Saturday, January 19, 2008

A fictional Kyokushin belt rank test

In an effort to respect my inner resolve to leave my dojo happenings as much as possible out of my weblog, and yet, at the same time, I would like to reveal what a Kyokushin belt rank test is like to my internet friends I have chosen to write a fictional story about the experience. I'd like to state up front that all of the characters, and situations in the following story are made up, and do not represent any real person.

Little did Jane Doe realize how much she'd be affected by that one moment of curiousity that she felt when she considered checking out the notice that she saw on the public library wall of free karate lessons being offered at the local High school gym. She initially went there to see if she could get some exercise, lose some weight, and learn some self defense, she didn't expect that she would find something that she valued so much that she'd be looking forwards to going there each time. For 4 months she invested more and more of herself into this activity. She found herself practicing her strikes at strange times of the day like in front of the mirror so that she can see herself. She still felt awkward, and confused about all of the details, but she was doing far better than when she first started when she tripped on her own foot, and nearly fell.

Today is her first belt test... she had to earn the right to wear a white belt. There was a possibility for her to get a colored belt.. maybe.. if she did everything just right, she might get a 10th kyu Orange belt. She's never been to a belt test before now. Butterflies flipped around inside where she should have felt solid. Already she was shaking with worry about making mistakes, about getting stuck, about not being able to finish.. and yet, there was something within her that said "you can do this" and she clung to that knowledge.

She entered the dojo. Perhaps it was her inner environment that caused the sensation, or perhaps it was the body language of all of the other students in the room, but there seemed to be a loud cloud of tension that hung over the room. Although her Sensei walked around as normal, his eyes held shadows that were not there before now.

Class lined up, and went through the usual opening ritual, and warm up. Then the test started. First, she had to pass the physical requirements. She had been working on improving these all throughout the months of training, can she achieve them? She did, and elation surged through her. She had met her goal, but then suddenly the Sensei added new exercises that demanded even more of her energy. Panting through them, she thought to herself "Wow.. I didn't know that I had that in me." Her body was starting to get tired, and the test had just started. It has only been 20 minutes. Sensei added another exercise, and another. Each one using the whole body, and suddenly Jane started to see stars at her efforts to complete each one fully. Her body strained to pull itself, push itself, and it took willpower to just get her arms to do that last move. Yet, she managed to meet the demands, and stood there in the ready position feeling the weight of her body pulling her down to the ground.

"Laps!" Called out her Sensei. She nearly fell over in shock. She could hardly move, and he wanted her to run? RUN? Yet, all of the students were running. They all had said "Osu", and started running. She ran. Somewhere within her she found the energy to run. "Where did that come from?" she asked herself as she managed to keep up with the class. "How long will it last?"

They finished their laps, and the whole class stood there in stillness with the constant sound of breathing filling the room. It seemed that this sound was like the crash of the waves of the ocean filling the air with noise. Jane became aware of how cold her shoulders, and chest was, and she realized that it was from the sweat that was pouring off of her head, and hair onto her body.

Each student was sent up in front to perform the requirements of their level, and yet the students left in the crowd were also expected to do the same requirements. Jane didn't want to look at the clock, and yet she couldn't help it. Something inside her wanted to know what time it was, and how long she had been training so hard with the exercises. She risked glimpsing the time, and then chided herself in her mind at how she was warned that the test has no time limit. They will be testing until each person has tested regardless to how long that takes. It can be 2 hours, or 10 hours, so it's useless to look at the clock. Jane focused on doing her requirements as best as she can, and to ignore time.

Each student went up, and Jane's turn was next. Part of her was excited to be experiencing this, and part of her was terrified, she decided that she was too tired to care anymore. Her legs were starting to complain greatly when she went into stance. Her knees shook with each effort... now the shaking was more from total lack of energy than from fear. It was strange to feel so hot, and cold at the same time. Her name was called, and suddenly all physical sensation stopped. Her mind was totally centered on her testing, and her body didn't matter anymore. She ran up to the front almost like a new person. She led the class in each of the things that she had been practicing. The Japanese terms came out smoothly, and confidently from all of those moments of whispering them to herself while travelling to work, and back home. She floated on the built up accumulation of practice throughout the whole episode. When her Sensei said "Thank you, you may rejoin the line up." She felt like she had achieved something today.

Once she was back in line, exhaustion slammed into her body like a wall of granite. She didn't remember feeling this tired during the time she was up in front, where did it come from? Well.. that wasn't the problem was it. The issue was that it was there now. Her mind felt fuzzy, and disconnected.

