90 Minute Test
The black belt is a sign of proficiency and achievement in martial arts. It is earned, not given, and only awarded after passage of a strict test administered by a group of masters. This past Friday evening, our family and friends attended the test for my son’s black belt test in Taekwondo. What made the event very special is that the test was for his 2nd degree (Dan) black belt, and that he’s only 10 years old. So this was challenging physically as well as mentally. Would he be able to complete the grueling 90 minute test of forms, self-defense, sparring, and breaking? My son was the only one testing that night, so he would not benefit from the breaks in testing while his peers would take their turn. It was non-stop action for 90 minutes.
All the Forms
After the completion of my son’s forms (including 18 forms since he started Taekwondo and a self-designed creative form), sweat was dripping from his face, his uniform was soaked, and he was winded.
Three Sparring Against One
Next up was sparring, in which four peers (who were not testing) sparred against my son, first each of the four individually, then two at a time, and finally three of the four. While he was able to handle sparring one-on-one and held his own two-on-one, he was overmatched three-on-one and I was proud of the spirit and composure he maintained while at times being treated like a punching/kicking bag. Unfortunately the hardest was yet to come. Changing out of his sparring gear, my son looked me in the eyes and stated simply: “Dad, I got this.”
Self-Defense for the Real World
He continued with self-defense, demonstrating with one of the masters, and sweat continued to pour down his face. The self-designed self-defense skit with his two older brothers, where he pretended to be a store owner attacked by two robbers (played by his brothers) re-energized him. He performed flawlessly, including the jump and kick off the wall.
Breaking Last But Not Least
My son had to break a series of wooden boards with his hands, elbows, and feet, sometimes soaring through the air and executing a combination kick to break multiple boards in one move. What looked doable in practice became challenging during the test, with his precision and power dulled by the exhausting forms, self-defense and sparring that had come before the breaking. This is where mental focus and toughness are key, and my son did not waver and continued progressing to the final power breaking test. Eight stacked boards had to be broken with a single elbow strike. I was worried about how much energy he had left. In his first attempt, my son smashed through the eight boards, rose up and realized that he had just passed his 2nd degree black belt test.
1,000 Hours and Counting
It was an awesome feeling witnessing the head master present the 2nd degree black belt – signified by two embroidered gold stripes – to my son, realizing that this was the culmination of about three years of practice that added up to probably close to a 1,000 hours. Sore, black and blue, and exhausted from the test, my son grinned from ear to ear, immersed in the emotional satisfaction of having achieved a goal he set after passing his first black belt test.
Onwards and Upwards to the Next Goal
To put this into perspective, at the age of 10 he is half-way to his 4th degree black belt, which would entitle him to become a Taekwondo master and teach others (since his test, he’s assisting his masters “unofficially” with other students in the class). My son has vowed to continue practicing Taekwondo towards his 3rd degree belt, while at the same time balancing his school work and his love for running. On that last note, it is worth mentioning that the two sports are complementary from the perspective of cross-training, and it is clear that my son’s aerobic capacity, speed and agility, and mental focus and toughness acquired during running helped him tremendously during his Taekwondo test.