After years of training, I was finally being put to my ultimate test — the test for my first dan black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I had gotten up early that morning and ate just a small bowl of cereal. I was more nervous than I had ever been in my life and was sure that any more food I ate would come right back up. It was seven thirty in the morning, and my test wasn't until nine. People always talk about time flying, and I never really experienced the phenomenon until that morning. The hour between waking up and leaving for the dojang was the fastest in my life; I wished it could have lasted forever and I could just push back the time of the nerve-racking test, but that wasn't the case.
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After listening to the National Anthem and saying the pledge and bowing in, the test began. Master Buckley gave a speech about what it meant to be taking that test, and then he said, “If you, at any point, don’t think you cant continue, or don’t want to continue, you can stop the test right then. Just remember that this is the only test that you can’t repeat. If you quit, you can’t come back.”
“You’re not a quitter!” I heard my mom yell from the back.
“Thanks,” I sarcastically thought, “I already know that.”
The speech, however, was still very intimidating.
The first part of my test was doing all of the forms I had learned over my 6 years practicing Tae Kwon Do. Instead of solely a physical challenge, the test is also a mental challenge. I didn't just have to do my forms; I had to do them based off of their move numbers. Some people in the past had to do them in alphabetical order, so I guess I lucked out, but it didn't feel like it.
Every form has a certain number of moves and a meaning behind it, both of which I had to memorize. My first twenty pushups came from not telling the meaning before I started a form. The instructors are always look for reasons to give out pushups during a black belt test to make it harder, and I had given them the perfect one. “Not gonna happen again.” I thought.
Between each form, I had to do twenty pushups. I was a little tired after doing my nine forms (and two hundred push ups), but in the months prior to my test I had worked out and trained harder to help increase my stamina.
Next, Master Buckley asked, “What is your favorite form? One you know everything about and can do forwards and backwards?”
“Chun-Gwen.” I answered, but we both knew I didn't know it backwards.
“Then I want you to do that form kneeling with just the hand movements.”
“Well at least he didn't say backwards.” I said to myself.
Doing Chun-Gwen while kneeling was the most difficult part so far. I had done the form hundreds of times over the years, to the point where it seems like a reflex. That was great for when I was on my feet, but very problematic when I was kneeling and my feet wanted to kick out and my body wanted to turn. I pulled it off, though, and in no time was on to the next part.
“Wen jok chungul solgi, hardan marki. Gul deul marki, ul gul marki, bondi je chong.” The words rattled out of Master Buckley’s mouth, and I was left thinking, “Wen jok what?” Luckily he repeated himself, and I now understood what he said. I was being tested on my techniques — how well I knew my hand attacks, foot attacks, blocks, and stances. And it was all in Korean.
This seemed to take the most time; I never really knew how many punches and kicks and blocks I had learned until I had to do them all, one after another. I tried to make the techniques look the best that I could, but my hands were shaking like crazy when my arm was extended for my punches.
“Nervous at all?” My one instructor jokingly asked.
“Yes.” I replied.