The Fourth Stripe

Very sweaty 51 year old lady in a Tae Kwon-Do suit stands in a hall next to a table draped with TKD logos, behind on the wall are TKD, GB and South Korean flags.

Finding land was a long-haul achievement- working with it to make something amazing will be a long and joyful learning curve- but here we take a little time out to attain something different. On Sunday 23rd May 2021 after seven months of postponed dates, I presented myself at the Bristol Academy to take my 4th dan black belt grading... The Academy is where all black belt gradings for our organisation have been held, but the building is no longer viable and has been sold off, this is the last event to be held on site. From my diary:

Monday 24th May 2021 My brain cannot compute that the grading that has been part of my future for so long is actually now in my past. How it began: 5am start, long drive, roadworks prevent parking. Mr drove the first leg, to the Academy: off goeth he to take temperatures all day. I drove to my brother’s house to study my itinerary which I wrote to keep myself calm. After a bout of infinity during which I stretched, hydrated, and ate sensibly, my brother drove me to the Academy, well, as close as the roadworks allowed. Earlier I had asked my fear why it was there: to keep you focused, you dick, it said, being fear with attitude. So I had a mental wrestle with this- fear built up, I confronted it, I did feel focused, then flustered, then every insecurity I’d ever been briefly acquainted with reappeared and I wasn’t giving in to that either. I hit the boards without conviction and none of them broke. No time to wallow. This is not a deal-breaker. Time to take a look at the room, but actually take in no details other than the dust on the narrow windowsill where I had put my assigned tray (to hold shoes and sundry items, a covid compliance). Walk up the stairs, slowly. Feel the echo of all the feet that have trod here: Tae Kwon-Do students since 1982, and before that (it was a rectory, I think) a pull of history, a physical sense of linking in a space that will soon be demolished. This weekend is a nerve-wracked swan song. Get to the thin room where we answer theory questions if we can recall knowledge under pressure. There’s a vast space appearing in my brain, it’s making a great distance between what I solidly know and what I can turn into legible words. I am here making myself do the stuff, but all the people who train you, who you train with, who are trained by you: they are with you in spirit. In that way it is a communal effort. I get my theory questions right, quicker each time. Then into the hall. The Hall. I walk to my allotted chair. The parquet floor is familiar and bizarre under bare feet because we haven’t been able to be barefooted in a hall for so long. Everything is both familiar and strange. The mental wrestle continues. My name is called... Floorwork feels heavy and clumsy to me. I refuse to give in. When we stop I am surprised to be sweaty, I don’t feel like my effort was anything. But once the grading examiners have left the room, I am grabbed in hugs - there’s a photo taken by Mr, I am not pretty! I can’t believe it’s over. There are 6 of us in Group 16, Saturday’s headlining act. Lots of photos are taken. I’m swept up in the group joy, feeling light. We go outside for photos by the sign, the grass is high and full of flowers, meadow-fied. In my head I am thinking I can’t have worked hard enough, I don’t ache. We wander away: I say goodbye to the building I will never see again, where I have done so much training, waiting, writing, meeting people who are part of my life, my TKD family. Emotional, but still light, but still not believing I have done this. Stand waiting and eating oatcakes while my brother comes to collect us. When we get out of the car I ache. My limbs feel like they’ve been torn off. And that feels more like it should, so I’m absolutely wiped out and content even before my sister-in-law makes us fabulous rice bowls and we watch Eurovision and drink a whiskey and need to go to bed.

Thursday 27th May 2021
Tuesday: the email said YES. Congratulations blasting over the internet all day, for me and all of my fellow swansong graders. My disbelief remains strong. Later at home me and Mr pop some cava and watch Man of Tai Chi but don’t ask the plot, I was exhausted.  Today: time to get back to the fields, see if I've got the energy to shift some old fencing. And every once in a while have a grin. Yep, I did do that. I'm sending my belt to get its fourth stripe.

Glowing lady in TKD suit with smart dressed chap, standing in front of a sign that says 'Bristol Academy' on an overgrown lawn with lots of yellow flowers and pretty grass


Smiling with and for you. Without the sweat.
Lisa Southard said…
I definitely smell better now, still tired! :-)

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