Sunday, July 26, 2009

How to Look Good in Black

Today I had a rare opportunity - the chance to see my friend and mentor Morgane test for her Kadua Guro, or black shirt, the equivalent of 1st degree black belt instructor in Kali Majapahit.

It was a long test, two hours, and filled to the brim with everything we do - single stick, double stick, knife, empty hand, boxing, and more. She did a fantastic job.

I am no stranger to seeing various gradings, going back to my first black belt test in 1987. This one was not easy. There is a lot to remember, and it is two hours non-stop. A test like this must be appreciated on a lot of levels.

Technique - the KM curriculum is vast and deep. There is far too much material to cover in even a two hour test. Still, just trying to remember everything must be a real challenge. There is solo baston/doble baston, espada y daga, sikaran, dumog, kadena de mano, panantukan. There is no pre-arranged pattern, so no way to know what Guro Fred is going to ask. You have no choice but to remember it all.

Endurance - two hours feels like forever. Certain aspects of the test are particularly exhausting such as Dumog and sparring. Just being in good enough cardio condition to make it through such a long test requires months of hard work. The final was 10 one-minute sparring rounds with 10 different partners. This is at the end, after nearly 2 hours of hard work already. You have to be in peak physical condition. Anything less and you'd better not even think about it.

Focus - This is the part that impressed me the most. These tests require incredible focus, especially the weapons work and the technical drills. Maintaining your energy, concentration, and focus over a two hour test is an incredible challenge. Most "normal" people have no hope to do this. Most martial artists do not either. You must have muscle memory for the key moves on both right and left, but you need something more. You need instinct.

Stress Management - This is the other part that really impressed me. During a test of such length and depth it is natural to make mistakes. That causes stress and you must be able to let it go and continue. Otherwise, one mistake invariably sets of a chain of mistakes that destroy your concentration completely. You have to be in the moment completely, and able to let everything else go. This is the hallmark of any good professional athlete, and even more so for any good professional martial artist. The test is often designed specifically to push you to your breaking point and beyond. How will you handle it? This mental toughness is at the heart of every true warrior.

Desire - At the end of it all, how bad do you want it? After two hours of punishment, what takes you over the line is raw desire. You have to give yourself completely to the task at hand, and think of nothing else. Only then can you break through to the other side, past your own limitations and into a new dimesion of your own awareness of being. That magic is what it is all about. Teaching you what is really inside yourself.

Another element I really like is the fact that so many people showed up to give support and be training partners. Everyone can now bear witness to how hard this test is, and the level of preparation needed to get through it. We become more able to respect her knowledge, her skills, her energy and commitment, her self-control. She must convince not only Guro Fred and Guro Lila, but all of the rest of us as well. All of us are in our own way part of that success, and it binds us together even closer than before.

I was so impressed. She did a magnificent job; truly worthy of her hard work and commitment.
This is an important milestone on the path. There are very few of those black shirts out there, and they don't come easy. The shirt looks great on her.


*** amended *** the test is actually said to be 4 hours total, including a written exam, and an additional 1 hour boxing test (separate from the 2 hour test above). WOW!

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