Saturday came and went, along with many emotions. Anticipation, expectation, apprehension, relief, pride and satisfaction just some of them. I had my latest Hapkido test this time for Black Belt (1st Dan lower) and was also given my Black Belt for my test in September (Dans 1 and 2 come in three grades, lower, middle and higher). I am now a 합기도 일단
When I started my training some fifty weeks ago the goal was never to become a black belt. I didn't know if it would be possible and I didn't know what level of skill I would need to achieve. I was just training for fun and for something positive to do after work. It was also too far into the future to think about. But after a few months of progression through the belts I knew it was possible and the motivation it gave me enabled me to train harder. Throughout, my Master and his assistant have been amazing and given me support and guidance throughout and every session has had many laughs even though I don't speak much Korean. I owe them a great deal and I feel that I have to improve a lot more to show I deserve my new level.
After September's test I knew I had passed and would be given my new belt in the pre-test ceremony in November. White, yellow, blue, red and brown belts are ones that previous students have been using and are given to you by your Master, not to keep but to use until such time as you have your own black belt. However, my Master refused to tell me that I had passed thus planting a small seed of doubt in my mind. The prospect of not being given my belt before the latest test was one I was fearing but not one I dwelled on until the eve of the test. The brown belt is ugly and four months of wearing it was more than enough.
I can tell you that my shiny new belt is fantastic and I was so pleased to wear it for my latest test. It's more than met all my expectations and is already precious to me. It has my Dojang in Hangul as well as my name in English, both in gold-ish sewn into either side of the belt. I was also given an embossed folder containing a document confirming my ranking and also a card which is a licence to practice Hapkido.
During practice the assistant trainer had indicated that there would be many Middle school students in my test, but there was only two Elementary school kids with me including one girl who has been in each of my tests so far (I was so pleased when she too picked up her black belt, knowing that she had worked as hard as me). Due to some time constraints my test was changed to my shortest so far, around three minutes. Half of the things I'd been practicing were left out, which included many of my strong points. I got a little confused at something we hadn't practiced in the week leading up to the test and made a mistake, but nothing really significant. After each tests, the judges ask some of the students questions and sometimes ask them to repeat movements. I've been asked before and had to show techniques and talk, but thankfully this time that wasn't necessary. I literally would not have been able to answer any questions because my mouth was bone dry. I wouldn't have been able to make any noise at all.
This was my sixth test day and probably the easiest so far but by far the most enjoyable due to being so happy. Before and after, many many kids were asking me the same questions they always ask me - in Korean - but it was still all a bit weird for me. I'm old enough to be almost everyones father there and am twice the size of some of them. After all the tests were over I was given the task of handing out hamburgers to all the kids who had taken part that day.
So what now for me? Can I continue and progress through the ranks or does it end here?
I will keep going to practice even though it's a cold walk at night on my own right now and 'everyone' is out enjoying themselves at that time. I anticipate the next test to be in January and expect to pass that one followed by one in March and then a further one should I continue in May potentially making me 1st Dan Higher. Beyond that I don't know. I've been told that it takes one year to go from 1st Dan to taking the 2nd Dan test. My contract finishes early October so I don't know if time-wise it will be possible (if not I may pack it in some time next year). Its certainly something to aim for. The 2nd Dan belt is the same as the 1st Dan BUT with a yellow stripe through the middle. Quite simply it looks very cool.
I have met and worked with many people who have been working as English teaches in Korea. Many learn some of the language, many don't and even more just go boozing as often as they can. Some take up many of the local traditions here and see many sides of this country while some just live their life as they would back home. I'm happy to have something to show from my time here other than more money in my bank and plenty of hangovers.