Started training June 2006, age 10. Tested for black belt July 2012, age 16.
Black Belt Speech:
Wow. What a journey karate has been. Never before have I been so committed to one thing as I have karate. Indeed, it has become one of the biggest areas in my life, following in priority to Jesus and school. Nearly every week, 3 – 5 nights a week, for almost six years, we have dedicated a lot of time to this. Through karate, we have grown in strength, discipline, and confidence, and these skills have applied to almost everything we do. More importantly, I learned what it means to commit to something. And, ironically, our journey started on a whim.
Six years ago, Jordan and I were kind of struggling in sports, especially me. We played basketball for a few years, but, plainly, I wasn't very good at it. I never made much of a commitment to do anything. I was short, cautious, not aggressive, and overall, not a very good player. That summer, we heard Jason Kasari was starting karate and we were asked if we wanted to join too. We had no idea of what to expect but decided it sounded cool. Who doesn't want to learn how to do a “karate chop”? Somewhat halfheartedly, we joined and had our first private lesson in July 2006.
That first month was pretty awesome. I remember learning what a star was, seeing “the kata” for the first time, and trying to memorize how to punch correctly. Sensei Evan was also there for my first couple weeks. In our class, we met some fellow white belts: Cordel, Elizabeth, Austin, and Mark. We looked up to the higher belts, the blue belts: Kristina, Seth, Trevor, Wendie, Cameron, Dylan, Walker, Kaleb, and Carl. Sadly, most of these people have quit since then.
I remember being very stressed about my first rank test. However, it wasn't quite as hard as I had imagined it. As a yellow belt, we learned how to spar, something I have been enjoying for since then. Side-kick is still my favorite move in sparring.
However, as with the other sports, I didn't put too much effort into karate. It was just something fun we did in the evening. My attitude toward karate was very relaxed, and I focused entirely on technique and memorization— not committing any power in my movements. This continued through blue belt, and it didn't really change until the Purple I rank test in August 2007. The test itself was pretty easy, but at the end, we had to do our first board break. Everyone else, who had previously been applying power behind their techniques, broke it within five tries. I was not so fortunate. After many tears and nearly two dozen tries the board finally gave way to my side kick. This experience showed me what it meant to hit something and was the starting point of my effort to do better.
Purple belt, for me, was a turning point in several ways. If you divide the belts into three groups , you get the beginning, intermediate, and advanced groups. Purple belt is the first of the intermediate, and it is the beginning of making your own material. Also, Purple belt is the first belt to use weapons. As usual, we learned the bo staff. However, unlike most students, it was at this point that we first learned how to use the Wushu staff: fun. Over the Christmas break, the Purple belt class was unusually small, so it was often just Jason, Jordan, and I. Sensei used this opportunity to teach us part of the Wushu staff form: from the Spear-tick-tock to the spear in sitting stance. However, we had to wait until Purple II to learn the rest of it.
The Purple II test was harder than previous rank tests, but the board breaking, for me, was much easier: I broke it on my second try. This would be the last test with our original white and yellow belt class. A lot of them dropped out around this time.
Here in our journey, we were taking karate a little more seriously; though still not committing 100%, I started making more effort in things like katas and self-defenses. We were introduced to random self-defenses Random self-defenses added a whole new aspect to karate. For me, these were a huge step to practical self-defense. Also, more importantly, we were given the nunchaku. Small, light, maneuverable, and versatile, the nunchaku is my favorite weapon. As promised, we were taught the rest of the Wushu staff form, making the three of us the only ones who knew the form for a while. It was about this time that Seth, Kristina, and Wendie tested for brown belt.
Our Brown belt test was also set apart from the other tests. Part of it was because we had just moved into the new dojo, putting us in an almost alien environment. Another thing that was different was the group size. This time, Jordan, and I were the only ones testing. Also, the intensity was increased drastically. Near the end, I actually tried my hardest in technique and power, committing everything to my punches and blocks. All this made our test stand out from the previous ones. We passed, and we were rewarded with seven new kata, including sais.
