Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dominic's black belt test

Dominic has been studying taekwondo at World Champion Taekwondo in Scappoose, Oregon for at least a year now. Saturday (11/20/2010), he was finally able to take his black belt test. I was very pleased to be able to attend and cheer him on. I’m looking forward to taking my own black belt test in April 2012. I offer this description of the event to anyone who might be wondering what a black belt test is like.

World Champion Taekwondo was founded by Grandmaster Byong-Cheol Kim, Olympic gold medalist, 1992. There are five campuses: Portland, Lake Oswego, Saltzman, Murray Hills, and Scappoose. The Lake Oswego campus is owned and operated by Master Je-Kyoung Kim, also a gold medalist at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Students from all five schools attended this test. I counted 25 students testing for the 2nd or 3rd degree (dan) black belts certification; 24 students testing for a junior black belt (less than 13 years old); and 37 students testing for their first dan.

I think that kukkiwon regulations: divide black belts (dan) and junior black belts (poom) at age 15, but our school draws the line at age 13. Technically, Dominic is 12.75 years old, but he tested for a "regular" black belt today. Anyway, there were about 87 students testing today.

We began arriving at Reynolds Middle School in Fairview, Oregon at about 9:00 am. The test was conducted in the gymnasium. I was surprised they did not put down the mats. This is the same location that we use for our friendship tournament twice a year, and they put down mats in this room for that, but today the students tested on a hardwood floor. Friends and family were seated in the balcony. They did not set up the bleachers on the floor. This gave them a lot more floor space, but it made it harder for us to get very good pictures. A zoom and a mono pod would have been handy accessories.

Approximately 87 students prepare for the black belt test 11/20/2010, Fairview, OregonThe test began at 10:00 am. Master Andrea led the stretching. Master Andrea received her 4th dan certification last May, at the same time our instructor, Master Jason, received his. At 10:15, they broke up into three groups: (1) those testing for 2nd or 3rd dan, (2) those testing for junior black belts, and (3) those testing for 1st dan. There was some small drama about getting Dominic into the right group. Technically, he was about 12.75 years old on the day of the test. His masters had agreed that he should test for 1st dan, but he divided himself up with junior black belts by mistake, but Master Jason remedied the situation quickly.

From this point, it was really three different tests being conducted in the same room, and I mostly observed the 1st, 2nd and 3rd dan candidates. I couldn't really see the junior black belts from where I was sitting. They started with endurance testing. I had always thought of this portion of my belt tests as the warm up, but it was listed as endurance testing on the program, and it's basically calisthenics: jumping jacks, pushup, squats and crunches. I didn't pay close enough attention to note how many of each exercise they were asked to do, but I did notice one poor guy with sprained or broken wrist. He wasn't able to do the pushups, so he just kept doing more crunches. I'll be he wished they were working on mats.

I was impressed that no one appeared to be doing pushups on their knees, but otherwise, I was not impressed with the quality of the pushups, even among the 2nd & 3rd dan candidates. Somewhere I got the idea in my head that a black belt ought to be able to do 100 pushups, and I've been working on that goal myself on and off for almost two years now. Most of the sit-ups I observed were VERY shallow. If I were ever in a position to suggest an improvement to the curriculum at World Champion Taekwondo (and I don't suspect that I ever will be), I would suggest bringing back the yellow stripe, and having it represent milestones in physical fitness such as pushups, crunches and squats.

A ten-minute break followed endurance testing, and then the students drilled through basic techniques: punches blocks and stances. They finished this portion of the test with three sets of 100 punches. The first set was very impressive, the second set less so, the third set was a little pathetic, everyone was so tired that no one was pulling their punches all the way back to their belt any more. This might be another skill for me to practice as I prepare for my black belt test.

The kicking drills were conducted much the same way as the basic techniques: lots of combinations. Dominic commented later that it was a little hard to hear and understand the directions. They finished this set with 100 front kicks.

Another 10-minute break preceded the sparring portion of the test. We had been sitting in the bleachers for nearly two hours, so we were ready for a break ourselves. We went downstairs and walked out onto the floor and chatted with Dominic as he put on his sparring gear. The master instructed all of the students wearing glasses to remove them, and then they were paired up and instructed to demonstrate their skills without hurting each other (light contact). Master Jason commenting that he always negotiated with his partners in belt tests to go ahead and kick each other full force because light contact is boring. It was quite chaotic with 20 pairs of competitors kicking at each other, so they asked half of them to sit down. Dominic out-classed his partners in a big way. He loves sparring. He's small but quick. There was another 10-minute break after sparring for the students to change out of their gear.

