Visiting the Taekwondo Dojo: Part 2
Twenty minutes and half a dozen introductions later, I bowed onto the mat with 30 other martial artists. Despite objections from the lower ranked students, I insisted on standing in back with them since I do not hold rank in their system. “Who are you? Where are you from? What do you train in?” they all wanted to know, but there wasn’t time to explain and that was fine with me. I noted their patch-filled gi sleeves, the school logo arcing across the back of each uniform, and the embroidered names across each of their backs. They had matching bags and sparring gear, odd belt colors (yellow w/ camo, purple w/ black, etc.), and a different kind of bow. But most of all, I noticed the fact that they were all wearing padded sparring gloves and I was not.
After rather dramatic roll call that involved attendance cards and running in lines, Master P addressed the group. He explained that on Friday night Ms. X would be testing at the Holiday Inn for her 1st degree black belt and to qualify she had to score at least 300 on tonight’s black belt fitness test.
“When one member takes the black belt fitness test, we all take it,” he said.
“Yes, Sir,” the group responded.
“And if Ms. X doesn’t achieve 300 or higher tonight, we’ll all be retaking the test with her on Thursday night,” he said. He smiled a genuine smile then, and the practitioners broke ranks pat Ms. X on the back and encourage her. The atmosphere was friendly but the standards were high. Meanwhile, I held my position—feet together, eyes straight ahead—wondering about the black gloves and even more ominous sounding fitness test. I’m not afraid to say that a masochistic daymare passed before my eyes, one in which “black belt fitness night” was code for “everyone put your gloves on and pound the new girl.”
“What’s that?” one of the practitioners asked, pointing to my White Pine Tree patch.
“That’s for our fitness test,” I smiled, coming out of my trance, and with that my anxiety faded. Nothing we could do in the next 30 minutes would possibly be harder than what the White Pine Tree test requires in 60 minutes. (60 mins = run 3 miles, 500 front kicks, 100 sit ups, 200 jumping jacks, 50 thai style kicks into the bag, 25 knuckle pushups, 5 chin ups, 75 punches w/ 10 pound weight, 75 upper blocks with 10 pound weight, and 2 minutes freestyle on the bag.)
The test went something like this: 60 seconds of as many push-ups you can do. Then rest 1 minute while your partner goes. 60 seconds of as many full sit ups you can do. Rest. 60 seconds of as many round kicks into the pad you can do. Rest. 60 seconds of as many punch-punch-kick combos into multiple pads you can do. Rest. 60 seconds of as many punches from fighting stance you can do. Then you drop the floor, sweating and breathless, and tally your points. 1 point for every move, and combos only count for 1. I earned 376 and was most proud of my punches (218 in 1 minute) and least proud of my pushups (31 in 1 minute, with my form faltering at just 20).
The rest of the night seemed a cinch comparatively, but I know that is not always the case at a new dojo. You never know if you’re going to get monkey-see/monkey-do, ego-head-tripping-body-busters, or just some nice-smart-disciplined folks. The ATA Black Belt Academy in Traverse City is, hands down, the latter. And while my school is perhaps more disciplined than theirs, I can say that there was some level of familiarity to the experience.
At the end of the evening, as is customary, I bowed to Master P and offered payment for the class. He refused. I offered again (of course, all of this being customary). He refused again and at that I put my wallet away and thanked him for allowing me on the mat and providing instruction.
“You’re a good student,” he said. “You’re very disciplined and I like that. You are welcome to train in my dojo while you are in this area.”
I bowed, complimented him on his dojo and teaching style, and left with a copy of the schedule in my hand. While the last thing I want to do is train in another kind of martial art while I’m at this crucial brown belt stage in my own training, the ATA dojo does offer MMA (mixed martial arts) training, which might benefit my jiu jitsu background. After all, it’s not as though I can practice takedowns and joint locks on myself.