In my last submission, I mentioned preparations for the fall black belt test. My very first student who started in my dojo as a white belt finally tested for black. Now, I’ve had the honor of helping train many others who reached black belt and beyond, but Josh is the first to go all the way through. His test felt like my test too.
“Did I teach him correctly? Did I equip him with all he needs to succeed at this level? Have I failed him in any way? Is there any weakness in my ability as an instructor that will handicap his performance?”
These tests are challenging: three minutes on the heavy bag, a dozen katas (including weapons), breaking (speed, power, and creative), plural defenses against four “attackers” (one with a knife), 10 two-minute rounds of back to back fighting, plural matches (two, three, and four against one), and “quick kill” (rapid fire single point matches with everyone present). Four hours is considered a fast test.
During round six of the single matches, Josh catches a knee to the chin that knocks him out. This happens. Broken bones, knocked out teeth, bloody faces, dislocated anything, etc. It’s never intentional and unless the injury requires an immediate trip to the hospital — the test continues. On the street, one would have to adapt and keep fighting, so we do the same. We protect each other and still push each candidate for a good test and the candidates push themselves harder than anyone else.
Josh falls to the mat in what feels like slow motion. My first thought is, “Oh great, I’ve killed my first shodan. I should be fired as a sensei.” Thankfully, logic kicks in before I can prop him up off the canvas. He was disoriented for hours and till this day, he still doesn’t remember a certain chunk of time during his test. He may forget where he is and why, but he never forgot to fight.
I’m his last single fight, an envied slot reserved for black belt family members or their chief instructor. Before and during that last round, he is reminded “this is your black belt test” (WHAM…his fist to my face). “You are at the Hombu dojo” (BAM…round house kick to the head). “This is round ten” (BOOM…knee to the ribs). The crowd packed near the boxing ring cheers. I am so proud.
I’m proud of more than his performance that day. He travels all over the country with us doing demonstrations and benevolence projects, he teaches anyone who asks for help, he has a hard work ethic, good character, hearty moral fiber, a killer sense of humor, and his hair is always perfect. This is a quality young man and I have the honor of helping him get here, but I most certainly am just one of many, MANY influences. I’m so grateful for a generous network of other instructors to make our students as well rounded as they are willing to become. He exceeds my mere teaching and makes ALL of his instructors proud.
Congratulations Sensei Joshua Schaal. I hope I make my instructors as proud as you make me…and I hope I passed your test too.
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