The short version of this post is: I did it!
As of February 10, 2019, after intense practice, training and effort, I earned my 3rd dan black belt in ITF Taekwondo.
At any given time, I may doubt any of my TKD skills but I never doubt my perseverance.
If I am struggling with something, I will keep trying. I will keep exploring different ways to learn it. I will ask other people to break down how they do it. I will find a way to figure it out.
Even if I give up *for today* I don’t give up over all. Giving up for today is just me using a mental reaction force, moving backwards to add power to my next attempt.
In the last 18 months, I have had so many obstacles between me and this test and my perseverance was the only thing that kept me working at it.
That February Sunday was a long time coming.
I’m nervous for TKD tests in a way that I am never nervous about anything else.
The night before my test, I wrote:
“It’s 10:55pm and i have been filled with nervous anticipation all day. It’s not that I don’t think I can do this, it’s that it is so very important to me. It feels kind of like I am going on a trip and I have to pay attention to a lot of details and some aspects might be out of my control. I can *almost* convince myself that it’s excitement instead of nervousness.”
I woke up early on the morning of the test (the test at 2pm) and tried to fill my time with preparation and a little practice. I meditated and I visualized myself doing my patterns and breaking my boards.
By test time, I was both excited and nervous, there was no need to distinguish the two feelings. I tried not to overthink things* and I tried to just let my body do what it knew.
My patterns went pretty well.
I did overthink though and that caused my eyes to reflexively dart to the person next to me to ensure that I was doing the right move. Doing that makes me more nervous and I’ll be working on breaking that habit before my next test.
My individual pattern step-by-step went okay, too. Master D selected my most recent pattern (Juche). It’s a challenging one and even 6th dan black belts wince when they mention it.
Even though it’s a hard pattern, I’m glad she chose it because I knew there was no chance I would do it perfectly. Oddly, that freed me from my own expectations so, while I was still nervous, I wasn’t overthinking it as much as I would have been with an ‘easier’ pattern. (I wouldn’t be surprised if that was part of her reasoning for choosing that one.)
So, I couldn’t always pull up the name for each move right away but I worked most of them out. And I think I demonstrated a good understanding of the purpose and method of each one.
My drills and self-defense went okay and then we came to what I consider my real triumphs of this test: the board breaking.
When it comes to board breaks, I do okay with kicks that involve stepping in and I do okay with elbow or side-fist hand strikes. When the kicks or hand techniques involve choreography (i.e. multiple preparatory steps), I can get a bit tangled.
For my 1st and 2nd dan belt tests, I struggled with my spinning hook kick, my flying side kick, and my 360 back kick. We practice those in class but there is a psychological difference in kicking a pad and kicking a board and sometimes I haven’t been able to overcome that. Sometimes my kicks have been modified and sometimes I have done the right technique but at the wrong speed and just didn’t break the board.
This time, however, I did all three!
I am so very proud of myself for finally nailing those techniques. It took a lot of work and a lot of very specific practice and some personal adaptation (For example, I didn’t run up to the jump for the flying sidekick because I get my step pattern confused. So I moved slowly to the jump point and put my speed into the lift-off and kick. That meant that I couldn’t use the momentum of running to add to my power but I’ll work that in for next time.)
The only disappointing part of my test is that I didn’t break the boards for my hand technique. That technique called for me to jump up and forward and punch and break one board that is being held high and one being held about six inches below it before my feet landed back on the ground.
My punch is not my strongest technique and the practice I did was not close enough to the testing conditions, so I got distracted and didn’t apply my knowledge and skills properly. On my second attempt, I smashed my knuckles into the board and we didn’t want me to risk a serious injury.
Luckily, a failed board break is not a failed test. It happens to everyone.
I was disappointed in that one aspect but really pleased with my test overall. I had brought everything I had to it and no matter if I passed or failed at that point, I had done everything that I could.
I spoilered this at the beginning but just to say it again: I passed and was promoted to 3rd dan.
Now, I feel a little like when Santa returns to his workshop in the movie ELF and announces what a great Christmas this was and that it is time to start preparations for next year. The elves shout for joy and get back to the work they love.
So, for the past two weeks, I have been simultaneously celebrating my successful test AND getting back to the work I love so I can prepare for my 4th dan.
I have three years to train for that test. Let’s see how much better I can get!
*I had limited success with this. Overthinking is a well-honed skill for me.