On Friday 29th May I achieved my goal of becoming a black belt. It’s a few days later but I can tell you that I was absolutely wired and it took me until the next day to calm down. I really enjoyed the grading because I trained hard for it. When I felt weak on an area I worked with a more experienced black belt and tidied it up. My weak areas were self-defence, being on target with a jumping spinning kick and the Korean terminology. My hard work paid off because our examiner and chief instructor gave me incredible feedback by saying that my techniques were the best on the night. I am so proud of my achievements because, at 46, I was the oldest person there as well as the only woman out of five people. Three of us were going for our black belts.
I made sure that the day was as calm as it could be for me and it was. I did a bit of shopping with my son and we had lunch. When I got home I slept for about 45 minutes and woke up ready for the event of the year. Around 5 o’clock I became more and more excited. I dropped my son off for the evening and parked up, unloaded then walked to the studio with some Chaka Khan funk in my ears. When I approached the door I breathed a very deep breath, went down the stairs then greet two of my colleagues then looked around to see a bunch of chairs that were set out. I thought “Are we expecting that many people?”. We sure we’re. By the time we started other students, black belts, friends and family were all seated and waiting for the proceedings to start.
So here the highlights of what I did to earn my belt:
This involved getting out of a rear choke hold and defending myself from a knife attack and disarming the attacker. I was quite nervous about doing this because I struggled so much with it in the past. The evening before I practiced with the highest black belt in the academy and he just advised me to keep it simple. So I did and it worked. I managed to defend and disarm from 3 knife attacks. Underneath, overhead and with my attacker holding the knife to my neck standing behind me.
One step sparring, including takedowns
So this is when someone attacks you from the front with a punch or a kick and you defend yourself and get them into submission. We had to do 10 altogether. Among the things I did were defending then counter-attacking with a kick to the stomach, knee strike to the stomach and drop sweeps. With the upper body I counter-attacked with elbow strikes to the head and a palm-heel strike to the chin.
I did three 2 minute rounds of sparring and boy was that gruelling. We had a minutes rest in between. The endurance training I did (skipping and running) really paid off because while others fell to the floor between rounds I was determined to remain standing. If I sat down I probably wouldn’t have got back up.
I then took on two opponents, both over 6 foot, with one being a whole foot taller than me. This round and the next were about survival and I survived. The one thing I would say about this one was that I had one opponent behind me which is not what you want, but it prepared me for the next test. This was a one minute round.
The final sparring session lasted for 30 seconds. It may have well been 30 minutes because I then took on 3 opponents. This time I went all out and used the dojang and capitalised on my scooping blocks which saved me. This was against two 2nd Dans and one of the guys who was going for his black belt. I had my wits about me and went into survival mode. It was as if a spirit entered my body and said “Don’t worry about it Grace, we’ll take it from here”. I scooped and pushed, skipped and turned and made sure that no one was behind me. This one I enjoyed and felt like a warrior!
Jumping Spinning Kick Destruction
I am very proud of what I did with this one because I got into a zone where it was just me and the board. There was some noise but if I have learned anything from meditating it is to be in the moment. The other two went before me and broke the board on two or more attempts. When it was my go I felt like a footballer who was about to take a penalty. The board was my goal and my foot was the ball. I needed to hit it first time. BANG!!! I hit it first time and got a big round of applause.
As before I got into a zone and this time faced the audience when I started. There was noise but after a few breaths it felt like it was just me in the room. I was aware that the audience was there but it was as if they were suspended in time. I practiced the form once last week and I am glad I did because if I did any more I would have over done it and would have probably cocked it up. It went as it needed to go and when I finished, I became aware of the audience again. Applause!!!
Chopping Roof Tiles
If there was ever a time to get into a zone it was now. A couple of weeks previously I asked our chief instructor if, instead of the 3 standard tiles for women, I could break 4. He asked if I was sure and I said yes. At the advice of my old training partner, who herself is a 2nd Dan, I practiced the chopping technique. I really felt that I could break more than 3 so I asked. On the day and as he laid the tiles on one another he asked again if I was sure. I said yes then he said, “Alright then”. There, the tiles were set. I walked up to them and stood for a moment. Again I blocked out the background noise and the audience were suspended. I needed to do break every single tile. I wanted to smash them to smithereens. I took a deep breath then with a Khiap (shout) that seemed to come up from my toes, through my body and out through my mouth I chopped them tiles. This was the end of the show!
It has been a wonderful journey
The whole experience was incredibly spiritual for me because mindfulness was seriously at play. I went in feeling relaxed and as ready as I was going to be. I knew it would be tough and, for me, a bit like the anticipation of giving birth. I am now going to be the highest ranked regular attending female and I really want to do my best to encourage the women who come to stay and join me in the black belt club.
Does it stop here for me? No way. This blog will end but I will begin a new one writing as a black belt. I will continue to practice Taekwondo until my legs stop working. I hope to teach it one day and may be specialise in self-defence. I want to do my best to make the sport more attractive to women by highlighting it’s benefits.
Thank you for travelling with me!
If you would like to go on a similar journey to me and receive top notch training come down to:
Taekwondo Academy, 2F Prince George Road, Stoke Newington, N16 8BY or call 0207 241 3377. You will even get a free trial lesson.