The Karate Klutz: Belt Test Time!

My heart is beating so fast and so hard that I can hear it in my ears. Like a tacky blond joke, I’m reminding myself to breathe in, breathe out, breathe in again. Eight months in Japan have led me to this moment, and I suddenly know how much time I’ve wasted, how ill-prepared I really am. I’m going to be an embarrassment to my senseis, to my club. I should turn around and –


My head snaps up, my feet pop together, my hands bolt to my sides. I’m at attention.


My mind turns off. These are instructions, and my body has taken over.

At the waist, I bow deeply. My head is down, and after a pause there, I straighten.


And it begins. I pounce to the left, blocking an imaginary attack. Right foot forward now, I’ve thrown a punch. This is kihon gata, the first of my two learned karate sets. I’m halfway to the finish line in my belt test.

For all the self-doubt I’ve had this morning (I’m no natural), I’m surprising myself with each remembered step; I didn’t realize my muscles had so much memory. I can feel my body automatically correcting to the right posture. Unlike practice last week, I haven’t tripped, forgotten my steps in front of the entire class or faced the wrong direction. So far – so good.

Only once have I glanced to the others in my group for confirmation of the steps. That was in the warm-up series. Sometimes the names sound too familiar, and I question myself. But I had been right on, just like I am now.

Karate is an art of mind and body discipline, Head-Sensei will tell me later tonight and has told me before. In practices, I wonder if it’s working -if my mind and body are coming together in one disciplined, unified whole. As I stumble around the gym and misstep on the simplest techniques, I think certainly not. I’ve missed something or never connected with the art the way I should have.

But here int he present I’m on my second set now, and I’m faster and harder-hitting than I was in the first. My heart is still pounding in my throat but my body and mind are lost together on this gym floor – punching, kicking and blocking.

“HEY!” I yell, the closest word to the exclamatory grunt that comes with the last position.

Attention. Bow.

Now there’s a moment of calm, while I wait for the last two of the six people testing with me to finish their final set. The adrenaline rushing through my veins takes a breather, and I can hear my heart in my ears again. I’m shocked that eight months of training can’t calm my nerves. I haven’t been this anxious and nervous since the opening night of Peter Pan, the last production I was in my senior year of high school. I played the dog and got stuck in the fireplace – so needless to say, the nerves have negative (but humorous) conditioned training to them.

Now, the fight sequence. My favorite. My partner is in my club; I learned this sequence with him. My body overtakes my mind again.


Let’s fight. I’m the attacker, and I yell as aggressively as I punch my way through his blocks. The height difference makes it difficult, but I’m used to being a head taller and I compensate for it with smaller steps so he can adequately thwart my advances.

He’s on the offense now. As I get into position, I hear Umamoto-san’s voice, one of my senseis, in my head.

“Harder, Cyndi! You are too soft. This is defense!”

No problem, Umamoto-san. Today, he will leave with bruises.

One more round, this time with high punches – to the face – and we don’t miss a step.

“HEY!” we grunt in unison and step backwards.

Facing each other, we bow low at the waist.

“Arigato gozaimashita!” we thank each other simultaenously.

A moment later, the final pair finishes.




A last bow to the judges, and we walk back to our line behind the next group. We sit in seiza, our feet tucked neatly under our knees. My feet go numb quickly, but the last group is almost done, and I think, “I’m a foreigner. I could move,” but today I’m not. Today I’m a Murozumi Karate Club member, so I’ll stay put.

The last group finishes, and the judges say a few words to all the students. I catch “karate” and “gaikoku-jin” (foreigner) and “ichi-ban” (best or first) and a few other random words. In my mind, he has said that this is one of the first times a foreigner has tested in Hikari, and I did well. I have quite the imagination. Egomaniacal or not, I’m moved by whatever he’s saying. He’s throwing the karate skills as he talks about them, and I’m privileged to see it. A final group bow, and the day is over for me.

Head-sensei and Umamoto-san come to greet me.

“Cyndi-san! You were so good! You have improved!”

I thank them, laughing at the word choice – it’s so true. They are genuinely excited (relieved?), I think, that I exceeded their expectations. I’m excited, too.

“They will say for sure next week, maybe,” Umamoto-san says to be quietly before I leave. “But I am sure you passed!”

I can’t wipe the smile from my face.

Later on, there’s a karate enkai – party. I’m congratulated, and I congratulate all my fellow club members who also tested today. Nobody speaks English but Umamoto-san, but we all communicate just fine over sake.

During speeches at the end of the night, the same head judge that spoke after the test, lifts his beer. I hear my name and the many of the same words I had heard earlier.

“He says you did very well today,” Umamoto-san translates.

“For a foreigner,” I chuckle at the subtext running through my own head.

“He says we all like your personality very much. You are very friendly!”

At least I passed one test for sure!

I sip my sake, a cheers to that, and Head-Sensei gestures for me to stand up and give a speech. I almost spit out my sake. Everyone looks eager to hear what I’m going to say, even if they can’t understnad it. “Me, too,” I think.

I lean over to Umamoto-san and ask her how to say something. I’m ready now.

“Karate ga ski desu,” I begin slowly. I like karate. Long pause.

“Murozumi karate curubu… et to… ga ichi-ban sensei desu!” Murozumi Karate Club, um, (particle) best senseis have. (maybe?).

“Imeqatigiitta!” Let’s drink!

This gets a round of applause and a lot of laughter.

Over the next hour, Head-Sensei and I discuss the (de)merits of The Karate Kid.

“When I saw it, I laugh very much!” he is laughing as he says it.

“I love that movie!” I gasp.

He laughs harder.

Karate, he teaches me, is not meant for combat or even self-defense. It’s meant to train, to discipline the mind and body. It’s taboo, he says, to use karate in combat, unless it is absolutely necessary.

Naturally, I use this as a segueway to ask him about samurais and ninjas. Turns out his ancestry is of a samurai line. I tell him we have something in comment, then, because I was a ninja in another life.

Another sake and a debate / lesson on cold versus hot sake and how they’re respectively served (I got served: hot is so much better!) later, and the party is winding down.

I’m commended again on a job well done, and I turn the praise back to my teachers once again.

“Oyasuminasai,” goodnight, and we all head out. On the drive home I think, accolades aside, they all know a movie could be made after me called, The Karate Klutz. I wonder if Head-sensei would like that parody more than the original. Somehow, I think he already does.

Today I reached a major goal of mine in Japan, and next week when it’s official I passed my test (fingers crossed!), I’ll probably trip over myself with joy. 🙂

At the karate enkai after a long belt test and a few too many cups of sake!

Umamoto-san, one of my favorite senseis, and Firefighter-san. Firefighters are cute even in Japan, too! Her eyes are closed on this one... let's try again -

success! her eyes are open... and Firefighter-san is being crazy! haha (notice all the food I'm not eating?! Head-Sensei was nice enough to eat it all for me so I didn't look ungrateful!)

Everyone! Most all of the adult members of my club + karate senseis around Hikari City and judges from the belt test. Head-sensei is the one throwing a peace sign in the third row.

A fun shot. I should have done thrown the Crane pose from Head-senseis favorite movie! haha

~ by C on April 21, 2010.

One Response to “The Karate Klutz: Belt Test Time!”

  1. Cindy- Amazing and awesome and fantastic. Congratulations. (Take a breath… the real work begins after shodan, but I’m sure you’re more than equal to the challenges)


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