I got my Orange Belt last night. Of course, I was always going to get my Orange Belt. You only get asked to test if the Head Dude thinks you’re ready. (As an aside, I had the name of the discipline slightly wrong. It’s Limalama. And as a further aside, that fellow in the picture on this website was one of my judges. So, I was approved by Rudy, the Senior Master of Limalama. I didn’t know quite what a big deal he is.)
Anyway, an hour before the test is supposed to start, my heart starts to race. And I mean RACE! It speeds up and then slows down and then speeds up again. I keep trying to self-soothe, and to remember to breathe.
I change into my uniform (the Dojo T-shirt, loose black pants, my white belt, my Xena plates (boob protectors), gather up my mouth guard and my wrist wraps in preparation for the punching I’ll be doing, attempted to eat something for dinner. Give up on that idea because I’m so nervous that my stomach is doing flip-flops and the thought of eating anything is just not an option.
I drive down, arriving 15 minutes early. There’s an aerobics class that’s winding up inside. One of the other white belts who’s testing comes up to my car to see if it’s me.
I get out. There’s a breeze coming in the from the ocean, bringing with it the tang of brine.
We head in; I meet the other two who are testing. It’s me and three guys. They’re all younger than I am, not that that matters. I just find it interesting.
We’re chatting aimlessly, trying not to think about what’s coming up.
Are you ready for me to start talking about the test yet? Well, then you’ll need to wait longer, because I had to wait longer. We didn’t get started until 30 minutes past when it was supposed to start.
I don’t wait well.
Mark slips in right on time. I’m happy to see his smiling face.
I’m still nervous; he tries to tell me to use my meditation techniques to calm down. I’m having none of that.
The Head Dude arrives. He’s a little nervous. Actually, my instructor pointed out that the instructors are nervous, too, because we are their reflection. If you want to know about an instructor, watch their students.
He finally has us line up, he introduces the board to us and us to the board and starts the warm ups. We do the usual neck rolls, shoulder rolls, hips, knees, ankles, etc. And then we head to the side of the Dojo to line up again. (There’s a lot of lining up in martial arts testing, apparently.) We’re to do the moving warm ups in a line, so that we will each move in front of the camera.
Oh, did I forget to tell you that we were being videotaped? We’ll get a CD of our test that we can watch and learn from. I’ll have to stop cringing long enough to actually face my fears and watch it, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. No use worrying about that now.
I end up going last. Normally not my favorite. In music, if I’m auditioning (and that’s sort of what this all feels like), I prefer to go first. I want to get it out of the way so that I don’t get nervous as I watch other people perform. But that’s not what happens here. I find that interesting. Clearly I have an unconscious commitment to going last tonight. So, once I notice that, then I start actively choosing when I want to do things, and I notice that I do in fact want to go last. I want to rest, to slow down my breathing and my heart rate, because we’re moving fast.
After the warm ups, we start with the punching and kicking exercises. They pull out the things we punch and kick. Okay, that’s embarrassing. There must be a proper name for those things, but if I’ve heard the name, I certainly don’t remember it.
Anyhoo, (and no that’s not a typo, that’s a saying that my mother-in-law liked to use and it makes me smile and think of Betty when I use it), So, anyhoo again, I choose to hold the whatchamacallit for the first round, because I want to catch my breath from the warm ups. Steve is up and he’s punching for all he’s worth. I’m trying to hold the thingy and keep it from moving and I’m struggling to do so.
Then I’m up to punch. I can feel that my form is off, so I adjust and then readjust and then readjust again.
What? You want me to cut to the chase? You don’t want to hear a blow-by-blow of my test? Oh alright.
We punched, we kicked, we did what’s called “application.” That’s where we practice each of the forms in the series against an opponent. It allows us to see why we’re doing the things we’re doing. It’s actually a pretty cool practice.
A “form” is a collection of moves. The first form in Series 1B goes as follows. Left orbital (that means, move your left arm in a horizontal, circular motion, to block a punch coming at you), left hook (to clock the opponent in the jaw), right rolling punch, now repeat on the other side (right orbital, right hook, left rolling punch).
