Blue Belt Business
I had to answer questions. Some of them I knew, others I didn’t. I had to demonstrate punches and blocks while in a horse stance and then I had to answer more questions. The wall of karateka faced me, standing beneath the kamiza, and Hanshi paced around me as I moved. When I did something wrong, he corrected me.
Sometimes, he turned it into a lesson for everybody else as well. Moments where he demonstrated something eased my mind, because it took the pressure off of me and took his gaze elsewhere.
Everything I did he wanted me to do it faster and, most of the time, I could not. Every stance I stood in he wanted me to make it wider and, most of the time, I forgot.
After moving basics with punches, kicks, and blocks, I demonstrated my kata. Shino kata went ok, except my stances weren’t wide enough and my kicks weren’t aimed properly. He didn’t say any of this…I simply thought it all as I was moving about the tatami. Wunsu kata was ridiculous. I did the best I could, then he had Sienna come out and do it at a faster pace, a black belt pace, and asked me to keep up with her. We did this several times. In both kata my double brakes looked hideous. They were the best I had, but they were incorrect. He had me correct them several times and made a lesson out of it.
Then, he quizzed me on the kata as well.
Then we moved onto waza, self-defense techniques. He had me take down Nate, Jeff, and Lis (Sienna is too small) with three different techniques. The third technique, a side-choke that moves into a groin snap nose flip take down thing, I had only practiced about four times and not once within the past month. He had mercy on me with that one, although I had to do it over and over to show any signs of progress. This was basically the jui jitsu part of the test and that last move ended with an arm bar and both Jeff and I on the mat.
I had little to no emotion throughout the entire test. My anxiety was so high a few days ago that I knew I wouldn’t be able to function at the level. So today I effectively worked my brain into a sedated space. Every time the anxiety welled up, I just told myself: “You’re going to do fine.” I practiced for half an hour before I showed up for the test and probably did better in those moments then I did in the dojo this evening. In my opinion, anyway.
And at the very end he had me drop to the floor and do as many full sit ups as I could in one minute (41) and as many round kicks into a pad as I could in one minute (40 – very sloppy). In both cases one minute felt like two. For the sit ups, Jeff stood on my feet to keep me from sliding forward. Each time I came up I saw the patch on his gi. In my peripheral vision I saw Hanshi, bent low in a near squat, and I could feel his eyes peeling into me. For the round kicks Jeff held the pad and when I faltered my balance at 26, spinning all the way around to complete the kick as best I could, he cheered me on. When my form started to fall apart, he coached me, “C’mon, make it to 40. You can do it.” This support was a godsend.
By then I was noticeably out of breath. Hanshi told a story while I caught my breath and everyone laughed. I stared at the grainy wood on the kamiza behind his head. I found a spot there, right there, where one splinter of wood was lighter than all the rest. I prayed then for a yellow belt, hoped that he would change his mind and give me a belt that I feel I deserve. Realizing I was done with the physical part of the test, I could feel myself wanting to cry and the only thing to keep me from doing that was to repeat in my own head the words that Hanshi was saying. I have no idea what the hell he said, but I said every syllable to myself and that allowed me to keep a straight face.
When the time came, everyone lined back up and I faced him and he read from the America Budokai International award and handed me my blue belt. He said lots of nice things but I can’t remember them. Something about dedication and spirit and my ability to learn kata quickly. He untied my white belt and asked me to put on my blue belt. He gave me a hug and that was the best part of the whole test. I finally smiled. Everyone congratulated me and we bowed out.
And even now, I can only talk about the experience in total flatline. There is no story here. I trained. I went. I did it. I’m overwhelmed by the pressure of a higher belt but I’m hoping the honor that was intended by such a gift will come to me in a few days. Right now, I’m not feeling it. Everyone else was really happy. I was too, especially when I got to give Hanshi a six pack of Samarai Ale and he opened them right then and there and put the Doobie Brothers on over the loudspeakers. We turned most of the lights off and he told stories for a while as we all sipped, then everyone said goodnight.
I gave him a card: “4.17.08 Hanshi, Words are how I make sense of the world. Stories are how I write my experiences into coherence. I have been keeping a karate journal and selected a few entries to share with you. It is one way I thought I might be able to show you my gratitude. Thank you for your inspiration in the dojo and at the keyboard. Best, Katey.” The card was attached to 15 pages of my favorite entries (all of which were posted here). I figured there was no need for him to read all 65 (!) and re-reading my journal proved to be an excellent study tool all week long.
And I don’t know what else to say. I feel, like I said, flatline. Tomorrow is a new day. And tomorrow I have to earn my blue belt. Where will I begin?