• First Grading of 2017-2018

    We recently hosted the first of our two gradings in our calendar year last Thursday.

    Five students who put in the time from Day 1 this year were given the opportunity to grade and show that they were ready to take the next step in their development.

    It never fails to catch me when I see a young student crying before a grading or a tournament. Never in my personal experience has it been that a parent or a coach has said anything to them, rather it's the pressure that they put on themselves internally that overwhelms them. It's why parents put their kids into sports of any kind, so that they can learn to persevere through that to succeed, and it's a bonus when they are able to un-learn the negative self-talk that puts them in that mindset in the first place.

    We had one such student at the grading, who I talked to with their Mom beforehand. It's a quick, simple reminder which I want to share publicly for anyone reading this to use.

    You are here because your parents believe in you.
    You are here because your instructor believes in you.
    You are here because you have earned the right to be.
    You are ready to be here.

    After this and getting everything ready, the entire club warmed up in preparation. It it always a source of great joy to see everyone in the club come to the gradings, regardless of how many of them are actually taking part in the test. Plus, some of them do get called up to do different things with those grading, which is a bonus for them and helpful to everyone.

    One of our newer students, himself a 20-year veteran of various martial arts, got to see what a challenging, yet sane grading looks like. His son, taking part in his first test, had wide eyes for two solid hours, all while surprising some people with what was not a typical white belt's skill level.

    Another student, an adult who has been here for a couple of years and has been through this a few times, came with very high expectations for himself, and as such put a lot of pressure on himself for this test. There are students who one of your main focuses is to develop their athletic side, and then there are students, like this gentleman, whose athleticism and work ethic allow them to pick up anything I throw at them with ease. Instead, the focus with these students is primarily the mental aspect. Slow your mind down, and when you think you've slowed your mind down enough, slow it down even more.

    The final student grading, John (of the two self-defense videos in our media section), was grading for his Red Belt, which puts him a year and a half away from the Black Belt which is the measuring stick for so many. There is always a great anticipation when John steps onto The Floor, as he is a world-class athlete who is capable of doing special things on any given night.

    Even though we are constantly working on mental strength, staying calm, and not over-thinking things in class, the grading got off to a jittery start as the nerves immediately showed themselves in everyone to varying degrees. This is the part where I immediately challenge those grading, forcing them to work through whatever is on their mind while a crowd watches. There are no Gold Medals here, however if you can work through stuff on The Floor in front of a crowd, then you can recall those moments in real situations in real life, and use those positive memories to fuel your self-confidence and succeed. The students grinded out the opening moments and settled in, starting to show off their skills.

    While the youngster who was crying beforehand was throwing the best kicks they'd ever thrown, John very quietly tweaked his hamstring, which came into play later.

    The father and son, both white belts, put on quite a show for any grading, let alone beginner. They performed our club's white belt poomsae (form/pattern) both right and left-handed, and finished by each doing it a different hand simultaneously. When a student or a pair of students can make a basic form look beautiful, then you know that something special is happening.

    Grading for his purple belt, our adult who was putting a great deal of pressure on himself continued to have trouble, while beside him, the youngster who was crying put together two flawless poomsaes. To give him a reset of sorts and calm him down, he dropped a couple of levels to an early poomsae, which he did so well that the entire class was told that that's what it should look like from everyone. Unsurprisingly, this did the trick and he settled into what ended up being an excellent all-around showing.

    The self-defense...it's always fun to see real people go at real speeds using real techniques. The youngsters showed that they know what to do if a bully ever approached them at school, while the twenty year vet and our formerly nervous, now solid gentleman showed everyone what it looks like when two strong, fit men are battling. As the adrenaline picked up and the battle for position was verging on being more real than I like, they were applauded for their efforts, and asked to dial it back a bit. It was one of those moments, one of those special moments at a grading where you see things clicking and you see people growing before your very eyes. It's usually reserved for youngsters, so it was a nice bonus to see it in adults.

    Sparring came off as well as I could have hoped (and I have high expectations for sparring). The students used their kickboxing training as well as their Taekwondo training to really put on a show for the crowd. Our young white belt, with very little formal sparring training came in and had two matches where he looked like he'd been taking sparring class for a couple of years. He was shockingly great, a natural at combat. He was matched by our now-confident young student, who spars with a calmness of someone who has done thousands of rounds, as the extra kickboxing training has brought along their skills and comfort level in sparring at an exponentially fast rate.

    The adults didn't kill each other, so I was very happy with that! In all seriousness, they showed great footwork and vision for what to do with a live opponent in front of you (aka Fight IQ), again the addition of the kickboxing training making them far more well-rounded than your typical Taekwondo student.

    This brings us back to John. He calmly got through his poomsaes with as much of his signature athleticism and explosiveness as the increasingly tight hamstring would allow him (I had no idea there was an issue until talking with him late in the grading). He was very effective using higher-level self-defense techniques taught at his belt rank on a larger attacker.

    In sparring, the Black Belt in Karate and undefeated amateur kickboxer was challenged with four bouts (again, I didn't know, and he wasn't going to say a word). He fought both of our lower ranked adults in separate bouts, before fighting me in a two round, 2:00 per round battle. From a personal perspective, he was very impressive in knowing how to manage the injury and create scoring opportunities against someone like me who is a counter-fighter whose game is to try and not give you any scoring opportunities. We have fought enough that we know what each other does, which makes it even more challenging to score. He did a great job in both creating scoring opportunities and defending, and finding out after that he was hurt only added to how commendable his effort was. After this bout was the traditional two-on-one at his grading level, featuring John vs Greg (a Black Belt) and John's brother Luke (already a Red Belt). John did an excellent job of illustrating to the younger belts how to fight at a disadvantage, and only at this point did he even start to show any signs of fatigue (oh to be young again!), which I'm sure he'll deny.

    Board breaking can be an adventure. If the breaks happen easily, then everyone is happy. If someone gets stuck on a break, then things get rather tense as the anticipation mounts and fear becomes palpable. Luckily, our first four students broke their respective boards on their first try, including the young white belt with the wide eyes, and the gentleman grading for his purple belt, who had agreed to not find out how he was breaking until stepping on The Floor (bonus points), at which point he was asked to punch through the board with his left hand (which is his non-dominant side).

    John's break was a jumping spin kick, which with his hamstring fairly locked up by this point (there's no turning back in someone as competitive as he) gave him some issues, though when you're kicking too high in that kick, it's pretty impressive. In the end, he put his foot through that board and took another step towards a Black Belt in his second discipline.

    We only grade twice a year (and as you can tell by what I mentioned earlier, not everyone tests both times) to ensure that people's skill levels truly represent their belt rank, and that they respect their belt, as they respect the amount of work that it took them to get there. As you can see by the growth in everyone from the start of this test until the end, this was a grading that I will put up against any grading I've ever been at as the best one I've ever seen. If you were there that night and saw the smiles on everyone's faces by the end and after, you would know that this isn't mere hyperbole, it's truth. If you weren't there, stop by sometime and see why this is the happiest group of people working their butts off that you'll ever see.

    Iron Sharpens Iron