.

Ok, SO... after the instructors got us all warmed up and ready, the rest of us who were full rank testing went from the gym down the hall to the cafeteria. That was where we took the written knowledge test, and I was afraid I wasn't going to get them all right. My best guess was I got an 80 or 70 or something, since a few of those questions were the in-depth kind I was pretty unprepared for. I was told not to worry about spelling, but still. I wished all the questions were multiple choice instead of having a bunch of them open-ended.
On the upside, this woman who was rank testing for First Degree Black had brought along packs of Smarties, and me and some of the kids had some. Mr. Morgan had said in class the other day it's a good trick to have candy so you can have sugar rush when you spar together. Smart guy. I wasn't gonna say "no way" to that idea! I'm not usually one to turn down free candy if it's the kind I like.

Doing my form was simple enough, 'cause I kept in mind which direction I'd be facing if I was doing this in the ATA school. I didn't bother taking my time with it (you're not really supposed to go slow anyway, long as you're doing the techniques right), since going slow would just make me overthink it and slow me down. Once that was done, the same thought ran through my mind as it always did after finishing my form; "Hard part's over."
I'm always ready to get that part out of the way since it's the  more complicated.

Looking at my sparring gear, I knew I would need to get new hand gear and a new chest guard soon since they were ripping in places. In fact I got the sleeve of my dobaq/uniform caught in the rip in my chest guard when I was trying to get it over my head.
Sparring takes a lot of energy out of you because you're constantly moving and trying to do more than just a simple punch and a kick. I mean, it's instinct to do the simpler stuff, but you get more points (thus a higher chance of passing the test) if you do more advanced moves, combinations, things like that. I tried doing more of those, and it turned out ok, but the thing that annoyed me was the fact that my feet kept slipping and sliding around on the polished wood floor.
At least it was only two rounds. But nonetheless it was tiring and I was relieved to take off my gear. Well, the chest guard and helmet anyway...

I needed to keep the hand gear and foot gear on for the board-break portion of the test.
Now THAT may have been my favorite part of the test. Why? 'Cause unlike my midterms and first Black Belt test, I managed to break BOTH BOARDS on the first try!
videoIn the past, it's always taken me two tries to break one of them. But this time I got both of them. One kick, one hammer fist. That hammer fist especially felt good. I put so much power and energy into it that I just let out this loud karate yell--- not even a karate yell (we call them "ki-haps"), more of a  ROAR like some vicious animal. I'm not gonna lie, it feels awesome to do that.

Then came the real gut-check; The FIT TEST!
There were five big pads set up, like five stations, and each one had a student volunteer to hold or sit by it while the testing Black Belts did their stuff. At each pad there would be two students who, one at a time, would do the exercises they had to (each lasting a minute). Good thing we got to take turns that way, 'cause it was rigorous and God knows each of us needed a rest.
1) First, a minute of pushups. Now a minute doesn't seem like much at first. But when you start pumping these pushups out, and your arms and core ache like crazy, you realize "oh wait, it's a full minute" and it feels like forever! Quite a few times I needed to drop a knee for a few seconds before continuing. It probably wasn't as many times as I thought, but it was enough to annoy me and make me feel weaker than I really am.
There was this quote I remembered from Navy SEAL Morgan Luttrell leading people in pushups, saying "I'm not gonna stop 'cause it hurts, I'll stop when I'm done!" My minute wasn't up yet, so I wasn't going to stop. Take a couple-second breather, sure, but no way was I gonna drop and not get up again.

2) Then, after the kid behind me did his pushups and I got my minute to rest, came the mountain climbers (no sit-ups on a hardwood floor). Those were pretty killer too, really working my core as well as the legs. Again I let my leg, or legs, down a few times before continuing on. Still powered through it best I could, though.

3) Third, it was a jab and reverse punch on the pad. So the kid in front of me who was sitting behind the pad from the beginning had to hold it for me. I didn't bother counting how many I did. I just kept the pace and rhythm going best I could, and doing them quickly. Your goal is to get as many as possible, in each field of this test. At least she was motivating me along with the instructors cheering us on.

4) After that, you do a round kick. I did this portion with just my right leg 'cause I knew I'd be doing more kicks later. That was still super tiring.

5) The last portion of the test was a combination of the last two; jab, reverse punch, round kick. This time I did the kicks with my left leg and led the punches with my right fist instead of the left. That gave each limb a precious second in between to rest, but still I had to just pound these things out!
For each of these exercises the instructors were going around giving us a "let's go, let's go" kind of motivation. It was positive, not harsh or anything. Just tough to follow when you're getting more tired with each kick or punch. After my minute was up, each time I'd be standing with my hands on my knees behind the other kid taking his turn. It was SUCH a relief to have that brief rest.

The fit test was the last thing. Mr. Morgan gave a speech, handed a certificate and some platinum medal to one of the younger students, then he and the other instructors bowed us out and we were dismissed.
When dad gave me a big clap on the back my mindset was (pretty comically looking back at it now) "ah, don't do that, I'm gonna fall over!" Thankfully on the way home, me, mom and dad made a stop at Dunkin Donuts. This was one of those times where I'd earned that cup of hot soothing coffee. Hear me? EARNED IT!