Thoughts on Testing

Thoughts on Testing

So the short version of the story is that I recently tested for my Kukkiwon 5th Dan and my Hyun Moo Kwan 6th Dan. I passed and now hold both ranks!

The longer version is a little more complicated. There are many hats martial artists must wear in pursuit of their craft. In my case, I have always wanted to be the best martial artist that I can be. Like many others, I have wanted nothing less than to be the best martial artist in the world. While this goal has always eluded me, I can tell you that in taking on this endeavor I have learned a great deal, and met a plethora of amazing people who have helped me along the way.

I have worn the hat of fighter, athlete, student, teacher and coach. It is because of the last two that I feel compelled to write this post. I started my training in early 1991, and by 1993 I was working as an assistant to my Instructor at his gym. Like many young martial artists, I began teaching in order to improve my own abilities. Through teaching, I would better understand the techniques and methods, giving me the edge to become the best. Although very quickly I found that I genuinely enjoyed helping people succeed in their own training. Also around this time I began competing in tournaments and had a great time doing so.

As a teen and eventually a young adult I rose through the color belt ranks relatively quickly, but eventually my focus turned towards full-time teaching. This path was great, as I could continue to train and practice and talk about my favorite subject, but it was also a good way to support myself. Fast forward 20 years or so and I have my own school with lots of great students who are driven and want to learn and advance almost as much as I do. As an instructor, I talk to my students about being goal-oriented, taking risks, continuing to move forward, and being leaders in their community. One of my favorite sayings is from the US Marine Corp: "Blaze a trail into battle for others to follow!"

So herein lies the problem: I had spent so much time and so much focus on training my students that I was neglecting my own training and advancement. While this is a common problem in the martial arts teaching community, I felt that I was no longer showing my students how it’s done. I had tested for my last rank almost 8 years earlier, even though I’ve been eligible to test for 4 years. So about a year ago I started to actively work towards my goal. I did so silently, but consistently and slowly. I also made a good friend who stepped up to help me prepare for my test. Like myself, he was a Master in Taekwondo who had owned some schools and knew exactly what it was like to train on your own. He was supportive and helped me stay on track, and I am eternally grateful for all his help. I also have another good friend who lives in a town not very far away who is a Kukkiwon GrandMaster, and he had offered to test me when I was ready.

My hope is to offer some insight into all that I learned and was reminded of during the testing process. As usual the teacher in me sees an opportunity to continue to help my students reach their goals:

1) Keep working! As an instructor a large part of my job is to keep my students on task. In my case I was "too busy" doing this to make sure I was doing my own work.

2) Start small. In the beginning I was so out of shape for what I was trying to do that I could hardly move the next day after just warming up. Since getting discouraged was not an option, I had to rethink how I went about getting back to training. I started with just 10 extra minutes every day, then slowly started increasing that until I could do everything I needed to do every day.

3) You're going to fail! As a perfectionist, I am always looking to do things the best right out of the gate. However I can't count the number of times I fell flat on my butt or my head or my back during my training. I tore a calf muscle both during the training but also during the test itself. I bruised my hand to the point where it felt like I was growing another knuckle. All of which is okay, it’s part of the process; but it’s easy to get discouraged with these apparent failures. Remember if you couldn't fail, then you wouldn't need to train in the first place. Get back up, ice your hand, rest your leg then tape it up, but at all costs keep going! It is definitely worth it, and it is the only way to succeed. Expect to fail and plan for it, then persevere and rise above it.

4) Fear is good. Most people will try and tell you not to be scared, or that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. While those things are all well and good, I will tell you that it’s impossible to be brave or courageous unless you are afraid first. Additionally fear is a great motivator both in competition as well as testing. I was always afraid for all my competitions and tests (including this one). Fear will make you pay attention and move quickly and powerfully. We live in a scary world. By learning to control our fear and use it to our advantage we will not only reach our goals more easily, but we also learn to deal with life in a better way as well.

5) It is good to be challenged. As I said, fear can be a good thing: in the case of testing it puts you in a situation where you will be challenged beyond your comfort zone. In a martial arts test, you are only being asked to do that which you have done before. However the fact that it is in front of judges adds a certain degree of stress and pressure. That is the challenge of martial arts and self defense: Can you stay safe under pressure? Being challenged helps you see your abilities and inabilities more accurately. You may think you are doing something perfectly. but when it fails under pressure you are forced to reevaluate.

6) Give yourself credit where credit is due. I have never trained for the acknowledgement of others. I have always been self-reliant and understand what my goals are and how to work towards them. That said, I am also always my toughest critic. The problem with this is that it is easy to get so focused on the negative "what I'm doing wrong" of training that you never get around to fixing it. This in turn kills your motivation. While there is nothing wrong with knowing what you need to work on realistically, it’s important to see your strengths and accomplishments in the same manner. You are always going to have days when you are tired or sore or feeling lazy or scared, but your body of accomplishments can be a very powerful tool in keeping you pushing forward and continuing to try when things get tough.

7) You don't have to do everything by yourself! I have always been happy and content to be a lone wolf, someone who blazes his own trail and definitely off the beaten path. That said, I spent years putting off this test for no other reason than I felt like it was a giant task that I didn't have the time or ability to tackle. Luckily for me, I had a great group of friends who were willing to step up to the plate to help me. For my students: you have friends at your classes as well as instructors and assistant instructors who are always more than willing to help you reach your goals. So feel free to ask them as many questions as you can. Also don't be afraid to talk with your fellow students to organize some outside-of-class training sessions. 

8)Testing makes you hungry! Ever since my first belt test, I’ve always found that afterwards I was immediately invigorated and hungry for more knowledge. This is great because it’s just like starting again. The feeling of accomplishment pushes you to want to learn more, and I can tell you that I was pleasantly surprised to find that it still happens even in these high Dan tests. When I was done with my test I was a little sore a little tired and very bruised, but I also had this overwhelming feeling of excitement to start working towards my next belt and the challenges that are going to be required of me for that test. 

9) Be grateful! So now I would like to say “Thank You” to Grand Master Kevin Schutz, Master Peter Chan, Master Nam Nguyen and Ms. Jen Komatsu. You guys were an invaluable part of this journey and I could not have done it without your encouragement and help. I will forever be in your debt and I thank you for believing in me! Lastly I would like to thank all my students. You guys really are my inspiration for continuing to train and grow. Just like I hope this will help you all to grow and continue to advance, having you all in my classes helps me continue to improve. Thank you and PIL SUNG! 

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