• At the club I came up in, I was lucky enough to have the chance to help black belts develop their self defense routines for their 2nd Dan Black Belt tests, so when it came time for me to test for my 1st Dan, I asked for and received permission to do my own routine one test early. 
    It was an ambitious undertaking because instead of sticking with what I knew, I branched out and incorporated six other martial arts, including Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Judo, and Catch Wrestling, from Great Britain. With self defense you need a great dance partner, and John Robbins, a Brown Belt in Karate, was phenomenal, as you will see. 
  • Having not competed in two years and not yet at the Black Belt level, I decided to compete here for a couple of reasons. The first being that there was an element of fear about the idea of competing at the black belt level, and I needed to face that head-on and get over it. The second being that I really didn't know what I wanted to do next in martial arts, so this was something to focus on while I figured that out. 
    Being very much into challenging myself (and others, as those who I've taught can attest to), I decided to create a pattern for this tournament. The black belt-level Taekwondo patterns that I knew didn't seem to play to my strengths or seem appealing in a way that would lend itself to me having a chance to do well. With this in mind, I went to the Pyung Ahn patterns (commonly found in Tang Soo Do after originating in Karate). The pattern you will see here, which I named Pyung Ahn Pinigseu Dan (Pinigseu being Korean for "Phoenix") builds off of Pyung Ahn Sa and O Dan, as well as Breathing Law, a Kung Fu form. (Aside: I cannot see a single thing for this entire pattern, which was certainly interesting.)
  • For this set of self defenses, I stuck with the concepts of Kung Fu, which made for a less flashy, more realistic set of defenses...though a little flash still got in there somehow. This time I went with someone much bigger than myself, Brett Jackson, a 2nd Dan in Taekwondo who is also well-versed in Hapkido. Once again, a tremendous partner who gave me absolute trust throughout.

  • From my perspective, one of the aspects of any good Black Belt test is to show a technique that you can perform at a high level. Arguably my best technique is the right leg tornado roundhouse kick. Now seeing as this was a 2nd Dan testing, I decided to up the ante, and instead of doing one, or a few, and going in a straight line, I lined up five Black Belts in a half-circle and attempted to perform multiple 400° tornado roundhouses. After that was a side kick into an open concrete block, which...well, you'll see. 

  • For weeks, Roy and Mike took an in-depth approach to sparring at this test. From how to open against different opponents (and the psychology involved), to playing to Roy's strengths, to counter-attacking speed fighters, to when to clinch and catch your breath (and how to make sure your opponent couldn't attack coming out of the clinch), all the bases were covered. And then we come to the test day itself, when Roy gets a surprise opponent: Mike. After all, sparring is 100% mental. Welcome to your Black Belt test, Roy!

  • Full disclosure: I don't have the best luck with bricks in belt tests. That's actually a comedic understatement. It took several attempts with my First Dan grading (and subsequent attempts), which led to when I finally broke it, I also broke my finger in the process. You've seen the video of the Second Dan brick break, so even though this was a different type of brick from the First Dan, we innately carry our scars with us, and sometimes wear them.

    "If you'd have done it like that the first time, you'd have broken it then", said the owner of the club I used to manage when I finally broke that brick. While I didn't necessarily enjoy hearing those words, I can't say that he was wrong. Life is 100% mental. Whether it's getting out of bed in the morning, how we deal with work, how we handle every situation that greets us in a day, it's all mental. We decide to be happy, to be sad, no one forces it upon us. So those words have always stuck with me, because he was right (though I still would have broken my hand :) ).

    I knew from a fun experience at Rona during the purchasing of the bricks for the grading that I could indeed break this brick. That doesn't heal the scars of the past though. The trick is realizing that even if they don't heal, they also do not have power if you don't give them any.

    There is no bad brick mojo during Black Belt tests. There are no injuries. There is only you, and the floor, and it's time to your your hand through that 2" slab of concrete and touch that floor.

  • My favourite part of every grading...self-defense. This is the part of the test that I spend the most time on, literally from the moment the previous test ends until the next test takes place. Always looking for fun and challenging techniques, things that take me out of my comfort zone. Weaknesses to improve upon. Fancy techniques that I know would work in real situations.

    Nothing in martial arts drives me like self-defense, because it's real. Forget everything else that clubs do, the ability to teach self-defense to children, to people who need it, I take that incredibly seriously. What I personally do during gradings is a mixture of fun and legitmate; what I teach is 100% legitimate, and I take great pride in knowing that my students know how to defend themselves should they ever be in a real situation.