Friday, April 22, 2011

1st Degree Black Belt

I earned my first degree black belt in Songahm Taekwondo on Saturday. I've been meaning to write about it and share some pictures all week, but my time has gotten away from me.

The first step for a black belt test is forms. I had to demonstrate nine poome sae, or forms, starting with Songahm 1 and ending with Choong Jung 2 -- a total of 310 moves. I think it took me about ten minutes, but it seemed like half an hour. In this picture I'm chambering for a low block in Songahm 3.

The next step was self defense. I just had to demonstrate some wrist locks and wrist throws for this testing, although we train in lots of different techniques. I felt a bit nervous about this part, because I rarely practice it--it's tough to do alone. Maybe I should see if my wife would attack me at odd intervals throughout the day?

Then it was on to sparring. In the picture at the left, I'm trying to block Mr. Greiwe's side kick. It looks like he got me despite the block. I honestly don't remember. Sparring takes so much concentration, I rarely remember it well. Or maybe I'm just blocking out bad memories. Whatever.

Of course, just sparring isn't enough for black belt testing. We also have to do a round of 2-one-1 sparring. The one? You guessed it. Me. Oh, and by the way, both my opponents were higher rank. I did okay at first by constantly moving and circling, keeping one opponent between me and the other one. I didn't get in many good attacks, but I blocked most of what they threw my way. By the end, though, I was seriously winded and not moving as well as I needed to. I let myself get cornered (doh!), and when I tried to dodge to the side, I cut too hard and my knee gave out. Luckily the match ended only a few seconds later. (Saved by the bell!)

The last, and most important, step: board breaks. If you fail here, it's an automatic failure on the whole test, no matter how well you've done with the other stuff. You can choose your breaks, provided you select one hand technique and one foot technique, and they're both of sufficient difficulty. I chose to do a palm-heel strike and a number 3 jump front kick. I also asked for, and got, permission to break the most difficult grade of board--black. The palm heel strike went beautifully, except that I carried the strike through the board so well I nearly hit one of my board holders in the face. He looked a bit startled, anyway. I was nervous about the jump front kick. My knee had just gone out during the sparring match, and I wasn't certain it would support me. I took a moment between the breaks, sucked in a couple deep breaths and launched my kick, striking and breaking the board on the first attempt.

And here is the last photo: Mrs. Parker tying on my new black belt. The Korean characters embroidered on it say "determination," because that's the quality I most need to succeed both as a writer and as a martial artist.