• Spencer Bennington

Test Yourself: You Might be Pleasantly Surprised!

Welcome back to the Rhetorical Roundhouse blog, your online home for martial arts training and critical reflection. Last week I told you all about my new weekend workouts on Instagram Live and shared a little bit about how you might consider structuring workouts in phases. I'm happy to say that the Sunday workout on 8/2 was a fun one, but I'm hoping some more people stop by to say hi! More than anything, I want these to be relaxed environments where we train, chat, and help each other grow. Be sure to tune in this Sunday at 10:30. Maybe it's worth trying Facebook Live one week to see if that's more accessible for folks? Beyond that, maybe Rhetorical Roundhouse needs a Twitch stream...thoughts?


What I wanted to share this week was some inspirational thoughts from the most recent belt testing at US Tae Kwon Do. I believe I mentioned this when I discussed the road to mastery a few weeks back, but I think it's really important, especially for black belts, to continue testing their skills and pushing their limits. As black belts, we often have to wait long periods (years) before being able to test for our next rank (dan). In this time, it can be easy to lose sight of short-term goals, let fundamentals get rusty, or even lose interest in martial arts. If, however, one can structure this training time with some low to mid-stakes milestones, these periods of years become much more manageable. One way to do this is to participate in testing events at your dojang before you are actually eligible for the next dan certification. Some masters even require these "step" tests to help ensure their black belts stay in top form for demonstrations, teaching assistance, and the dojang's public image.


Master Vahid Smith of US Tae Kwon Do believes in these shorter milestones and always tells his black belts that "this is your time to shine." He encourages higher ranking belts to think about the techniques and skills that make them unique as martial artists and explains that testing is an opportunity to demonstrate that to an audience. I've heard this argument before in other contexts, namely when I was in graduate school and a professor reprimanded me for suggesting our institution's timed writing comprehensive exams for PhD students were "just a hoop to jump through."


Truthfully, I still feel that way. Why? Because unlike a Tae Kwon Do test, these written exams were in no way reflective of the kinds of long-term skills the PhD program tries to engender. Instead, they ask students to perform a stressful task utilizing a data-dump/five paragraph essay genre of writing which we actually chastise our freshman students for employing in the classroom. Additionally, these exams were in no way public facing--they simply went to a secret committee who inevitably told you "good enough" and sent you on your way. A Tae Kwon Do test is usually open to friends, family members, and anyone else interested in seeing a cool demonstration of our art. Not only this, but students receive immediate AND sustained feedback based on their performance.


What I'm getting at here is this: it can sometimes be difficult to assess if something is a simple formality, a necessary hoop, an opportunity to prove yourself, or an important milestone. Some questions you might ask yourself when deciding are:


  1. How does this performance help me achieve my goals?

  2. Does this performance demonstrate to me (or others) the hard work and effort I've invested to cultivate these skills?

  3. Is this performance an adequate way to assess the important information I've been learning?

  4. Will I gain new knowledge from this performance that will help me in future endeavors?

These are in no particular order and largely come from the distinction I was just making above. Basically, if something like a Tae Kwon Do test helps you improve your skills, makes you feel more comfortable in your community of practice, and provides you with insight for the future, it sounds like a valuable opportunity indeed.


I got all three of these things Saturday when I participated in my first step test at US Tae Kwon Do! Leading up to the test I practiced my pumsae as well as two demonstration kicks that I was not at all confident with. As a result, I had an amazing test, one that was physically challenging but not defeating, one that was exciting but not nerve-wracking, one that I learned from without having to make major mistakes :D


How can this one test have been such a positive experience? Because it's not an isolated event. This test is just one small part of US Tae Kwon Do's dedication to create a culture of collaboration, respect, and positive encouragement. The goodness is systemic and, therefore, these values shine through in all things that the dojang does. I can't say enough how proud I am to be a part of #teamustaekwondo.


My favorite thing about Saturday was watching all the other talented martial artists perform. Black belts of all ages pushed themselves to their limits out in the heat of the Florida sun. No one complained or tried to quit--despite heat sickness or other injuries. What's more impressive is that EVERYONE lent a helping hand in moving the mats outside (an exhausting test all by itself) as well as cleaning up after. That is the real humility and respect that comes with being a black belt.


My second favorite part about Saturday was when I landed a kick I've been working hard to perfect but never actually done before--the triple front kick! And I did it on the first try :) Check out the video below and be sure to look at Eduardo's awesome kick as well--I'm coming for that 540 next!



Look at that technique!

Easy as 1,2,3!

Of course, when I moved down to Tampa, I already had a few tricks up my sleeve. This is due to the same kind of community, one that feels more like a family than a gym, that I found at Pil Seung Tae Kwon Do in Blacksburg, VA. If you value the of benefits martial arts training and would like to help Pil Seung and Master Rupert Cox continue to serve the New River Valley community, consider donating to the Gofundme today!

And of course, just in case you missed it, here is the newest episode of Good Black Friday! Be sure to like, share, and subscribe. Every video watched an new subscription helps me develop the Rhetorical Roundhouse YouTube Channel to be a charitable fundraising source so please help me reach that goal by sharing widely!


That's it for this week. Thank you to everyone who made this weekend's testing so successful and congratulations to all the students who tested--everyone I saw looked amazing :)


Keep pushing yourself!


Kamsahamnida!

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