There seems to be some sort of cosmic force that dictates that all of my taekwon-do gradings must happen when I’m feeling least equipped to deal with it. Previously this has meant doing gradings on the verge of a hormone-induced panic attack, or with illness or injury. Last night was no exception, with a heavy period (including cramps) and a low level cold threatening to take me down. Worse than that, however, is the all-encompassing anxiety I had for my children. We train as a family and last night we were all vying for our next belt.
If you’re not familiar with a taekwon-do grading, you might be forgiven for thinking that it’s all crazy kicks and HI-YAH! punches etc. While there is an element of sparring and self defence, there’s a whole lot more to it. We have the foundations: several moves (stances, blocks, strikes, punches and so on) which we perform in drills or on the spot; patterns or tul, which are a series of defensive and attacking moves performed in a set diagram (each with it’s own meaning/history); sparring (in multiple regimented almost dance-like forms before we get anywhere close to trying to kick shit out of each other), and some of that self defence application I mentioned. Further up the grades there’s also destruction (breaking boards) with both hands and feet. On top of that we are grilled on our theory: our understanding of our patterns, the movements in both English and Korean, aspects of the taekwon-do tenets and ‘way of life’, and so on. It can be intensive, and gets progressively harder each time.
My babies, both trying for their full yellow belt (8th kup) were in the first grading group, which we’d anticipated would probably take approximately 45 minutes. Neither of them had practised as hard on their theory as I would have liked, but both were up to date on their stances, punches and the two patterns they’d need to perform (Chon-Ji and Dan-Gun) so I was quietly confident.
The kid’s grading went on for two full hours, which for a 6pm start on a school night was positively torturous to watch. I could see my two getting increasingly tired, and there were children as young as 5 years old grading who must have been exhausted. Not only did this make me tense — both for the children and our upcoming grading — but the longer it went on (and with another group grading to go) the more chance I had of my mooncup overflowing. There’s nothing like prancing around the dojang in fancy white pyjamas (our ‘dobok’ or training uniform is white) with the threat of deep red spillage to ensure you’re relaxed and ready for an intensive mental and physical test..!
Nerves, periods and pyjamas aside, the kids passed their grading and the second group were whizzed through leaving us ready to start. After reciting the taekwon-do oath and tenets, we were kicked straight into the deep end with our first instructions barked at us in Korean. Now, it’s not unusual for us to be given orders in Korean, but generally they will be backed up by the context of previous instructions or even the English definitions. The pressure of the night and the unfamiliar tongue sending foreign instructions caused my brain to FREAK THE HELL OUT, but by some modern day miracle I actually recognised the instruction and managed to pull myself together enough to do what was being asked of us (parallel stance front punch)…
And then I did it wrong anyway. One of THE most basic moves, something we’ve done since day one, and in the stress of the moment I brought the wrong arm into the air first. D’oh.
It wasn’t the only mishap: I brought the wrong leg forward for my circular block during pattern Won-Hyo and failed to recover, my bending ready stance and the side piercing kick that followed in Yul-Gok (a pattern I’ve won a bronze medal for) were both shockingly bad and I couldn’t seem to drop into a proper ‘L’ stance all night despite it being my preferred stance.
We were instructed to perform 3-step sparring (one of those dance like sparring sets I alluded to) which I wasn’t expecting having more heavily practised 2-step and basic 1-step and, although I knew how to do it, felt like I was fumbling my way through. Equally, self defence application felt too rigid and not convincing enough, although when my principal instructor asked me how I would deal with someone who wouldn’t let go of a wrist grab, my answer “I’d probably kick him in the balls, sir” seemed to have the desired effect (although I felt oddly embarrassed about saying “balls”, and it’s not like me to be coy.)
When it came to breaking, and it was past 10pm (and therefore past my bedtime) by this point, the instructor asked me what I wished to do (meaning a hand or foot technique) and I replied “go home to bed”, which luckily was taken as humour rather than disrespect(!) I ended up breaking a half board, with each hand in turn, but felt disappointed with my lack of effort and confidence. I know I can break, but let my general malaise get the better of me. I’d like to smash this (pun intended, ho ho ho) for the next grading.
Finally, we were tested on theory, and despite having revised harder than for any previous grading as soon as I stood on that spot in front of the grading table every Korean single word, meaning, tenet, oath etc left my head. What a bellend.
Negativity aside, and I am beating myself up for every cock-up, mistake and misstep, both Gaz and I passed our grading and were awarded our blue belt. Now time to learn a new pattern, fix those mistakes and somehow not shit our pants at the prospect of only being a few belts away from black.