Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Test: The Good Parts

Not long after writing my blog entry from yesterday I headed over to the dojang to watch my son and daughter in their class for a bit. Master Savidge, a good friend who surprised us by traveling down from Connecticut to sit on the Shim Sa for our Cho Dan test, had requested we make sure to bring our kids to the 5:00 class, as he wanted to compliment my daughter on her performance on the test. He taught them a terrific class, warm and encouraging, and finished up by holding boards for the kids who needed to retest their board breaking.

I helped him hold the boards. It was a good moment, and after some of the negative aspects of the test that I wrote about yesterday, this helped me to start seeing things in a more positive light. Despite the less satisfying (downright unacceptable, in my opinion) qualities of some aspects of the test, there were many great moments as well. My heart broke a bit Saturday afternoon, because I saw a side of the organization I'd never seen before. A tolerance for unnecessarily mean behavior by someone simply because of their rank. Someone using "upholding excellence" as an excuse for being a bully. I saw our art made small. But that wasn't the entire day, and that wasn't the entire experience. With a bit of distance, this has become easier to see.

It was a grueling day, no doubt. We started the day off with a 2 hour clinic with Kwan Jhang Nim, beginning at 10:00AM. Attendance was huge -- at least 55 people, maybe more. Happily, this was not an overly demanding clinic -- more or less the same clinic I've attended with Kwan Jhang Nim 2 or 3 times before, focusing on improving kicking techniques, with a pretty cool training portion that was designed to improve use of front leg side kicks in sparring. It served as a solid opportunity to warm up, and we Cho Dan candidates were able to preserve the majority of our energy for the test.

After the clinic we had a little less than 2 hours to burn before the test. This was when my nerves finally really settled in. About 30 minutes before the test I started kind of freaking out. I started thinking about all the things that could go wrong. About the horse stance punching in neh portion of the test, and how much I hate that. About the fact that my left thigh muscles felt strained and weaker than my right, and as a result my stances might not be as good as I prefer.

So yeah, basically I started to panic. My butterflies had butterflies.

We got to the test. It started a bit late -- about 2:20 or so. And after we bowed in we found out just how the test was going to be run. Because we had so many cho dan candidates testing (about 20, pretty evenly split between kids and adults) they chose to split the test into two groups -- one adult Cho Dan candidates, along with the older ee dan and sam dan candidates, and one kid's group. And the kids went first, which meant we got to sit ahn jo and wait.

And wait.

And wait some more.

They ran the kids through the entire firs half of their test -- line drills, jump kicks, forms, and endurance drills (the horse stance punching I mentioned earlier) while we sat. The kids had some issues (not the least of which was he browbeating they took a few times) but all in all they held it together and got through. I'd obviously have wished for a more positive experience for them, but on the other hand there's no doubt that they earned their ranks. Took about 1.5 hours, and then it was our turn.

For the adults, I'd say things went far more smoothly. The level of preparation was high, and was quite evident. Line drills passed without incident as I recall (frankly I kind of get zoned out when I test, and as a result I don't have particularly clear memories of the specifics of the day -- I kind of go into a bubble in my head and just focus and do). Jump kicking and forms both got done with a minimum of problems (we had to do Naihanchi Chodan twice -- actually they stopped us midway through the first time, which was fine with me, as I was sort of off in the weeds on it and would probably have screwed it up eventually if they hadn't stopped us).

And then there was horse stance punching. I LOATHED this part of the test, just like I loathed it on every gup test prior. It's pure misery, and it never goes smoothly. From a deep horse stance, we execute alternating side punches as rapidly as we can (the suggested minimum is 4 punches per second) for ... well, it depends. The test form says 30 seconds, but it always goes longer than that. I'm told we did a full minute on Saturday, but I don't know for certain. We also were stopped partway through our first attempt to correct a few of the students' technique. Of course, the clock is then reset, so it's just extra pain.

Ugh. Even thinking about it makes me sick. I managed to get through the whole thing, focusing as much as possible on just remembering to breathe. That's the trick -- if you don't remember to breathe in and out every few seconds you'll do fine for about 15-20 seconds but then your body starts getting oxygen starved, and suddenly ... your arms just won't go. The only choice is to stop punching for a second or two, gulp some air, and try to get started again. Obviously this would probably result in a "opportunity to retest" so of everything, this is the one thing I was going to get through no matter what. I never want to have to do this crap again! I finished up, slowing down somewhat by the end but not having to stop at all.

