Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Instructor's Masters Test

On Saturday, May 15, 2010, my instructor, Jason Leitzke and six others, tested for their fourth degree black belt in taekwondo. With the fourth dan comes the rank of Master. It represents ten to fifteen years of study. The test was presided over by Grand Master Byong-Cheol Kim. There were several others judging the test including Grand Master Choi, Master Je-Kyoung Kim, Master Lin, and others.

The six others candidates were: Robert Hummel, James Reuterskiold, Ha-Yaun Chung, Cathi Leitzke, Andrea Heikkila and James O'Rourke III. There were two other candidates as well. Jon Cooley was testing for his third dan and William Brown was testing for his second dan. Normally they would present themselves on testing dates designed specifically for their rank, but scheduling conflicts made that impossible for them, so accommodations were made.

The test was administered at World Championship Taekwondo, 18335 NW West Union Road, Suite H, Portland, Oregon 97229. Just like my own taekwondo school in Scappoose, there weren't enough chairs, so I was really glad that I brought my own. I arrived about fifteen minutes early, but there were already lots of people there. It seemed as though about half the crowd was there from Scappoose to support Jason.

They passed out a very nice program with everyone's name, and the schedule worked out in ten minute intervals. First on the list were hand techniques from 10:00 to 10:20. We started a little late, but the masters seemed committed to keeping the schedule, so they kept this bit pretty brief. Grand Master B.C. Kim called out various blocks and strikes, and the master candidates executed all them with power and precision. It really was a joy to watch.

Next on the list were forms from 10:20 to 10:50. This is also the only part during the test where someone made a mistake. An assistant called out the name of a form, and one of the candidates began performing a different form. The candidates performed ten pushups and started again. I don't know precisely how many forms they performed. It might have been as many as fifteen. I don't usually think of forms as being very exhausting because they are not performed with great speed, but the candidates performed all of their forms with great power and precision. They were all sweating and panting by the end of it.

Next on the list was self defense from 10:50 to 11:00. They all partnered up. The assistant called out numbers and the candidates performed the techniques. It was neat. They were just throwing each other to the ground over and over again. I was impressed that they knew this material so well that they could perform the techniques with only a number as promptings. I guess I've only ever had to learn one self defense technique at a time.

Next on the list was kicking from 11:00 to 11:20. They started just kicking the air with some front kicks and some round house kicks - very pedestrian, but then they got some more assistants to hold some targets and things really started picking up. They did all kinds of kicks and combinations. It was very exciting. At the end, the masters called for an endurance test: 100 roundhouse kicks. Jason made some joke about doing a 1,000 kicks. The other candidates did NOT seem to appreciate his enthusiasm, so when it came his turn to do his 100, he actually went ahead and did 200, so then all the other candidates did a second set of 100 round house kicks. They were all clearly exhausted. I've done 100 roundhouse kicks before but not without a break.

After a ten minute break during which the candidates could drink some water, they put on some sparring gear and demonstrated some sparring techniques from 11:30 to 12:00. This was also very exciting. It was hard to keep track of what was going on. Audience members at the front and to be careful not to get stepped on!

Next on the schedule was nun-chucks from 12:00 to 12:30. This was really neat, too. The assistant called out a number sequentially from 1 - 15 and the candidates performed a series of moves with a single nun-chuck while facing the judges. Then they turned around to face the audience and performed all 15 in order. Then they did 15 more with two nun-chucks! A few candidates dropped their nun-chucks a few times, and they didn't all finish at the same time, but it was still a very impressive display.

After a second ten-minute break, the candidates each received ten boards. Breaking was scheduled from 12:30 to 1:00 pm. Breaking is always the coolest part of every test, and this test was no exception. They started with speed breaking techniques in which the held two boards with three fingers of one hand and tried to break it with the other. This gave them considerable trouble but eventually, with some extra coaching from Master Lim, they all got their boards broken.

Then they switched to power breaking. They all seemed really very excited about this. They were instructed to break two boards with any technique of their choice except the back kick. This part was also very exciting and confusing. They didn't really take turns. They fired at will. Boards were flying everywhere. Mr. Jason chose the roundhouse kick, but he broke the boards with his shin rather than his instep or the ball of his foot.

The final breaking technique was to break what ever boards they had left (most of them had four boards left) with the back kick. They all performed very well. I don't think anyone needed two attempts, but when it came to Mr. Jason's turn, Master Lim asked him to use a stepping front kick and the ball of his foot. There was some confusion as to what a stepping front kick is. The kick he wanted Jason to perform is also known as a front-foot front kick or a skipping front kick. He did a great job.

The next item on the schedule was individual speeches from 1:00 to 1:45 pm. Many of the candidates expressed similar sentiments: they never thought they would make it this far; they made some of the best friends of their whole lives while studying taekwondo; and taekwondo has been a character building experience as much as anything else.

The last item on the schedule was the belt ceremony from 1:45 to 2:00 pm. Each candidate received a new uniform. They jumped into the locker room really quick and changed. They looked really sharp when they came out in their new uniforms. Then they were called forward one by one to receive their new belts. There belts were embroidered with their names. Grand Master Byong-Cheol Kim tied each belt and congratulated each candidate with a bow and hand shake and a hug. Master Lim did all the talking during this portion of the schedule. Grand Master Kim seemed a bit overwhelmed. Master Kim led them in performing the "great bow." He explained it as a Korean custom usually reserved for parents and the deceased. It was performed by kneeling on the floor and bowing the forehead to the floor. All the candidates bowed to Master Kim and Master Kim bowed to all the candidates in unison. It was really very touching to witness.

Afterwards, my friend Heidi said to me: "I really want this in my life." I felt the same way, so that settles it. Heidi and I are going to take our Masters test together in about ten to fifteen years. You're all invited.

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