Nerves of Steel (Yeah, Right)

Ceinture_De_Karate_Ou_Judo_clip_art_purpleToday’s post is a little different – it’s a diary.  I want to remember what it was like for me to be a beginner facing promotion (7th kyu).  I don’t want to forget what a beginner might feel and think and need.  Of course everyone is different, but if years from now I can have some measure of empathy for my future students because I recorded my journey, then writing about this will be time well spent.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

When I trained in Karate as a teenager, I went though three promotions in roughly as many years, and two tournaments. Since resuming Karate twelve months and 25 days ago, I’ve been to four tournaments and tested three times. I’m facing a fourth belt test in two days. Near as I can figure this will put me at a skill level only slightly below where I once was long ago. I’ll know for sure when I find out what new kata I’ll be learning.  So why the heck am I nervous?

To stave off the worst of the anxiety, I keep remembering votes of confidence from those who outrank me. I’ve been practicing like a fiend, keeping in mind all the tips from Senseis and Sempais that I’ve received in the last few days. I have to remind myself that some things will be fixed by Tuesday, some won’t. I even prepared for this test by performing my katas in tournaments! I’ve long since lost track of how many karateka who outrank me have whipped my tail in sparring since my last belt test – this is fantastic preparation for sparring in promotion. I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to be who and what I am. I wouldn’t be tapped for this promotion if I weren’t ready for it.


There’s a difference between taking the belt test seriously and anxiety. Taking the belt test seriously means I’m not cocky or disrespectful. This is what is expected of me. Anxiety is all about me undermining myself. Exactly what I don’t need. What it boils down to is trust. I have to trust my training, my teachers, my tutors. I have to trust every vote of confidence I’ve been given. Above all, I must trust myself.

Monday, 6/29/15

Maybe things will slow down a bit for me after this test. I’m looking forward to that because I feel like I have so much to work on, so much to tidy up! It takes time to do that.

The color of the new belt will be the same as when I left off, so this promotion has a bit of significance for me. Too bad the old purple belt somehow, um… er… shrunk while it was in storage. LOL!

I grabbed an empty studio at the Y this afternoon, the one in which our dojo meets. I practiced for nearly an hour. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for tomorrow. That’s taken the edge off some of the anxiety. I miss my daughter terribly – she’s staying with my parents to regain her health. She could’ve helped me by doing some sparring drills with me.

I wonder what tomorrow’s fight will be like?

I wonder when the studio will be empty again tomorrow? Maybe I should just go for a nice relaxing swim tomorrow morning instead. Or maybe I could combine swimming and practicing Karate.


Tuesday Morning, 6/30/15

Today’s the day!!!  The dog woke me up around daybreak (5:00 AM) and we went for an easy 3 mile walk because it was threatening rain. We got back in plenty of time for me to grab a quick bite to eat and then I took my younger daughter swimming (read: she played, I lazed around) at the Y. There were only a few quiet people at the pool at that early hour. I feel nice and mellow. I hope this feeling lasts through this evening’s test.

Wednesday 7/1/15

I felt really, really, ready for the first three belts. This time around I had to just throw up my hands and say to myself the Senseis know the expectations and I have no clue, so I’ll go ahead and trust them that I’m ready.

01_Graphic1I got the belt, so obviously I was ready.

How was my performance?  Well, I didn’t break my foot during this purple belt test like I did when I was a teenager, so I think that alone is pretty freakin’ awesome 🙂

Seriously, though – I’m a flippin’ perfectionist, so I had to remind myself that nobody there expected perfection. Kata – I screwed up ever so slightly on one because I am so used to doing that kata solo without a count – I went right into the second movement from the first. I didn’t let it affect the rest of the execution of the kata. I can’t wait for Bassai Dai kata and beyond, when nobody will be counting… Kumite – well…  um…  Not too shabby, but immediately after the fight and in front of everyone, I was reminded I’d been told last tournament to be patient 😉 This admonishment was delivered gently – so I didn’t feel embarrassed, just duly cautioned about my tendency toward aggression.   I know I can learn to overcome this.  Friday night at a sister dojo I was sparring with someone who outranks me and it turned out to be a very “psychological” fight (faking, deception, luring, etc.) on both sides. I guess I shouldn’t let the time limits and interruptions of the ring pressure me into sacrificing strategy.


The senior student at my dojo is a good tutor and clearly enjoys teaching. He’s spent loads of time with me before and after class, and was there for me yesterday evening. He coached me before the test, which was very sweet of him. Sempai had to leave at 7:00, shortly after my fight. As he passed by me, he winked at me to show me he was confident I’d passed. This was a great last-minute vote of confidence 🙂

The moment came. My name was called, and I waited for a breathless instant to find out if I’d get a new belt or if I’d need to try again at a future date.  “PASS!” I jogged to the front of the dojo to get my belt and certificate. This time, one of my Senseis gave me the certificate, and my other Sensei gave me my belt. The Sensei who presented me with my new belt is moving away soon, so I was really, really glad he’d been chosen to do this. It’s the first of many special memories I will build while wearing the new belt.

I was a little nostalgic when I took off my old belt. I got that belt at Gasshuku last year from the hands of a Sensei who’d been ever so patient with me as I fumbled my way through the kata that was being taught to the group as a whole. I’d spent the entire weekend doing Karate in the fresh air and sunshine, barefoot on cool green grass.  A bald eagle piped when I entered the ring to spar for that belt test. The stripe on the belt was earned at the Hombu Dojo right before I watched the Shodan (brown belt to black belt) testing – which was a fantastic adventure. I’ve learned so many lessons about Karate and myself while wearing that belt. I felt a little sad folding it and putting it aside.  But you know what? The new belt feels right.

I guess it’s time now for the harder work and the higher expectations.

Bring it.

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

8 thoughts on “Nerves of Steel (Yeah, Right)”

  1. Well done. I am enjoying reading about your journey! I am going to be preparing for orange grading next term and green (other style) in November. Will be hard work but worth it. Our tourney is just over a week away so that will be good practice.

  2. Hi, Rach – thank you! Wow, I still admire you for studying two styles. I’ll bet you’re excited about your upcoming tests! All the best to you as you practice. Yes, tournaments are fantastic practice for promotions (and I like belts better than medals, LOL).

    1. Ossu, Ando – I wouldn’t know ’cause I’ve never watched the show, but I’d say there’s a good chance that Walker, Texas Ranger’s sound effect is really a red-tailed hawk’s cry 🙂 Bald eagles are more “chatty,” kind of like canaries on steroids. Still a really cool sound you don’t get to hear in the dojo or in tournament 🙂

      1. LOL, if you’ve learned something new, then it’s been a good day 🙂 Ready for another fun fact? Eagles often drop the rather substantial sticks they’ve picked up for building nests. One (human) family had to guard their little kids from going out into the back yard for a time because there were eagles building a nest in a tree nearby. The kids were in danger of being clonked on the head!

  3. Ossu, Ando! I’ll take that 🙂 Waaaaaait… Cliff Claven was played by the same actor who is in every single one of the Pixar films. HA! Yes, I am a know-it-all 🙂

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