Saturday afternoon I showed up to my Kung Fu academy about a half hour before my test was scheduled to start. Nervously pacing the hallways as the preceding class came to its conclusion, I stretched lightly with soft kicks and long arm techniques.
Heart racing, I walked into the classroom just after 2pm while the instructors busily rearranged the room, pulling the mats out of the way and arranging themselves behind an observing table. Clipboards, pencils, and formal attire helped establish a thick air of intimidation.
We began abruptly.
I worked the 10 performance forms first taking a short break in the middle for kicking sequences. After each activity, the table would pause, quietly conferring with one another, taking detailed notes on areas where I should focus my efforts before the final black-belt test. Mostly, I was proud of my performance with my forms. I screwed up a few parts here and there, and I’m certain that I have plenty of things to improve – but I didn’t freeze up and didn’t forget any major component. My speed and power felt appropriate. I even got a few nods of approval after my final sword form.
After the forms, we pulled the mats back out and I started in on my self-defenses. I feel very confident with my self-defenses so I approached them rigorously with targeted forceful attacks. As one instructor noted, I could have defended in a more direct, less artistic manner, as self-defense is far more results oriented than typical form work, but I’m still proud.
Then came the conditioning. I didn’t have too much difficulty with the 50 panther push-ups. My wrist rolled at one point (gah!), but I pulled it back in and kept going. The ab work went smoothly as expected. But that horse stance. Oh that dreaded horse stance! For the test, I was required to do 150 seconds of horse stance. Admittedly, during my regular practice I’ve never really been able to get over a minute and fifteen seconds. But this time was different. This time I had my instructors watching me intently.
I began strongly. I was in the game. I was mentally prepared.
There was no amount of mental preparation that could have made me ready for the pain. I kept my form in check for a minute and a half. Then I began to falter. At two minutes the staff which rested across my quads rolled off. But I stayed down as low in my stance as I could, my quads burning with remarkable discomfort. Think Gom Jabbar, except for legs.
As the clock ticked off those final seconds I crumbled a bit, legs screaming for mercy.
The first thing my head instructor said:
“You were in pain, clearly trying as hard as you could. That’s what we’re looking for.”
The second thing my head instructor said:
“Can you walk?”
After a little recoup time, I got back up and continued with my test breaking some trial boards and passing my oral test. For the final test, I’m going to have to keep training hard so that I can outperform my pre-test and hopefully make that horse stance less crippling.
I’m very pleased this first step is complete.