• Phoenix Martial Arts' First All-Black Belt Grading

    The first of the two end-of-year tests was Phoenix's first-ever all-Black Belt grading on June 8th. I had the privilege to not only test for my 3rd Dan (Degree) Black Belt, but far more importantly to me, to do so with four longtime students. Students who had started as young as four and six years old, students who I've had the privilege to teach for 6-8 years...students who were stepping up and becoming my peers. And I mean stepping up, as they trained like they have never trained in their lives for this test. 

    In class, everyone hears me refer to it as “The Floor”. You bow coming on, you bow coming off, and in between, you work. I am a firm believer in earning both the belt that you wear and the belt that you strive for every time you step on The Floor, and by the time we walked out of the change room and onto The Floor that night, all the years, all the work, the actual blood, sweat, and tears...each and every one of them had already earned their Black Belts. 

    The grading itself was virtually non-stop, as poomsae (patterns) quickly flowed into self-defense. The students got a bit of a break at this point as I performed my brick break early which led into my self-defenses (videos of both are on the media page). After this, everyone geared up and started to answer their fears, as that's what Black Belt sparring will do for you. 

    If you've ever been in a fight before, you know that in all honestly, it is terrifying. And not just physical fights. Verbal altercations can be every bit as terrifying. It's fear of the unknown, fear of the injury, fear of losing. It's ego, it's your nightmares coming true. In a Black Belt test, martial artists have a way of challenging those fears. The first in ours is sparring. 

    With multiple sparring tournament champions on the floor, having trained together for years, and having survived the hotbox sparring classes leading into the test, everyone knew what they were up against. There were some great matches, and there were some gutsy matches, as virtually everyone was gutting through old injuries (the kinesio tape was flowing before the test!). It was not the usual fanciness that people associate from Taekwondo (as that is not what I teach), rather it was the realness that comes out when multiple disciplines are represented, and in my humble opinion what all martial arts should aspire to in this world in 2017.

    Without question, the highlight of the night was the main event, the kids' brick breaking.  If this concept catches you off-guard, I'll do my best to explain. 

    It is a tradition in some martial arts, such as Taekwondo, that one breaks a brick to complete their Black Belt grading. At the same time, it is completely unnatural to put your hand through concrete. I don't think that any rational person would argue that. As such, the idea of walking up to said concrete and willingly attempting to put your hand through it is more than unnerving. It is more than unsettling. It is that moment when all the confident self-talk you've ever had meets all of the negative voices in your mind. It's the moment where all the positive experiences in your life meet all of the negative ones. And in that moment, you either live scared, or you fight through the fears and you succeed. 

    That night, at the end of the test that they've waited their entire life for, each student willingly walked up to a two inch slab of concrete, the biggest that I've ever seen at any club. So now you're probably wondering two things: How can they break it, and how can they not get injured?

    Working backwards, does it hurt? Absolutely. Will you get injured if you do it wrong? Absolutely, which is where proper teaching comes in. The students were taught the proper technique months in advance, and had plenty of time to practice. 

    How can they break it? Belief. (That and I buy bricks that are challenging, yet breakable.)

    Be it Colin's quiet resolve, Eileen's poise, confidence, and Batman-taped hand (so much fun), Greg's thumb celebration (which was the best!), and Sydney, the smallest and youngest of them all, who went first, to prove a point, it was moment after moment of pure, unadulterated joy.

    As a grown man and as hinted at above, I will be the first to tell you that stepping in front of that brick will reveal things about you to yourself that you did not know were there. Be it good or bad, they will come out in the moment before your fist unnaturally strikes concrete. So I can only imagine what the 14 and 16 year olds were thinking on this night, especially Syd, who as you will see in the video, is not exactly a tank.

  • As more than one person said to me afterwards, “I didn't even know her and I cried!” As it is a very special night, there are the glamourous moments that come afterwards. There's a belt presentation, a ceremony afterwards leading into putting on our belts, and then celebrating in our new belts. As great as those moments all were, they weren't the moment. It was Sydney, the first of the kids, the youngest and smallest, putting her hand through that concrete on the first try and raising her arms like she'd won Olympic Gold, that brought myself and virtually the entire gym to tears that night, tears that I once again find in my eyes while typing this. That is the moment that makes this entire journey worthwhile.