Week 4 of black belt training shifted us back to beginner material that we are practicing more intensely than when you first learn the content. So we worked the beginner forms: Chon-Ji (nineteen movements), Dan-Gun (twenty-one movements), and Do-San (twenty-four movements); the beginner defense for white, yellow, and orange belt; as well as, beginner strikes, kicks, and ten-point blocks. My training group also came up with a plan that after our training sessions on Tuesday evenings, we are going to spar and after our training sessions on Thursday evenings, we are going to break. This leaves the total committment for those nights as 7:30-9:30 p.m. roughly. This week (Week 5) begins with a Candiate Class until 10 p.m. on Tuesday night, which is going to be quite rough for me considering I am starting the week with only 5 1/2 hours of sleep last night, since it was one of my favorite (but late) night’s of the year – Oscar’s Sunday!
The Academy Awards are my Super Bowl Sunday. I wait all year for this, and try to see as many of the movies as possible given our busy schedules. This year, out of the many categories for nominations, I was able to see Spotlight, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Bridge of Spies, Sicario, Inside Out, The Martian, and Fifty Shades of Gray (which only had a nomination for Best Original Song, thankfully). Not bad for a busy year, but there are so many others that I am dying to see, including The Danish Girl featuring last year’s Academy Award winning actor, Eddie Redmayne; Room, whose leading actor, Brie Larson, received the Oscar this year; and Brooklyn – but only after I read the novel it is based on with the same title because I have heard it is really good. Here is a complete list of the nominations: http://oscar.go.com/news/nominations/oscar-nominations-2016-the-complete-list-of-nominees.
But, back to the point at hand – black belt training! Let’s return to…sparring. In my karate school, sparring is taught either full or no contact for beginners, and then you build up to the contact levels that you feel comfortable with. For example, some people may not want to be hit in the head and they can tell their opponent not to due so. When I first started karate, I kind of looked like a dorky Storm Trooper with my brand-spanking-new gear:
Since being a beginner, I have added rib gear, shin guards, a face mask, and a mouth guard to my sparring equipment, thanks to a side kick to the face, bruised ribs, and some seriously gross shin contusions. You need to get used to moving and breathing in your sparring gear, which is especially important on the black belt test when you are put into situations with multiple attackers. On the black belt exam, we do not engage in the typical one-on-one sparring that we practice in our regular adult karate classes. Most of what we need to be prepared for is the cardio endurance required to sustain a longer sparring situation. The running that we are doing during the training helps, but it is not quite the same type of cardio output that sparring requires. I am sure that my experience in kickboxing will only help, considering that we complete multiple boxing rounds for two-minute and three-minute intervals during class. However, karate sparring is different from the bag rounds we do in kickboxing since you are moving around continuously, and fighting back with an actual live opponent, not just a stationary power line.
For breaking this week, I decided to work with concrete. Originally, I wanted to work my speed break some more, but I realized that I hadn’t broken concrete in quite awhile. While this may seem strange to some outside of the martial arts world, breaking concrete is the natural progression from breaking boards as you head into more advanced training. Currently, I am working what we call a downward station, which is essentially concrete pavers or wooden boards stacked and balanced on cement blocks. The break type that I am practicing is called a downward elbow where you hit the concrete with the fleshy part of your arm near the elbow bone. I can give you a visual:
The thing is, it is an extraordinarily mental game. It may seem macho when you see these big, burly guys break stacks upon stacks of concrete or ice in karate demonstrations. And, yes, it takes a lot of strength to get through the material. However, it also takes a heck of a lot of focus, concentration, and, most importantly, self-confidence. Currently, I am a bit stuck on the self-confidence front. I know that I can (and want to) break more than two pieces of concrete. The issue is, quite simply, that I am afraid. I am afraid of injury. I am afraid of failure. I am afraid of an audience watching me attempt the break. I know I need to get over these fears – for myself and to grow through my training. However, the most important lesson that I am learning is to not compare myself to others. I know that others can get through 4, 10, 15, or more pieces of cement — and not all of these martial artists are men — some of them are women smaller than myself. What I need to focus on is being competitive with myself — not others. The more I compare myself with others, the more likely I will feel inadequate. If I am able to turn my energies inward and gain the confidence to push myself, to get rid of extraneous rumination of failure, then I will be successful. In the end, I should be pushing myself to be the best that I can be, not pushing myself to be someone else. That is my challenge of the week – to go inward – and to start preparing mentally – not just physically – for the challenges ahead.