There were more students called up, she wasn't the first one, and she wasn't the last one. On and on, the students went up, and the rest followed. Now it was a total mental effort on Jane's part to continue doing the test. With dismay, Jane found that her brain was being stubbornly sluggish. Each punch was a mental effort of "Like THIS! You are NOT going to give up! Do it right! Like THAT!" She became aware that her kiai shouts were weakening, and she decided to concentrate on that part of her.. That inner part that tightens when she shouts. Suddenly her strikes became a little sharper in spite of the pain in her arms, and legs. She grasped onto that hope, and continued until the last student went up and tested.

All of the students were then asked to make partners and to perform the various self defense sequences that they were taught. What a challenge to meet the demands of this expectation! Jane just wanted to go home now. It didn't matter anymore if she passed her test, or if she got a colored belt, or if she even got a white belt. She just wanted to go home.. or start crying maybe... crying would be nice... but Jane decided that she had survived all up to this point, and that she wouldn't give in to the temptation to quit now. There has to be some more energy somewhere within her to continue. On and on she defended herself from attack from various scenarios, and became the attacker for her partner. She started to feel a little better, at least her breathing wasn't as ragged.

The class was then asked to perform their patterns altogether starting from the lowest belt, and going up. Only one pattern brought Jane near to her knees. She could feel her heart trying to escape her chest. It was like the heart was saying "You can stay here if you want, but I'm getting out of here.." She had to do her pattern over and over and over. The room swirled around her, and when she finally heard "yame" she rejoiced. A small part of her felt pity for the higher belts that had to do their patterns while the lower belts rested.. but that was only a very small part. She was so grateful for the chance that their higher patterns was giving her to rest. Her mouth was so dry.. so dry.. a fierce thirst was raging through her. "How long have I been testing?" she wondered, but this time she refused to look at the clock. What if it said that it has only been a short amount of time, she couldn't handle that thought.

Time for sparring.. Jane went up with a renewed vigor. She faced her partners with every ounce of courage, and skill that she had to offer. Yet, within such a short amount of time she felt her body weakening. It was an effort to lift her leg to block, or to kick. Everything was a whirl of movement that spun around her and demanded response or the result was pain. Sparkles of pain that rose from her body telling her that she HAD to move, she had to respond to the person in front of her trying to cause more pain. There was no other option. Yet, her feet wouldn't listen anymore, her hands were still being obedient, but her feet wouldn't move like they were supposed to. She relied on her hands to block, to attack, to create space, and yet as much as she tried there was always moments of firework pain shooting through her. She tried to raise her leg to send a kick, and the leg refused to come up. It didn't have energy anymore. It was like a car that ran out of gas, and stayed in the same spot making grinding noises. She had to adjust with another hand technique, and thought "Oh no.. oh no.. I'm so tired.. so tired that I can't move, but I have to move. What can I do to survive?" She tasted blood in her mouth, and wondered where that came from? Breathing didn't seem to help anymore, she always felt dizzy, and like there wasn't enough air in the universe to replenish her. Her Sensei's command of "Yame" was like a balm to the punishment. She went to the side, and felt like she was ready to stop testing now. She didn't want the belt anymore. She didn't want to do anymore. She just wanted to go lie down.

But the test wasn't over. Sensei stood in front of the class asking question after question to the various students about the history of the art, about the founder, about technical terms, and other mental problems. Jane barely could remember her name, how was she supposed to remember these things? Sure.. she had correctly answered all of these questions on the written test a week ago, but she was NORMAL then. The questions kept coming, and Jane stayed in the ready position answering them with her best answers.

"The test isn't finished" explained the Sensei "You still have other elements to do such as board breaking. We will be doing that next week. Please come prepared."

Jane Doe felt every cell of her body complaining as she gathered up her gear, and walked out of the dojo. It took her two days to feel normal again, and two weeks to recuperate from the experience. She wondered if it was all worth it. Would she be willing to experience this torture again just to be allowed to go up another rank? Yet, the next class, she stood in front of her Sensei, and he took out that orange belt and placed it around her waist. She felt such an inner sensation of achievement. She knew how much she had done, and suffered, and became victorious over to be able to stand there receiving this promotion, and she felt good. The kind of goodness that isn't explainable to anyone. The kind of goodness that one can only live through to say "yes.. I know what you mean."


Steve said...

Sounds like fun. :) I'm certainly not an expert on Karate, but from everything I've read, Kyokushin is no joke.

Take care.

supergroup7 said...

You are right, Steve.

