The Test Is Tonight. But It Started Thirty Three Years Ago.

I told myself I wasn’t going to get emotional about this.  And I’ve done pretty well until this morning.   I think I’m going to blame the emotionalism on Kira.  She planted the seed last night when she stopped by the school.  I think the comment was along the lines of “you are going to be crying tomorrow night when this is over”.

I denied it of course.  I might tear up when awarding rank to my students, but not about my own test.  I have been in work mode these last few weeks, struggling to fit in personal obligations, staff changes at the school and final training for my test today.  Yes, I have been stressed.  Waking at 2:30am and getting on the computer to work out a new schedule or jot down curriculum ideas.  Spending hours each day training with Master Dring or on my own, trying to get more repetitions in.  I still don’t know what board breaks I’ll be doing.  My self defense demo was put together in an hour on Tuesday.  Many many thanks to Tom Genz, Brady Speers and Surya Cheek for their patience and good humor while I figured out what to do.  I sincerely hope they remember to wear a cup.

I finished the newspaper this morning and allowed myself to think about this evening.  Not the technical parts which I have been obsessing over (moves to the forms, self defense, shadow boxing, board breaks, sparring, conditioning) but the meaning of this test for me.

I found myself drinking coffee on the couch, tears streaming down my face. Thinking about the people that have been with me for the journey.

My first Taekwondo class in 1976.  Carla Griffey was in the class.  Now Carla Hazelwood, she is still part of my life and does all of the beautiful calligraphy on our black belt certificates.   Jim Bottin owned the school and talked me into trying a class.  He is my landlord and is a great resource of knowledge.   Rick Balkin was in the kids classes I used to teach. He will test for Master early next year and is both instructor and friend to me.

Jim Robinson will sit on my judge’s panel tonight. He was my first instructor and tied my black belt on me in 1978.  He inspired me then to push myself, to be tough, to not be satisfied with anything other than my personal best.  He set the example.  I never imagined that he would still be a part of my life 33 years later.

John and Allison Drew will be driving in from Dallas to be on the panel.  Allison will spar with me, as we did when we tested for 4th Dan.   John is now Master Drew;  Allison received her 5th Dan a couple of months ago.  Fellow school owners, but more importantly, friends that I know I can confide in and depend on.

Marcus Roby will be there.  I didn’t know him when he was on staff at Little Rock Martial Arts, but met him shortly after I started training there.    He has taught seminars at my school, driven from Texarkana to work out.  So many lunches and dinners, laughing and talking.

Gerald Garbett.  The “General”.  A fixture at LRMA, he received his 5th two months ago.   Friend.  Confidant.  How many classes, camps, seminars have we done together?  Thirteen years.

My little sister Tracey.  My closest friend.   Now a 4th Dan.  There are no words.

Master Danny Dring will be running the test.  My instructor and friend.   Week in and week out for six years he has put up with me.  One of the toughest men I know, he has an incredible depth of martial arts knowledge.   I’ve been honored to learn from him.   He has also set the example on physical conditioning, the man is crazy.   He was the second phone call when I found out I needed a hip replacement.  I insisted on the same brand of metal hip that he has.  He did all the research for me.  Unfortunately it didn’t make my kicks anything like his.

I could write pages reminiscing about “the old days”.  Too many people to list.  But all of them in my head and heart.

Charles.  Still my friend and supporter.  He cut the boards for my test tonight and even sanded the edges so the board holders could hold tighter.   He has always believed in me, pushed me to be better.  He supported my decision to buy the school, helped set me on the path of whom I am today.

Joseph Jordan.   We were to test together.  Because of his back injuries  I’m doing this alone tonight.  But he will be there.   He has been my friend, my partner.  What an extraordinary young man he is.

My staff.  Jackson and Kailum are the best.

Students and parents.   The reason I do what I do.  When I see the sense of accomplishment and pride on the face of a student, when a parent sends me a note telling me I have changed their child’s life, I know that I am doing what I am meant to do.

My “Peeps”.    Kira, Tracey, Patti, Leslie, Sheri, Jill, Heidi, Jessica.  My go to group of friends for lunch, dinner, “girl’s night out”, talks on the phone or dancing in the living room.   All friends because of martial arts.

Tom Callos and The Ultimate Black Belt Test turned my world upside down. My UBBT team members set the standard.  Tom continues to challenge me to think outside the box. Sometimes I fall flat on my face.  But I know that this year of UBBT has made me a better person and a better martial artist.

Steve.  My rock.   He knows when to push me, and knows when to back off.   He is the calm in the storm.

As I sit here, thinking about this test, it’s like a huge mosaic of faces, names, experiences.   Some are dusty and from the past, others new and shiny.  Martial arts have been part of my life for thirty three years.  I could never have imagined how my life would be changed when I took that first class.  So I’m going to head to the school, walk through the patterns a few more times.  But I know the test really isn’t tonight.  The test has been for the last thirty three years.  And it will continue on Monday.


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