Everything from the base of my neck to the bottom of my hips hurts from that part of the test. I hate horse stance punching!

Anyway, then the adults got to sit down (more like collapse, really) and the kids got back up for the second phase of their test. At this point we'd been testing for around 3 hours already.

Next up was one steps, wrist grabs, and sparring. Kids first, meaning more sitting for the adults. Now, maybe sitting cross-legged is easy for kids, but my knees just can't handle it for very long. As it was, my legs went completely to sleep during an extended period of sitting during the clinic that morning. I'd managed to keep that from happening during the beginning of the test by infrequently switching which leg was crossed on top, and occasionally just uncrossing my legs to give my knees a break. Now, after line drills and jump kick drills and forms and endurance testing, my legs were getting seriously cranky. Cramping all over the place, aching like mad. I finally just had to give up keeping them crossed for more than 5 minutes at a time or so. The kids did all their stuff, and about an hour to an hour and a half later it was our turn again.

So, the one steps and wrist grabs portion of the test was sort of the big "question mark" portion from our point of view. This seems to be the portion of the test where the testing board likes to throw curve balls, testing to see just how well you've mastered your techniques. Random calls, having the candidates do techniques from the opposite side from typical, etc. Everything called in Korean or Chinese. Sometimes putting individual folks in the spotlight for a minute, calling one technique and having the candidate perform it with as little delay as possible. Things like that . A bit more pressure, more of a mental test of concentration and focus than a physically demanding chore.

Well, that was the case for us as well -- both the kids and the adults. Whereas often the testing board will call a specific technique in Chinese (just the number -- for ordinal counting we use Chinese) and then watch as all of the candidates perform it, they instead just had us roll through all of of one steps, much like we'd done on previous gup testings.

Once those were finished (for some reason I wasn't allowed to complete all of my one steps, despite not making any errors of which I was aware -- I wasn't failed on it, so I guess they just assumed we knew them well enough and allowed us to move on), we move onto randomly called wrist grab techniques. This was the most mentally stressful part of the test, with the proctor telling us which hand to grab, and then calling a number in Chinese that corresponded to a specific self defense technique. The candidate would then have to perform the technique correctly and hold the last movement until allowed to return to ready position. I'm especially proud to say that I made no serious errors on this part -- I was incredibly nervous at this point, convinced I was going to freeze up and blank out. But I managed to stay focused and did the correct techniques throughout.

What was funny for me at this point in the test was just how tiny the world seemed to have gotten. I was hardly aware of anything else outside of myself and my partner. I'm trying to remember what else was going on in the test at this point -- how well my friends were doing, how the audience was reacting to what they saw, etc., but it's all kind of a blank/blur. I think that was part of why I was able to plow through the self defense despite being so nervous -- I just sort of blanked out everything else so that I could concentrate despite the stress. This was an interesting experience -- I honestly didn't think I could do that. So, huh.

Sparring was just basic test sparring -- light/no contact, mostly a game of tag between partners, with each of us taking opportunities to show some techniques and have a bit of fun. Two rounds, and then done. After that the Ee and Sahm Dan candidates had to do 2- and 3-on-1 sparring, so I volunteered to help chase a couple of them around the mat for a few rounds. More sweat, more aches.

Then, Q&A with the testing board. At this point we'd been on the mat for 6 hours. The Q&A was ... not overwhelming, in my opinion. Fairly rude criticism from the Sa Bom I mentioned yesterday, without any positive feedback or guidance of any sort that I can recall. Some terminology quizzing (I was completely skipped over, there -- kind of annoying, as I knew the answer to every single question that was asked and yet still got rolled into the group when it came to being criticized for not knowing the answers) some additional feedback and probing questions from another Sa Bom and Kwan Jhang Nim.