I didn't mention it in the story, but I was picturing "Jane"'s test as taking about the average of 5 1/2 hours to accomplish. A Kyokushin Black Belt test usually spreads over 3 days.

Sarah said...

:D I loved that. Great story, and great way to give a picture of what the test is like. I've been through test that were something of the same, and boy - haha. Memories. Steve's right - Kyokushin is no joke. Outstanding story, and as I imagine your test was thirty times harder even than that, as you're at an upper rank - Good God! You survived???

Lizzie said...

Holy cow!!!!!!!!!! No wonder she felt tired. A Gasshuku is something that comes close what I went through. That would be so cool if our testing is like that. However, probably Dan testing with Higaonna Sensei is like that or even longer. I call our testing a little Gasshuku because it's harder than normal classes. Our testing is for an hour and a half.

supergroup7 said...

Yep, Sarah. I survived.. and now you know why I was so terrified of having to do the test again within such a short amount of time.

I think that your testing is just as demanding as mine, Lizzie. I believe that any, and every belt rank test challenges the student in many different ways. There are no harder, or easier testing, just differences in what is being tested. Each Martial art has it's own focus, philosophy, and expectations.

When I was testing for my Shotokan tests, I remember being challenged to the roots of my inner strength, and courage. Sure.. my actual public "test" was only 10 to 15 minutes in front of the Master, but I knew that the previous 2 days of seminar classes was where the Master was watching my every move, attitude, and skill. I remember being placed into a stance, and having to hold it for SUCH a long time, as the Master explained detailed information about the stance. OUCH! Oh man.. it's hard to explain how just standing up can cause you SO much discomfort until you've had to hold side stance for that long.

Silverstar said...

Great description of what a belt test can feel like. Exhaustion and then pride in persevering through it.
Go Jane!:)

supergroup7 said...

Thanks for the kind words, Silverstar.

Colin Wee said...

I have overwhelming respect for such training, you and Kyokushin. However ... I'd like to balance this with some perspective.

Check out The Principles of Karate - especially point 9.

Saying that - heads up to the student who really pushes himself to the limit (not many get a chance nor have the courage to do this) and readies himself for the worst that could happen.

Of course such challenges may not only be in endurance or power. They may come in speed, skill, strategy, etc. But these are all common obstacles to those on the path.



[Mat] said...


Sounds like one of those tests we go through. 8h straight.
Kata, kihon, partner drills, kumite, randori, renzoku waza, running

name it.

The only one that was "easy" for me was the last one. with the injured knee, I feel like I cheated Chito-ryu...

But I remember testing for green. I felt like I was going to fall down on my knee and I had such a horrible headache. I still feel the pain! My legs were spaghetti.

I'm dreading my brown belt test. Which will happen next december probably if I train right. Or next June if I really train hard. Who knows? There are as many sparring bouts as there are people in the dojo. hurt or be hurt...

Congratulations on going through the test, even if it's fictionnal. I know tests can be hard. And kyokushin is reknowed for the hard tests.

In montreal, the black belt test is facing all other students in a line. Until you drop down or they're all down.

No getting around that one!

be well Sensei!

supergroup7 said...

Yes Colin, I am aware of what you are saying, and of the wisdom contained in the principles of karate.

I can assure you that on normal training I work within the parameters of my body, and when it starts to complain about the harshness of the training, I will lower my output for awhile to allow my body to compensate, cope, and strengthen.

However, I have to admit that I do appreciate those moments in my Kyokushin training (like a belt rank test) where we are asked to push ourselves beyond our perceived limitations. I always walk away from such a challenge feeling like I have gained much since my last effort. There must be something positive towards this kind of sustained difficult physical effort otherwise we wouldn't be seeing such difficult training as long distance cross country running, marathons, mountain climbing, etc.

I do admit that I am grateful that the Kyokushin belt tests do not come as frequently as my Shotokan ones did... there is time to regroup, strengthen, and improve.

supergroup7 said...

Good skill on your upcoming brown belt test Mat.. truly, in my opinion, the brown levels are the hardest moments of training. Sure, white belt has it's own challenges, and should not be scoffed at, but brown.. oh heavens.. brown.. What a tough position to be in, you have achieved enough ability, and knowledge to see what is coming with some understanding. There seems to be a higher expectation from a Brown belt, even ( if I might be so bold to say it) these expectations are higher than those towards a Black belt, and yet you need to struggle to meet them with the skills that you have pulled together so far.

God's blessing be upon you, and your path. I'm in your corner cheering you on.

[Mat] said...

"God's blessing be upon you, and your path. I'm in your corner cheering you on."

Then everything will be allright.