On Sunday, Sarah and I had our first tae kwon do grading. Strictly speaking it wasn’t Sarah’s first grading at all, since she did lots of tae kwon do when she was a kid, but it was my absolute first experience of such a thing. It was fantastic!
I’ve been going to tae kwon do lessons since about June, when I found a school I liked the feel of. I go every Tuesday for an hour and a half, and it’s immensely improved the quality of my life. Whereas before I’d do exercise as training for surfing and snowboarding, now I’m actually learning a new thing and keeping fit in the city. It’s made a huge difference to my mood and general well being, and Sarah mentioned the other day that we’ve both been able to handle stressful situations far better than we could before.
So, for those of you who don’t know, tae kwon do is a martial art and you take exams (gradings) to progress through the coloured belts and demonstrate your growing skill in the art. You start out at white belt, then work up to yellow belt, green belt, blue belt, red belt and then black belt. Between each new belt, you take a grading to get a ‘tag’ which is the colour of the next belt and you sew on to your belt. These belts represent your ‘kup’, and the kups go from 10 (white) down. So, I have just taken a grading to get 9th kup, and the addition of a yellow tag on my white belt.
The lead up to the grading has been quite interesting, and the week before the grading we had a ‘mock’ grading which was really useful and I got really nervous! The gradings go in order of seniority, with the lowest first, so Sarah, I and one other new person had to go in the first group to be graded. That made me nervous about the etiquette of it all, as I had to remember it good and proper since there’d be no one to watch before me on the day. As you can tell, I took it pretty seriously.
The day of the grading Sarah and I headed over to the venue for about 11.30 and got changed and warmed up. Everyone else was there too, along with the two black belts who come to the lessons. They helped us go through everything and were really reassuring. We practiced everything a few times and then we all warmed up together and then our instructor and the examiner arrived. We all stood to attention and repeated the oath of tae kwon do. Then it was time to begin.
I was the first person to be called up and went and stood in my spot. I was joined by the other beginner and Sarah and then we were given instructions on what to do. The examiner gave instructions to our instructor, who passed them on to us. This was brilliant because we’re used to listening to him and following his instructions, so there wasn’t too much to get freaked out by. We had to show that we could punch, and move forward punching, and punch and block. We also had to do 10 push-ups (not as easy now as just after we’ve been surfing!). Then we had to do our ‘pattern’. A pattern is a series of moves where you demonstrate different bits of tae kwon do. At our level it’s not actually officially a pattern but pivoting on the spot blocking and punching in four directions. After the practical bit we could be asked questions if the examiner felt like it, and he invited Sarah to his desk to ask her a question. Normally this would be things like ‘what is the meaning of tae kwon do?’ or ‘what does yellow belt represent?’ but he asked Sarah if she had done a martial art before. He could tell! Sarah was pretty thrown by the question, but explained that she had done it years ago. And that was it. We went to the back of the room and sat quietly while everyone else did their gradings. It was great to watch the others as they were fantastic to watch and it was good to see what we’d be doing in later gradings.
After the grading the examiner took a lesson which was just amazing. It was a great combination of practical stuff and getting us to sit down as he explained bits about the philosophy of tae kwon do, and gave us things to think about in how we approach tae kwon do. It was exhausting but fantastic.
(It’s weird, but for some reason I’m reluctant to talk about the specifics of the school or the examiner, but I can’t quite work out why.)
I must admit it was hard dragging myself to my lesson on Tuesday as I was still really tired from Sunday, but I was excited to find out if I had passed. I thought I had as I didn’t think I’d made any mistakes, but still… Only five of us from Sunday made it to the lesson on Tuesday, and one of us was injured out. Sarah was working, so she couldn’t get there, and I reckon everyone else was wiped out. The result? Well, the clue is in the title of the post: I passed! Now I have yellow tags on my white belt, and am learning the next pattern for the next grading.
I guess it’s worth saying that the gradings are a reflection of something, in my mind, not the point of the thing. I get a bit frustrated sometimes because I know that I can’t do things at all well, but the nice thing about the grading system is that it allows you to be rubbish. One of the most reassuring things my instructor said before the grading was something like “you’re not meant to be able to do it, of course, because you’re only a white belt. But you are meant to be able to know what you’re aiming for”. It might sound demoralising, but it’s a very liberating things to be told when you’re learning. It takes the pressure off and lets you concentrate on learning, rather than panic about not being able to do it.