I passed my pre-test with what I think were flying colors last night, and now I’m breathing a sigh of relief. The worst is over.
I changed into my uniform before I left work last night, and walked slowly to the car with my bag, trying to remain calm and not overexcite myself. Once I arrived, I was really early, so I had time to find a place to stash my bags and weapons and settle into the groove.
There was a group of brown and black belts practicing in the smaller studio, but I decided not to do the same — why psych myself out? I know the material… and I wanted to make sure I would be able to call on it when I needed. I stood there talking with one of my classmates when my two sifus from the morning class walked in. They had come to watch us test, and that meant a lot to me, especially since Andy and Luke couldn’t be there.
We all sat down on the benches, laughing and talking (and interrupting the poor lower belts trying to learn their katas). I started talking with Master Joe about another local studio in town because the owner only lives two blocks from my house. He put me instantly at ease, and for a few minutes, I forgot why I was there.
Then, we got down to business. Master Joe told us to start warming up and stretching. I realized my hair was falling into my face, and headed for my bag when Sifus Bren and Hugh told me I better put a bandanna on so they would be able to pick me out…. I always wear a bandanna on my head to workout, so my Kung Fu friends rarely see me without one… With the brown bandanna (in honor of my current belt rank) tied securely around my head… I was ready.
Master Joe wrote down our names and ranks. There were 3 to 5 of each group: 3rd brown, 2nd brown, 1st brown and black. We sat along the wall and waited for him to call us up. It seemed like everyone else went first. They were asked to do all of their current material as well as some of the old stuff — even lower belt katas. I noticed a lot of them were nervous, which made me feel better, because at least I wasn’t the only one. I caught myself thinking through the moves in my head and stopped at once. When I felt myself getting nervous, I would close my eyes and breathe.
Then, it was my turn.
Four of us stepped up on the mat. “Ching Kang” he told us (well, there was more Chinese in the title.) Everyone watching us disappeared. I could hear nothing but my own breath as I hit and kicked my way through the kata. I finished before everyone else and stood still, trying to slow down my breathing. My throat was dry and tight. I wondered whether I had left out something, then told myself to stop thinking.
“5 directional palm.”
This had been my weakest kata, but everyone disappeared again, and I watched my arms and legs swing and kick. I landed both double-smash kicks and almost yelled out “wow!” when I realized I had. Again I finished before everyone else.
“Connecting fist.” The third tiger form. I wasn’t even thinking. There was only action. My muscles knew what to do. I slowly bowed at the end, as the others finished the form. My lungs were burning. I was breathing fast.
Master Joe called out a 2nd brown form in Chinese. I wasn’t exactly sure which one it was, so I snuck a look at one of the other testers. It was the one I suspected and I plowed through, forgetting the bird call the first time, but making small squeaks when it was called for after that. I did the same for the next form, which is very similar. Our last open hand form tested just one of the forms from 3rd brown, and I felt very comfortable.
“Kwan Dao.” More Chinese. At first I didn’t understand, until I saw the others headed for their weapons. Oh, Kwan Dao. I walked quickly across the floor to where mine was stowed against the wall. It’s much taller than I am, heavy — weighing 8 pounds — and has a little furry red poof hanging from the blade. I walked it back across the floor and found a place to begin, hoping I was far enough away from the others so I could swing the blade freely. We began, and I could feel my arms burning from the weight of the blade, but my hands and feet were sure, and there was no way I was going to drop it. Swinging, spinning, jumping, the blade swung through the air. I could see everyone watching me, but I tried to focus my concentration. During the three spinning jumps, I landed a little short because a black belt was sitting close by on the mat where I was moving. It didn’t make enough of a difference in the rest of the moves. I was performing the kata well… I could tell. The last move… the blade swung over my back and I let go as always to grab on the other side with the same hand. I have always had trouble with this move… but as I grabbed it this time, I felt elation. I finished out the kata and bowed, facing away from everyone. I stepped back as everyone finished the form. I was breathing really hard now. The sickness that had set me back last week was making my lungs burn and wheeze. I struggled to slow down my breathing….
“Seadragon cane.” I swapped the kwan dao for my staff and found another spot on the floor. This was my best form. And the one that always makes me laugh, ever since my husband sent me an old Saturday Night Live clip of Chris Farley, dressed as a clown, sweeping “racists” off the set for Chris Rock’s character Nat X. Andy says the sweeping reminds him of the first three moves in Seadragon. Again, everyone disappeared, and I swept around with the staff. I remember hesitating once, as I realized I was about to take a wrong step, but I quickly recovered. Counting swings in my head, I paced back and forth, until finally, I spun around, staff in my left hand, and bowed.
It was over.
Master Joe sat us all down and told us we passed the pre-test. He urged those of us testing to black to attend the black belt banquet to be recognized. Then, after several of his stories, we bowed out. I turned to Bren and Hugh, “Did I look okay?”
They assured me we did very well and there were hugs and congratulations all around. I felt a rush of relief, and a couple of people told me I looked good out there. I packed up my bags and weapons and finally headed home.
Going through the pre-test was pretty intimidating, but I made it. In the test, there will be more people watching me, but I feel better about it, because I’ve already been able to tune out the audience once. I feel like… well, I’ve already proven I can do the moves once… so doing them again won’t be any big deal.
Even so, I practiced my material during my Tai Chi class today, and, because I have an early appointment tomorrow, I’ve already arranged to show up to class 30 minutes early. I want it to stay fresh in my head.
The test is the same night as the Democratic debate at UT. I’ve been asked several times if I can work — to which I reply, “My black belt test is that night.” That usually ends the conversation right there.