How the black belt exam went

I won’t know the results of the exam until our head teacher is ready to give them to us.  I’m guessing they are waiting for our checks to clear before we can go to the bank and pay the 20 buck to stop the check.  =)

Wow, I’ve received several mails from blog readers asking me how it went.  Sorry it took some time to get around to posting.  I’ve needed time to heal.  =)

To sum it all up:  interactive seminar-style exams are not cool.  not cool at all.

For whatever reason, those grading the exam decided it would be a seminar-style, where a 6th degree black belt would interact with us on the floor while the 9th degree black belt graded us.  In essence, we were told to do a technique, let’s say a lunge punch, 6 times forward w/ right hand, turn around and do it 6 times again with the left hand.  After we finished a technique, the sensei (the 6th degree black belt) would explain where we were making mistakes and ask us to do it again.  Many times I felt we were taking the test twice. 

The best I can describe it was like taking a Math exam with the teacher looking over your shoulder telling you, “you did it wrong, try again.”  Normally, you wouldn’t think this is a bad idea, but let’s say you only have 20 minutes to take the entire exam, and it’s going to be tight to finish in those 20 minutes.  So what do you do?  Do you complete the entire test, but knowingly get stuff wrong?  Or do you try your best to get stuff right, but not be able to complete the end of the test? 

It was the same situation here.  First, it is a shock to one’s system to be told “you’re doing it wrong” right at the beginning of any exam.  Second, you’re wasting so much energy repeating the moves and trying to get it right.  The question was, “do I ignore the 6th degree black belt’s recommendations and keep pacing myself?”  Oh yeah right, like that’s going to happen. 

We used up all of our energy (we only have so much) and by the time we got to the last 7 or 8 techniques, the kids were breathing hard and the adults (all 2 of us) were gasping for air.  We were barely moving.  It was a sad site.  One person started crying, another started dry-heaving, and I was wondering what the etiquette was to throw-up (thankfully I was able to keep in back).

The absolute worst part of the test was having the row of spectators sitting on the back wall.  Almost directly in front of me was my Tuesday night teacher.  I kept thinking with every punch and kick in his direction, “I am so sorry.”  You see, a student’s performance is a reflection of the quality of the instruction.  Although I feel we didn’t get enough personalized attention from our head teachers going into the exam, I didn’t want my performance to be a reflection upon the teacher who had helped me the most over the past year.  Gosh, I’m such a girl.

When we were finally finished with part 1 (basics), we got to sit down.  The oxygen flowed back into my head for the first time.  It felt exactly as waking up from sleeping or fainting.  I wondered to myself, “Where am i?  Am I taking my black belt exam?  Was I involved in a train wreck?  Oh well, I’ll just make it up in the kata.”  Our head teacher was trying to signal to me to go get some water, but I wouldn’t look at him.  The performance was so embarrassing that I didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone.  I was too scared for any feedback.  =)  And no, I didn’t get water.
Kata was much, much better.  We had to do all 6 kata (forms) at full speed with no breaks, which was okay with me.  Kata is what I’m best at.  And eventually you learn of the rhythm in each kata that allows you to catch your breath.  Free-sparring (fighting) was also pretty good.

After the exam, none of the teachers spoke to us, as far as I know.  That was the most difficult part, knowing your performance was poor (okay, my friends watching me that night and the other students have told me that we did great, but knowing you could have done much better makes it poor in my book) and no one is speaking to you afterwards.  My Tuesday night teacher had to leave early, so we sync’ed up the next day.  Yes, we had to go back the next day for the real seminar. Still none of the teachers spoke to us, or at least to me.

Usually after sporting competitions, especially karate ones and being a soccer goalie during shootouts, I find myself wishing I could go back and redo it, do it better or pick right instead of left.  For this exam, however, I absolutely do not want to go through that again.  Ever.

Am I upset?  Absolutely not.  I finally got to test for black belt.  Finally.  And as I said earlier, a student’s performance is a reflection upon the instruction.  Also, what can you do when your exam is turned into an interactive seminar?  Actually, I’ve been laughing mostly at everything – it was so over-the-top difficult.  The other adult taking the exam and I went out for beer afterwards.  It was the best beer of my life.  It was also the best debriefing of my life.  =)

If anything is to come of this, next year’s class will be very well prepared.   My advice – be able to do every single technique on the exam sheet 6 times forward, 6 times back other hand at full speed without any breaks.  When you can do that on your own, you’re ready.