At this point it's about 12:30 pm. I'm glad I packed plenty of snacks because there was no lunch break. The next item on the program was forms. I was surprised that they included the basic forms. I had only expected to see the tae guk forms. I was also surprised to see them performed out of order. I will need a lot of practice to be able to do that, and some of the students testing appeared to be in need of bit more practice. To keep things interesting, they had half the students sit down at one point and watch the other students perform, and then they switched. Then, they had half the students perform one form while the other half of the students performed a different form.

At 1:00, it was time for nun chucks. The poom candidates and the 1st dan candidates sat on the floors to watch because only the 2nd & 3rd dan candidates learn the nun chuck routines. It was something like forms, but they were only just numbered. They didn't have names. They just worked through a series of pre-defined movements. It looked cool. Dominic is looking forward to learning nun chucks. He will pretest for his 2nd dan three times in the next two years. I think he has to learn the first four routines for his first pre test.

At 1:00 pm it was time for speeches. The masters previously asked four people to prepare a few words. The first speech was given by a 30-something woman who was testing today for her 1st dan. She described how she and her husband used to work out at different things until they started practicing taekwondo together. He was testing for his 1st dan today, too. Master Jason commented that he knew them when they first started, so I'm guessing they studied at Master Kim's Portland location on West Union Road.

The second speech was given by a mother of one of the poom candidates. She described her son as "bouncing off the walls." It made me smile. That's how I got started in taekwondo: looking for something for my son. The third speech was given by a father who over came spinal injuries in order to practice taekwondo with his son. His son has been ready to test for some time now, but he's been waiting for his dad to test with him. His dad is currently a brown belt, so he's about a year away from his black belt test, but he convinced his son to go ahead and test today. The final speech was given by a black belt candidate who remarked how much he hates to exercise. I could really appreciate this. I really hate running for example. I used to like weight lifting, but he also commented how motivational he found the frequent rank advancements, and I had to agree with that, too. When my next belt test is only three months away, I'm very unlikely to slow down or take a break. Even the black belts pretest every six months.

Finally, it was time for board breaking. It rather a long time to hand out all the boards. Each student had to receive their boards from their master, presumably because the cost of the boards was paid from the e testing fee which is paid to the head master of each school. This is perhaps an indelicate detail, but it's a detail lots of people need to know, so I will share with you that the belt fee for this particular test was $550.00. I'm glad I discovered that because my daughter and I will hopefully test on the same day, and that is not a sum I can come up with all at once, but a year is more than enough time to save it up.

Dominic breaks two boards with one punch, 11/20/2010, Fairview, OregonAnyway, each student received eight boards. The poom candidates received thinner boards than the dan candidates. Students held for each other, and they seemed to choose their own breaking techniques. Dominic broke his eight boards with four kicks, two at a time. Master Jason had gone down to the floor at this point to help hold boards, and he had to make some special effort to hold for Dominic as others, trying to help, kept offering to hold for him.

The closing ceremony began with the distribution of new uniforms. These uniforms featured the familiar school logo on the back, but they also included the words World Champion Taekwondo on the pants in large red letters. To be more specific, the word World appears on the outside of the left leg, the word Champion appears across the back of the jacket, below the belt, and the word Taekwondo appears on the outside of the right leg. This led to some confusion in Dominic's family because from the back the students all appear to be labeled as champions. In addition, the 1st dan uniforms feature a single black line on the shoulder and on the outside of the leg; the 2nd dan uniforms feature two black lines on the shoulder and on the outside of the leg; and the 3rd dan uniforms feature three black lines on the shoulder and on the outside of the leg.

When the students arrived in their new uniforms, the masters called them up one at a time to receive their new belts. The belts were all embroidered with the students name and either the name of the school or the name of their master. I can't remember. There was also some Korean embroidery. The 1st dan belts included a single gold bar embroidered at the end of the belt, the 2nd dan belts included two gold bars embroidered at the end of the belt, and the 3rd dan belts included three gold bars embroidered a the end of the belt. I believe the poom belts included the same embroidery, but they were not entirely black. They were divided in half lengthwise and one half was red and the other half was black. I can't remember if the it was the top half or the bottom half that was red, but I do remember that those little kids sure were happy running around in their new uniforms and belts.

The final element of the closing ceremony was a group picture.

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