My Journey to Becoming a Master

At my Martial Arts School we have a black belt testing process that is quite involved. In order to become a Master of the Art, one must go through a series of tests that are tailored specifically for the Black Belt candidate. The tests are broken into three parts: The Test of the Mind, Test of the Body and Test of the Spirit. However, before the test has even been given, the student must go through quite a journey to reach this goal.

The average candidate at my school takes about 10 years to reach the test but most students do not reach this level. Of the 150 or so students that I started my path alongside, there are only five of us left. During these years, our masters have been watching us closely and taking notes, looking for weaknesses and character flaws. Many of these faults are trained out of us during our studies but some are so ingrained that they need special attention.

By the time a student is tested they must pass through many trials, many of which are monumental personal achievements on their own to get through. During an event called Kung-Fu Weekend, students nearing the testing stage are required to remain awake for the entire weekend- a full forty-eight hours or more while keeping up with the vigorous activity schedule of the weekend. At the end of the weekend, we had to spar against a pack of three other students. The sleep deprivation and mental fatigue simulate the effects of getting hit with a stunning blow to the temple and, short of actually hitting students, is the best way to see how a student will act and react in that situation. In addition, the Masters want to see how our decision-making is affected by the lack of sleep. They will not hand out a black belt to anyone that they think will make inherently poor decisions while under stress.

At other points in our training we face some fearful activities that challenge each of us in our own ways. One of the most dreaded classes is called “Impact Chi” where we are forced to relax while getting struck with typical types of strikes and assorted violence against our bodies. The class starts with a warm-up of dropping a twenty pound medicine ball on our own chest while laying on our backs. The class progresses to resisting the urge to cringe away from pressure applied to sensitive nerve junctions. Other nerve-wracking classes include avoiding metal Chinese throwing stars (although the points are not sharpened, they still do cut), blocking a live sword with small palm-sized sticks, and fighting with broken glass or jacks in our sneakers. For me, one of the most difficult rites of passage was “cave breathing”. We lie on the floor and slowly, three-to-four other students lie on top until you reach a total of four times your body weight, pressing on you. You lie there for three-to-five minutes fighting the panic that comes with the inability to take a full breath knowing that after you reach your limit, you still have four-and-a-half minutes left!

Part I: The Test of the Mind

To complete a renovation of a section of the school, working either blind-folded or one handed- all under a very tight budget.

Part II: The Test of the Body

A series of coordination tasks, a blindfolded 7 mile hike on a beach followed by ten minutes of sparring in the surf.

Part III: The Test of the Spirit

A true test of willpower! 48 hours filled with half a dozen tasks-each more impossible than the next.

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