Comments (15)
  1. Sara,

    Did you really mention the actual result of your black belting, I mean "Success (got the belt)" or "Failure (better luck next time)", or am I the only one that can’t read what you just wrote?


  2. sn0n says:

    i also didnt get if you got it or not. hehe

    but i enjoyed the read 😀

    ~Rob Douglas

  3. Mondor says:

    I guess She failed. Look at the "biography" section, where you can read: "Outside of work, I’m busy getting my black belt in shotokan karate."

    As there is not written "my second black belt", I guess the belt was too heavy to take.

  4. Part of Karate training is patience and quite often instructors dont tell you the result, till you are back in the class on another night.

    Sara – well done, they measure spirit as well as technique, you give it all you got. Exams are so daunting, with everyone watching your every move.

    My instuctor told me getting to black belt is the beginning – it only proves you have the ability to learn – then the real training starts.

    Perhaps like in Soma’s recent blog – they are looking for potential.

    good luck with the result.

  5. Mike G says:

    Well done for getting through it! I play the piano and if one of my examinations were turned into a seminar, with somebody standing over my shoulder saying "that was a wrong note, I didn’t like the way you phrased that", it would make things impossible.

    I thought the whole point of exams was to test what you knew, and what you’d been taught, not what you can learn at the last minute from somebody you’ve never met before.

    It all sounds a little bit silly to me 🙁

  6. Jim Holmes says:

    >>…I didn’t want my performance to be a reflection upon the teacher who had helped me the most over the past year. Gosh, I’m such a girl.<<

    Horsepucky. Most anyone who’s passionate about something and has been trained/mentored by someone hates letting that mentor down.

  7. Brian says:

    "a lunch punch"

    Is this when you punch someone to get their lunch money???

  8. saraford says:

    Sorry y’all, i forgot to mention that we have to wait until the head teacher is ready to give us the results. I have no idea if we passed or failed. I’m sure we passed, or we all failed together. =) I’ve updated the blog entry to reflect this.

    Yeah, a lunch punch is what i do when i forget to bring in my lunch =) I meant "lunge" punch.

  9. Well done Sara.

    I think people are their own worst critics. I find that I am harsher on myself than anyone else is when I am doing Taekwondo (especially in gradings). A little bit of this is good to push you forward, but hammering yourself too much is counter productive.

    Good luck with the result.

  10. Founder says:

    Congratulations on your grading.

    Don’t worry about the instructor correcting you. That happens in all Dan level gradings.

    Not long ago, two of my instructors went for their San (3rd) Dan grading. Five sensei’s from Japan flew to Australia for the gradings. There were two sensei’s giving instructions and three sitting at the corners of the area, each grading a particular aspect (technique, spirit, flow, speed, etc).

    On most techniques the sensei’s corrected them. I had never seen my instructors so nervous. They actually seemed shorter.

    These corrections are not about making you feel bad, they are about testing the best you can be at that time. If you do something incorrect and they correct you, then you do it correctly, they don’t mark you down for making a mistake. Think of it as, they are helping you pass by giving you hints.

    I’m going to Japan next week to train for my Shodan(1st Dan). I’m traveling for two months, stopping at a Dojo every night to train.

    It isn’t the destination, but the journey that matters.

  11. Beth says:

    I was wondering how everything went. I’m glad to here that you survived. It could be worse. You could be wondering if you got the belt because you deserved it or because it had been long enough since your last rank test. No that wasn’t a veiled reference to a certain school in Starkville, MS, why do you ask?


  12. SteveM says:

    Sounds very different to my dan grade (in taekwondo). In my organisation the dan grades are closed – only the examiners and one instructor allowed in the room while you grade. All the basics, patterns and everything are done completely solo and the sparring etc. in pairs. Such a large room, that’s normally so noisy, can sound VERY quiet and oppressive!

    I’m not sure which sounds worse…

    Good luck!

  13. Michelle says:

    Haha…I told you I would look this up…you described it just right!  It was pain.  Plus Saturday’s seminar, Monday’s class, and Tuesday’s class.  Over and over again.  Oh well. Can’t wait until our Nidan!  🙂

  14. ruf1 says:

    Sounds about like a TKD rank test to me! Our tests last between 2 and 3 hours (depending on whether anyone is ranking to black or not) and we don’t get any rest between stuff. We do find out that night how we do – I can’t recall anyone NOT ranking that was planning on ranking. So, you’ve never gone back to tell the result – how’d you do? I’m sure it went well!

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