Mark's Black Belt Test

My black belt test (in the Modern Defense Martial Art, an American relation to Tae Kwon Do and Choi Kwan Do) was Saturday August 25, 2001, at 2:00 pm. I was testing with Patrick Corkren, whom I've trained with for a long time, and two juniors: A boy testing for 2nd degree black belt, and another testing for third degree. It was an average August day in Atlanta -- low 90's, sunny. Since testing had started at 10 am that morning (see Chris and Katie and Katie on the airshield), the room's A/C couldn't really keep up, so it was pretty warm.

As we expected, the test started with patterns (like "forms" in Tae Kwon Do, or "kata" in Karate). There are thirteen belts from White to Brown Stripe, and thirteen corresponding patterns. We had to do every one on each side.

Next we did our fighting combinations. Because Modern Defense is an American invention, Masters Lowrey and Hennings (on the left and right, respectively in these photos) take from whatever arts they think works best. Fighting combinations are inspired from kickboxing. Our fighting combination was (moving as you strike) rear straight punch, front round, side kick, spinning side kick, grab opponents arm and punch down. We expected to do it maybe 8, 16 times. Because the juniors had other combinations to demonstrate, we had to do it some 32 times (by Patrick's count).

The most cognitively complicated part came next, just as fatigue started settling in: Focus mitts. We repeat all the patterns from previous, but against focus mitts (sort of pads on hands). It's tough to do the patterns, but it's really hard to remember them inverted (holding the pads).

Now we started our Defense Drills, stylized patterns of attacks and defense: Block and counter, cover and counter, stop punch and stop kick, push off and push off from tackle. We did these with reality checks --- while you're attacking, the defendant could start attacking back.

The 2nd and 3rd degree candidates had some additional drills for which they needed some assailants (aka, victims) to practice on. Patrick and I happened to be at-hand. The 3rd degree candidate had to do some contact-allowed fighting, including two-on-ones. I took a couple kicks to the legs and one punch to the throat, but survived. The 3rd degree candidate did great.

We weren't done with drills -- it takes quite a while to go through all of them.

Close range drills were next. These are responses to being grabbed on the hand(s), from the front, from behind, tackled, and so on. Some of these are inspired from Judo, and some even from wrestling.

The most exhausting part was next: Air shield fighting. For two minutes, fighting as hard as you can against a big pillow that's moving, weaving at you, and knocking you down.

Finally, the most exciting part -- wood breaks. We had three. The first was punching through a board suspended in the air, not supported. (The instructors on the left with air shields are there to knock down the pieces before they hit the audience.) First time, I knocked it out of the instructor's hand. I took off my hand pad (glove), and went through.

Then, a spinning side kick (with our weak leg) through double boards. (Barb got a great shot here of the board just after splitting.)

The third kick was a spinning reverse swing kick through a single board. I bounced the first time, but went through the second.

At the end, over two hours (and a quart of water-and-gatorade) later, Patrick and I had firewood :-) We passed. We get our new black belts on Monday.

Saturday night was wonderful. Barb and Vicky (Patrick's wife) threw a big congratulatory party for us, with a lovely cake, tons of food, with many wonderful things brought by the families of our Modern Defense school. I was limping (I re-hurt my knee, during the fighting combinations, I think) and sore, but it was a great time and I felt justified in helping myself to any calorie I could.


I'm very grateful to everyone who helped me in being able to take and pass this test. Martial arts aren't like academic subjects -- there's no way to learn them from a book or on your own. It takes very good instructors and lots of fellow students to work with. There are many people to thank, especially for the test itself (like Stephen who refilled my water bottles when I learned that three bottles wasn't enough; and friends Jerry and Mindy who helped me figure out carbo-loading), but I particularly want to thank...