So after about 30 minutes of that, it was time to try to break, and then wrap things up. Breaking was essentially a non-starter for the vast majority of Cho Dan candidates, myself included. Primarily due to fatigue (although I still say that the boards had a role in it -- damn, those things seemed way harder than normal) only one of the Cho Dan candidates managed to break their boards, triggering a retest pretty much across the board. For my part, while I could generate plenty of power, I just couldn't seem to get the snap at the end of the kick that would pop through the boards. The Ee Dan and Sahm Dan candidates had mixed results as well. Bad board mojo all around.

And well, that was it. We started at about 2, and about 6.5 hours later we were done. It was a long, long day.

And it just kept going from there, because I'd volunteered to have the post-test celebration at my house. So after a few pictures with the classing participants we blew out of the dojang, ran home, and started putting out food and drink for our guests. Within an hour we had about 40 people in our home, including the majority of the Shim Sa (and Kwan Jhang Nim as well) and many of the testing candidates and their families. Cool time for all, with a bunch of the pictures from the test being shown on my kitchen computer and lots of post-test discussion and goofing around going on. Once things thinned out a bit (around 11 we were down to about 18-20 folks altogether) it was time to break out Rock Band and just goof around for a while. Then, finally, at about 1:15 the last guests left.

And of course I still couldn't sleep. My brain was still on overdrive, so I wound up goofing around on Facebook until past 2:00. And woke up at 7:00 the next morning in a fairly prodigious amount of pain. Everything hurt. EVERYTHING. Arms, legs, upper back, lower back, knees, ankles, wrists, neck, abs, sides, top of my head and bottom of my feet. Arrrgh. That describes pretty much all of Sunday and Monday.

Anyway, I hit the dojang last night and did my retest. Happy to say that whatever was messing me up on test day was long gone, and with a single kick I finished my test. One jump back kick, three boards, no problem. The holders said that they barely even felt the impact as the kick was placed dead center and the boards just sort of exploded. SWEET. And with that, I was done. I've already begun to learn some Cho Dan level material. Won't be wearing my new belt or blue trimmed uniform until our official promotion ceremony (looks to occur sometime in August) but that's fine. I know what I am. I know what I did.

So all in all, it was a remarkable experience. I'm incredibly proud to have tested with both my daughter and my mother, although odd as it may sound I was only able to "enjoy" being on the test with them in an abstract sense. I got so focused and stressed out during the exam that I was only tangentially able to observe their performance -- especially my mom. As I was on the mat at the same time as her, I was only vaguely aware of what she was doing at any point in time. But they both did beautifully, earning the right to wear their blue belt with energy, spirit, and discipline.

I'm glad to have gotten through the negative aspects of the test. I was very depressed about it for two days, but I think that by doing my break I was finally able to allow the test to be finished. And now I can finally just ... train. I don't have to worry about another test for at least a couple of years. Not that those years won't fly by, I'm sure, and there's certainly plenty to learn before then. But I'm gong to enjoy training just for the sake of learning for the first time in ... well, in my time as a martial artist. Up to now everything has been about the next test, the next test, the next test. Now I can just learn for awhile.

And Amen to that.

Mood: Satisfied
Now Playing: Nothing.


kodanja (dot) net said...

Gregg, congratulations on your test. Your performance was excellent, and we both know you fully earned the rank you will soon wear.

I was glad to have been a part of your testing experience, despite the extraneous circumstances.

BTW, I was glad to be able to spend some positive one-on-one time with the kids on Monday, they deserved it. It was my pleasure to be able to hold their boards and get them through the breaking retest.

Miranda did a fantastic job on her jump kicks, second best of all the kids IMO. A little trouble on the Naihanji cho dan and ho sin sul, but nothing that can't be sorted out in short order.

I'm looking forward to seeing you in your midnight blue trim.

Jim Savidge

Carey said...


We've never met but I happened upon your blog. I am a cho dan in Tang Soo Do and just wanted to let you know that I've enjoyed reading your blog about your experiences. :)


Gregg P. said...

Thanks Master Savidge -- while the test could have been a better -- or at least a more positive -- experience, I know that Miranda, my mom, and I all did very well and have earned our belts and trim. The main thing I've taken away from my test is that sometimes the lessons we learn aren't the ones we expect (that's something I can say is true for folks on both sides of the table that day, I expect...). Thanks again for joining us, and I look forward to seeing you again soon.

Gregg P. said...

Hi Carey -- Thanks for the compliment! What style of TSD do you study?