This was probably the first time we were able to experience what it was be like to be the highest belt in the school. Before, we were the second or third highest belt. At these short intervals between tests, we stood in line with Kristina, Wendie, Seth, Cameron, and Dylan. Black belt was in sight, and we had already compiled a list of Black Belt test myths.
I'm not going to tell you how true they are, but we figured the Black belt test would have at least a few of the following
It was on a mountain
We had to spend the night because there was so much stuff to do
Sensei would call all his black belt friends and beat us up
It could very well be a pizza party at the top of the mountain
We would carry bricks to the top of the mountain and break them there
Ironically, I also remember thinking how cool it would be to “catch up” to Kristina, Wendie, and Seth.
Before we knew it, we had nearly mastered the boatload of new katas, all seven of them, and were ready to test for second brown belt.
The Brown II test was also a huge step forward. Again, a small group was testing: Jason, Jordan, Barb, and I. This test was, hard. Very, very hard. I tried to apply full effort to each move and kata from the beginning, resulting in earlier fatigue. The random self-defenses were more challenging too; Wendie makes a fierce and stubborn opponent. With these more advanced tests, Sensei was pushing us harder, and we responded well to Sensei's commanding voice. We survived, and Black Belt was even closer.
As a Brown II, I realized a few things. One was that my effort should stay consistent in between rank tests. Two, Ben had all but caught up to us. And three, escrima sticks hurt more than nunchaku. About half way through my time as a second Brown belt, Kristina tested for Red belt. This test looked like it hurt, a lot. Not that Kristina started going half-speed or sloppy—no, she stayed very sharp: only her face and breathing changed. Seeing this rank test, like other rank tests in which the testers display fierce determination, inspired me to put even more effort in classes.
This effort paid off, because I was given the privilege of testing a few months early for red belt. I got to do my last test in the dojo with Dylan and Wendie, with Ben and Gabby testing for second brown. This test was, physically and emotionally, the hardest thing I had ever done. Nothing else had ever gotten close. Seth and Ben were very challenging in self-defenses and sparring; but at least I didn't have to face Wendie. The board breaks were much easier with the “give it my all” state of mind. Through training and testing with him, I became better friends with Dylan.
Jordan, Seth, and Cameron tested a couple months later and did very well. I anticipated Jason's test, but sadly, he lost interest in karate and dropped out to pursue, of all things, unicycling. As I look back on this, I realize that if he had stayed, he probably would have climbed the mountain with us.
As for the Black belt test, it was— just kidding; I'm not going to tell you. You have to go there and experience it yourself. However, I will tell you what state of mind I have gained from the test: total commitment. All of your mental and physical energy focused into each movement in every kata. As Sensei said, just one move at a time. This mind set can be applied to other areas of my life, whether it be school, work, challenges, or even my commitment to the Lord. To me, it brings new insight to what it means “to serve the Lord with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength.”
Karate has given me many things. Through karate I have learned how to discipline my mind and body. Through karate, I have gained a fitness level that I otherwise would not have gained. It has also given me a foundation from which I can go to just about any martial art. I have learned how to teach. Just about all my teaching experience has been from karate. I have met many friends in the dojo: Ben, Seth, David, Dylan, Cameron, Chad, Jared, Barb, Gabby, and many others. In training for Black belt, I have become closer to Ben and Seth. Ben, one who is quiet, funny, sharp, and has a knack for aerial techniques. Seth, a fighting machine who can still joke around in the midst of agony. Training with theses guys and Jimmy has helped me immensely. In short, starting Karate has changed my life.
Looking back on my journey, I am all the more glad that I started in the first place and got to be included in this awesome event. I am thankful for having an amazing Sensei, a good dojo, for my parents who supported me, and coming through all this nearly injury free. I am thankful for my friends, and for Jimmy, who has pushed me to new levels in fighting and pain both in class and in the woods. He contributed greatly to my preparation for the test. I am especially thankful for having the privilege of testing with these five amazing martial artists, Seth, Ben, Jordan, Wendy, and Kristina, each with his or her own strengths and weaknesses. They made this journey very unique.
Now, does reaching black belt mean my journey is over? Not at all. There are still many
mountains to climb, and what I have learned here will assist me in all of them. Knowing my strengths, working on my weaknesses, together.