The short version of this post goes like this:
I did it! I just earned my 4th degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo!
The longer version goes like this:
After deciding that I was going to be bold about my test, something shifted in how I was preparing. I stopped trying to do things perfectly and started trying to do them well, started trying to feel more comfortable with my movements.
For me, being bold wasn’t about pretending I wasn’t nervous, it was about forging ahead anyway, about showing up with everything I had.
I had a few little spots of worry on Saturday when I just couldn’t make small sections of a few patterns work but I reached out to my TKD friends for reassurance and recruited my husband and my eldest son to help me.
My husband watched a YouTube video of one pattern while I was practicing it in the living room and let me know when my movements didn’t match. My son sat with my pattern instruction book in hand and read me the descriptions of certain sections so I could be sure I was moving correctly.
Overall though, I was far less nervous than I usually am. Deciding to be bold was one factor in that and the changes in my ADHD meds since my last test is definitely another but I also think that I am finally reaching the point in my training where things are coming together for me. I am more easily able to explain the purpose of my movements and I can more clearly see the connections between the theory and the practice in TKD.
That’s not to say that I am doing everything perfectly nor that I am applying my theory to every movement. Everyone in TKD is still a student, just some have more practice than others. As a 4th degree black belt (!) I am more advanced than many but I still have lots to learn.
Usually the morning before one of my tests would be a complete blur of nervousness and practice and stress. This time, though, I decided that my only practice would be to read the movement descriptions for my last three patterns. Instead of practicing and then hyperfocusing on small mistakes, I did yoga and meditated and drew a magic symbol on my wrist.
When I was testing for lower ranks, I used to do things like dyeing a strip of my hair and/or paint my nails the colour of my upcoming belt. For my last few tests, I have painted just my thumbnails black (to remind me to focus), but this time I drew a B for bold on my wrist and then put a star and a spiral next to it.
A black belt test has a lot to it. I had 18 patterns to do (luckily two students were testing for 5th degree so I didn’t have to do any of the patterns alone at that point), then we did step-sparring (a coordinated attack/defense demonstration), self-defense, endurance drills, and a solo step-by-step demonstration of a pattern identifying the purpose of each movement. After all of that, we try to break some boards.
I did not do my patterns perfectly. Throughout the pandemic, we stopped doing the loud, rhythmic breathing that helps us execute our movements effectively, as well as keeping us all on track. I haven’t even been practicing with it much at home because I was afraid that I would unconsciously use it during class when I wasn’t supposed to. We have only recently gone back to including the breath sounds and we’re a little out of practice with it. And, it turns out, I have been practicing my movements just a little too slowly. The combination trying to speed up a little, adding my own breathing and being able to hear everyone threw me off a little in a few early patterns and then REALLY threw me off for my newest ones.
Since I was concentrating on remembering the movements and remembering to breathe loudly, I didn’t have enough mental space to ALSO choose to ignore everyone else’s breathing and movements. ADHD, after all, is not actually a deficit of attention, it is (among other things) an inability to decide where your attention should be focused. Between nervousness, the challenge of performing newish patterns with an audience while being graded on them, and the addition of the breath factor, I didn’t have the capacity to tune other people out.
But thanks to my instructors’ patience, and a healthy dose of perseverance for all concerned, we got through (and, for the record, I wasn’t the only one making mistakes, which was a comfort.) And even though I was a little slow in my movements, I did my final pattern effectively and I was VERY proud as I shouted the pattern name (Choi Yong) after the last move.
I felt sharp and purposeful for the step-sparring and self-defense and drills, and I was happy with my step-by-step pattern but I was THRILLED with my board breaking.
I did a speed-break hook kick, a 360 back kick, a flying side kick (with a slight modification to minimize jumping), a middle twist kick, and then…and then…
I BROKE A BOARD WITH A PUNCH!
At my very first board-breaking test (about 8 years ago), I tried a punch for my hand-technique but I didn’t coordinate all the elements of the movement properly and I really hurt my knuckles. Since then, I have broken boards with my elbow and my knife-hand (the side of your flattened hand) and my sidefist (aka – the side of your fist) but I couldn’t convince myself that I had the power to punch through a board.
I tried for my last test. In fact, I was supposed to jump up and punch two boards in succession but while I hoped to fluke into it, I didn’t really expect that it would happen.
This time though, I wanted to do it. And because my brain is getting better at applying my theory to my movements, I could think clearly about what I had done wrong before and make a good choice about how to make it work this time.
I used a reverse punch – which means that I had my left leg forward but I was punching with my right hand – so I could generate speed and power without having to move my feet (sometimes the choreography of footwork gets me tangled up.)
I lined myself up, measured my distance, and punched clear through the board as if I do it every day.
It felt like the biggest victory of a marvelously victorious day.
Getting ready for this test was hard work. I’ve been learning and practicing all through the pandemic – sometimes in person, sometimes on Zoom. During that time, I have been dealing with a variety of challenges in all areas of my life but throughout it all, TKD has been a great way to take care of myself – giving me an external focus that had all kinds of personal benefits. I’m really grateful to have that outlet and I am grateful for the support of my instructors and my fellow students as I train.
Thank you to Master Scott Downey and Master Cathy Downey for the instruction and support, to Ms. Reid and Mr. Dyer for the instruction, trouble-shooting, and encouragement, to Ms. Vere-Holloway for the extra practice, to Mr. James for the encouragement, to Mr. Lake, Mr. Abbott, Mr. Hooper, Mr. Power, and Mr. Codner for holding all of those boards, and to Ms. Gathercole for the empathy. Special thanks to Steve and Alex for helping me with my last few practice sessions, to Lori Savory for choreography help, and to Team Codner for the on-site encouragement.
Congratulations to Ms. Vere-Holloway, Mr. Power, Ms. Gathercole, Mr. Abbott, Mr. Lake, Mr. Codner, and Mr. Hooper for your hard work and for your success yesterday!