Zen Martial Arts Center

Sacramento Martial Arts and Karate

A student recently asked me what my most memorable training memory is. I have many, from achievements that I have been proud of to obstacles I've overcome. One of them that comes to mind now, is my brown-belt test.

At the time that I was getting ready for brown-belt, I was training mostly with Sensei Phillip Debord at the Robertson Community Center near Natomas. The city didn't have us on a very fixed schedule, so depending on the day, we would be training in different rooms at the center. One room was pretty standard and just had a lot of floor space. Another room, "the game room" had a ping pong and pool table taking up half the space. Every floor had cement tiling for our training surface--the kind you might find in a school cafeteria.

Well one day we were forced to train in a very unique room--the art studio for seniors. Aside from having a very small workout space, this room also had pieces of arts and crafts dangling from the ceiling at random places. It made warming up a new kind of challenge, bobbing and weaving under and around these obstacles of art. To make matters worse, the whole floor was covered in this fine layer of dust from all of the clay work and sculpting that they did. If you can imagine a smooth cement floor combined with a layer of fine chalky dust, bare feet, and advanced karate moves, you get an idea at the precarious and slippery conditions we were in.

Those days our class sizes were pretty small thankfully, so the one other student (a brown-belt), Sensei Debord, and myself had just enough room to train in this strange place. Sensei took us through class as normal, and by normal I mean kicking our butts. If he had told me that the dust on the floor was from previous students that he had ground up, I'd have believed him. We worked an hour on kata like we normally did with an excruciating series of push-ups and sit-ups in between reps. I recall Sensei standing over me and watching me finish every push up. It took everything I had to finish the last one--and I know it didn't look pretty.

Finally he told us to gear up for sparring. My training partner and I still joke about how sparring was the easiest part of class for us. It was like the cool down where we actually got to catch our breath! Sensei started the sparring by "running the line." This is where one person stayed in and sparred the other people in class consecutively. We usually did this and then traded places after a while so people could catch their breath. I was up first.

Sensei Debord was always a challenge to spar with. No matter how good I thought I was getting, he was constantly ahead of me, pushing me to achieve new heights. I sparred with both adults probably four or five times before I realized that we weren't switching like we used to. Here I was, a purple belt fighting off these two guys that constantly kept coming in fresh, rotating through me in this weird little room with art pieces hanging from the ceiling and dust covering the floor--it was a nightmare!

While my mind was thinking about what was going on, I took a strong side-kick to the ribs that drove me into an art table. The table didn't break, but I wondered if my ribs had. It wasn't long before I could barley keep my arms up, let alone defend against Sensei's strong kicks and lightning fast hands. The brown belt was getting in some good shots too, but sparring him was like a vacation compared to sparring Sensei. I felt like a mouse being played with. Finally it clicked that I was being tested for something. I didn't know if it was for a rank or just something Sensei felt like doing for fun. Neither would have surprised me. I decided I would do my best to prove myself as best I could.

Finally, the test was over and I was told that I passed the sparring portion of my brown-belt test. I could barely stand and breathe, but was ecstatic. The feeling of working so hard, of surviving, was exhilarating. I used that exhileration to carry my sore body out of that art room. I was the first out the door when I spotted two children that were watching the whole thing through the window. I was drenched in sweat and limping to the bathroom when Sensei followed me out and smiled at the children. He stopped in front of them and in his unique dead-pan manner said, "What you just saw was a brown-belt test. Do you want to learn karate?" Their mouths dropped open in shock. I'll never forget the looks on their faces.

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Comment by Katrina Smalley on April 22, 2013 at 7:48pm

Great story - thanks for sharing!

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