In application, your opponent (in last night’s case, 6 people of varying heights, weights and abilities) walk up to you and throw you a right punch (aiming past your head, of course, because even though we all have our mouth guards in, we don’t really want to hit or be hit) and you “defend” against it with the first half of the first form. Lather, rinse, repeat.
We worked through each of the “forms” in the series, each of the four white belts “taking on” the other six people.
I froze and got confused at the beginning of each of my forms. Got my rights and lefts mixed up. I didn’t berate myself mentally, but I could see what what was happening. It was all rather surreal. This is all videotaped, so I’ll be curious to see what I actually did. Whether it took me longer or shorter than I thought to figure things out.
This lasted quite awhile, as we rotated through everyone. I think this was one of the points where Mark was wondering how much longer this would go on.
Oops. I told you that I wasn’t going to give you a blow-by-blow. Oh well.
After we do the application it’s time for us to actually do the series. The four of us line up. I choose to be to the left of the board, thinking that they’ll have us work from left to right and then I’ll get to go first.
But first, we all have to perform the series together. Being careful to follow each other. To wait for each other as we switch from one form to another. At the finish of each form we move to face a different direction so that we face each of the four directions and end up facing front again.
We’re an interesting bunch. We’ve not done this together ever. I’ve mostly done the series with black belts, so I’ve followed and they’ve led. But Steve and I were asked by my instructor to work together to lead, so we’re the leaders. Sort of.
Anyway, we make it through the first time around and then we’re asked to do it again. (This is normal. They have us run these things twice, maybe to let us get the jitters out the first time around?)
And then, they have us do the series by ourselves. The Head Dude starts on the right. So I end up being last.
I watch as the other three go through the series. I’m surprised that I’m not getting nervous, but I’m not.
It’s my turn. I step up, center myself in front of the seated board and begin. I drop into that place on lighthouse field from the morning. I’m calm, cool and collected. I flow through the series. Ending up pretty much where I started on the mats, which is one of the goals). I’m asked to do it again, and again, I move smoothly through the series.
Sticks is last. They’re loud and we’re to work with a black belt. It feels like it’s faster than I’ve ever practiced, but I don’t actually know that to be true. We make it through the sticks and then are asked to sit on the floor in a line while the board goes into the men’s dressing room to discuss our test.
They talk for quite awhile. We sit and wait.
They come out and line up in front of us (we stood back up when they came out). We’re facing each other and the Head Dude talks about how well we’ve done. Then he asks if anyone else on the board wants to say anything. Rudy, the Senior Master of Limalama looks at me and starts talking about how if you want to know how good an instructor is, you look at his or her students. That the student is a reflection of their instructor and then proceeds to talk about my instructor and what a great job she did.
I did well, folks!
Then, the Head Dude has us take off our white belts and walks over to put our new Orange belts on us. When Rudy comes over to congratulate all of us, he leans in (now I am first, I get the first Orange belt), hugs me and says, “You’re good!” Each of the board hugs us, congratulates us and tugs on the square knot that the Head Dude has tied. Dude has previously explained that the knot tug is a symbol that the black belt has approved of your promotion.
Rudy didn’t tug my belt. It made me a little nervous, but then I noticed that he didn’t tug anyone’s belts. I’m going to assume that he did approve our promotions even though he didn’t tug on our belts.
Afterwards we ate yummy cake that another of the black belts made, drank juice and chatted for a bit. The woman who was filming the whole thing came by to tell me that she thought my series had a very good balance of grace and energy and flow.
As I was trying to eat the cake I noticed that my teeth felt incredibly sore and that there was a spot on my tongue that my mouth guard had rubbed almost raw. I’m guessing that I clenched that mouth guard tightly between my teeth for the whole time. My jaws are still a little sore. Actually, everything is a little sore. Okay, a LOT sore. I am sore all over. I feel like I used muscles that I didn’t know I had!