Turning Purple for Purple

I passed my purple belt test and earned the rank of Yonkyu tonight but it was the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever had. The fact that I took the Pine Tree test 48 hours prior paid no small part in my exhaustion.

The format was very straightforward. It began with about 10 minutes of moving basics across the tatami at full power while being quizzed on principles of karate. If you’ve never seen this before, it’s basically like doing very basic, full-body movements with al the power that you have and then holding the position while you are quizzed verbally.

Next, Hanshi had me move right into ippons, kihons, and taezus 1-10 (30 in all)…the meat of my purple belt test. I knew this would be the most intellectually and technically challenging part of the test and I was glad we did it early on. That said, I also knew it would be the part of the test I was most likely to struggle with. I only learned some of these movement series just one week ago, which means that I could execute ippon 1 quite well but something like taezu 8 was much slower and not as technically sound. Add to that the fact of being under pressure, and I felt things could go either way.

They went about average, I would say. I nailed some of them and others I had to repeat. I never completely forgot any of them, which was fantastic. A few had one wrong move (out of, say, six) in them. In those cases, Hanshi corrected me and had me do it again until it was right. He doesn’t do this in a derogatory way, rather, he uses it as a teachable moment.

After these series he had me work kata from the topmost form on down. He especially nailed me on Bassai Dai kata, dissecting and correcting it, having me rework parts, etc. About ten moves into Bassai Dai I started seeing black spots and became very faint. I think Hanshi only noticed this when I started blinking oddly to keep my focus. While I anticipated being physically worn out form this test, I was in no way prepared for it to happen less than halfway through. The black spots kept forming and didn’t let up until I was awarded my certificate and given permission to sit down.

Typically, the next phase of the test would have been kumite—sparring. In anticipation of this, Hanshi had me spar ever person in the dojo last Saturday in match after match as they rotated through. I’m not sure if he planned to skip this part on my test or if he saw the state of exhaustion I was in and went ahead with more verbal quizzing.

I stood at attention for I’m not sure how long and answered his questions about the Shuri Ryu system inside and out. He quizzed me on Japanese words, modern principles, and even some obscure nuances of the system. I tried to bounce my knees a little to keep the blood flowing and keep the splotches from taking over my vision. I do not think that I looked too terribly faint but I felt it. I don’t now how much of this Hanshi noticed or not. Part of me wonders if he now regrets having me do these two tests in the same week because when your physical strength goes it doesn’t matter how much you know—your techniques simply won’t hold up. Tonight was an example of that.

After standing at attention, we moved into a few basic jiu jitsu self defense locks and take downs. Getting up and down was difficult for me, as I felt really light headed every time and kept reaching up to pinch my ears (acupressure points) to stay with it. I don’t think I looked sloppy but I’m sure I didn’t look great.

Hanshi ended the test with a nice speech about me. Something about my attention to detail and my genuine interest in doing things with accuracy and doing things well. Then he awarded me my certificate and told me I could sit down. While I was sitting, he talked about what it takes to get from purple belt to black belt. He said that in terms of my knowledge, I’m already halfway through my purple belt grade as it is (that’s why he stuffed me so full of info) but my technique needs to really come into its own at this stage.

Then he started describing a black belt test, which is 8 hours long and STARTS with the Pine Tree test. I saw on the floor, exhausted, trying not to drip sweat onto my Yonkyu certificate. I wanted to cry for how much farther there is to go and for the fact that it somehow hadn’t occurred to me that this latest physical accomplishment is only the beginning of where I need to be physically—not the end. But I also wanted to jump for joy at what a different person I am now than I was a year and 8 months ago when I began. After playing team sports all my life, karate has been the closest I ever came to experiencing the individual determination it takes to set, keep, and maintain your own personal goals over and over again. It’s a wholly different feeling of victory than winning a soccer match. I’m not saying one is better than the other, but I feel lucky to have experienced both.

When I got home I drank water and then a beer. I ate two platefuls of food. Now I will have another beer. Maybe some chocolate. Tomorrow? Just another day…Except for the fact that from here on out I’ve got to eat, move, and train with the black belt in mind. It’s closer than ever before but oh, do I have a long way to go.

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