The Black Belt Test: “Daring Greatly”

Whelp, I passed!

I realized a few days ago that I never even made a post about the test results.  It honestly took me a full week to become some semblance of my true self again.  In the meantime, I walked around in a fog trying to process everything that happened.  The test truly is life-changing; there is no doubt about that.

Some black belts told me that after the last day of their exam, they went home and slept the day away.  I had a meeting with my instructors for test results at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday and I did not fall asleep until midnight. I watched one of my favorite comfort movies, Juno, went to bed at 12 a.m., and then promptly woke up at 3 a.m.  My mind was still reeling and, according to my husband, I was still kicking people in my sleep.  I did not even sleep in on Sunday, which was Mother’s Day, but I did receive coffee and fresh fruit in bed.

Sleep really was not possible for me during the testing week. I  think I slept a total of about six hours in the 48 hours of testing.  On Friday night before the Saturday morning woods run, I just lay in bed…sweating – trying to use positive visualization strategies – but mainly just sweating.  I received two text messages from non-karate (and I make that specification because I am so touched by how in tune they were to where I was emotionally) friends in the early hours before the last leg of the test – one at 4:30 a.m. that said, “There is a part of you that has been waiting for today.  You will do this!!” And one at 5:15 a.m. that said, “You’ve got this!!!  Can’t wait to hear!!!”  I also received an email at 4 a.m. from my sister who lives in Oregon that said, “I’m heading to bed. And, in two hours you’ll be running around in the woods, being a black belt. I’m gonna light a candle for you.  You got this.”  The spirit and energy my loved ones provided for me during this experience was remarkable and unforgettable.  I just want to place a little “thank you” here for the many other text messages and phone calls (and even a cake delivery) that I received on the day of and after the test – I was overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness.

The card reads:  “You made it to the other side!”  She reads my blog! These flowers (from my sister who lives in Oregon) were on my doorstep the day I passed my test.

In the end, it is near impossible to put the black belt test into words.  Also, at my karate school the black belts are asked not to speak about the specifics, which is a request that I not only honor and respect, but truly understand.  Each test is a little bit different, and although I do not think it would have changed my decision to take the test, there are some elements I am glad I did not know about going in.  I can tell you this:  I never expected it to be easy, but parts of it were certainly harder than I could have ever imagined.

During my week-after-the-test-haze, a friend handed me a book by Brené Brown called Daring Greatly.  He highlighted a portion of the book and said, “Hey, this is exactly what you did.”  The passage read:


Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.  We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be…with courage and the willingness to engage.  Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen.  This is vulnerability.  This is daring greatly.

And that was a huge compliment.  I appreciated the sentiment, but I am also humbled by the lesson and hope that I can live the lifestyle Brown is espousing.  My karate instructors talk often about the pressure to be “perfect” and recognizing that, as much as we strive for success, no one is ever perfect.  Furthermore, something that really struck me about the black belt test experience was that at the beginning of every testing segment, the instructors recognized that we showed up – because, literally, getting there was truly half the battle.  I already discussed my Friday night sweats before the Saturday morning portion of the test, but I also experienced a complete anxiety-ridden, uncontrollable hunger strike that my body put me through on Friday before I had to report to the test at 6 p.m.  I could not eat.  I was nervous as all get-out, but I drove myself to my test and showed up and let myself be seen.  There was a time in my life where I may have froze at the wheel of my car.  A time when I may have let anxiety get the better of me and become paralyzed with fear.  I see this as one of the most tremendous examples of how much I have changed through my martial arts training.  This time, I knew I would show up.

After the test ended on Saturday, my training group and I were given some time off until Wednesday and Thursday evenings, when we needed to start preparing for our Black Belt Graduation.  The graduation is where we will be officially presented with our black belts.  The ceremony is this Saturday evening at 6 p.m.  During this week we are practicing Monday through Thursday evenings for our group and individual performances.  I am not a stranger to the stage, having acted in my high school Drama Club and having taken “Beginning Acting” during my sophomore year in college, but I am also not one to bathe in the limelight.  I am proud of my abilities and I am eager to receive my belt, but of course, the graduation is one more layer of challenge in the black belt experience.  I realized that, when you are a black belt, you are expected to live a little beyond your comfort zone.  I will walk into the arena again on Saturday evening and perform my self-defense, kicking combos, forms, and breaks – hopefully with success – and certainly with the mindset to dare greatly.

I can’t wait to hold that belt.






Week 12: This One Is for the Ladies


“It took a hundred times

to remember the moves,

a thousand times

to make them beautiful,

and ten thousand times

to grasp their essence.”

-Author Unknown

My final week of black belt training came and went.  Now, it is Sunday evening before the test week and I am excited, nervous, energized, and probably every other possible emotion.  The testing week will go as follows:

Monday, 5/2:  8:45 p.m. – Written Evaluation

Thursday, 5/5:  6:00 p.m. – Oral/ Section I Physical Exam

Friday, 5/6:  Time to Be Announced – Section II Physical Exam

Saturday, 5/7:  5:30 a.m. – Reaction Course Run

As I think about the past several weeks, I am automatically reminded of all of the positive energy and support that I have received from the women who take karate at my school.  The adult karate class is now at a point where several women are advancing through the intermediate to advanced ranks, and most of these women are in their 40s.  I am a firm believer in age being relative when in comes to maturity, but when is comes to wrist locks, takedowns, grappling, and sparring – age is certainly a factor.  In addition, martial arts schools in the United States were once dominated by men.  With that said, it makes me proud to say that two of my female karate friends earned their brown belts this week, three earned their blue belts, and one earned her purple belt, which means they are all (a) no longer beginners and (b) the brown belts are only two years from having the opportunity to train for their black belts, as well.  This is incredible considering that when I started approximately six years ago, the only other woman older than 25 who was in the adult class was already a black belt.  When I started, also, the class was almost completely teenagers.  There has been quite a shift.

During a recent week when I was in need of some levity, my friend sent me this little ditty.  I laugh every time I read it!

During my black belt training, one of my fellow karate and kickboxing friends never failed to send me one (or many) inspirational quotes on a weekly basis – sometimes daily.  One gave me my own little Yoda training voodoo doll.  I wore a black belt hairband that the kick boxers gave me for Christmas last year and a Rosie the Riveter t-shirt that says “Hit Like a Girl.” One gave me a bracelet that has the word WARRIOR inscribed on it, which was particularly meaningful because we started karate at the same time, but she needed to stop due to reasons beyond her control.  All offered words of advice and wisdom regarding injuries and injury prevention.  Many checked in frequently with text messages or in person at the karate school.  But what was most profound and impressive was the spirit of support and encouragement that I have received.  They have always had my back.  I have always felt their desire for my success, and this is rare among competitive and driven individuals, which are certainly qualities of anyone jumping into martial arts training – even if their competition is within themselves.

As I prepare for a challenging week ahead, I know that I have my karate and kickboxing ladies by my side and am bolstered by their spirit.  Furthermore, I am grateful for my husband and my mother who have given me their ultimate support and have picked up my slack for several weeks, and to my instructors who have offered me their wisdom and belief in me.  I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work for my black belt and I would not have been able to do so without the support of my husband, in particular. I am anxious to come out “on the other side,” as one of the black belts (who, coincidentally, was at my introductory lesson) refers to as the time after the test.  I am anxious to be on the other side and to have the storm of the twelve week training subside, but I also want to be present and absorb every ounce of experience that I can out of this next week.  It will certainly be a time for reflection; I am so different from the thirty-four year-old woman who walked into the dojo door years ago.  I was one of those white belts who immediately wanted to be a black belt, but I was completely unaware of what a journey it would be.