Acing a Black Belt Test

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

An adult karate student nervously anticipates his Black Belt test. Will achieving a black belt rank be the glorious achievement he imagines?

September 18, 2021, Des Moines, Iowa, USA

The black belt test was scheduled to begin at 9 am.  Glen Rivera arrived with plenty of time to prepare.  He parked his Camry so that it faced the entrance to Thunder Strike’s studio.  The logo on the window showed the outline of someone side kicking into the air.  The words around the logo – pride, power, strength, speed – made it clear that Thunder Strike’s version of Kenpo Karate was high powered and testosterone rich.

On one side of Thunder Strike’s spot in the strip mall sat a nail and hair salon.  The other side held a massage chair retailer.  Neither had any customers on a Saturday morning so Glen easily found a parking spot.  His usual routine before entering the studio consisted of blasting loud music in his car to psyche himself up.  His musical choices were either hard rap or hard rock.  Lately he was into 80’s metal bands who were popular when he was born.

Because testing for his black belt was a very special occasion, Glen cranked up Welcome to the Jungle by Guns and Roses, which he had recently rediscovered as his favorite motivational song.  He closed his eyes, let loose some primal screams, and pounded on his steering wheel.  He recounted the three years’ worth of work leading up to that morning.  He had perfect attendance in his twice-a-week classes.  As part of his at-home training, he did over 100,000 pushups and sit ups.  He memorized 30 choreographed movement forms and sparred in 1000 practice matches.

Glen accepted that he was not naturally athletic or physically intimidating.  No one he met on the sidewalk felt obliged to step aside and let him pass.  When he walked onto a plane, none of the flight attendants considered asking him for help if they had to subdue an unruly passenger.  If anything, Glen was wiry and compact.  Karate appealed to him because it was about speed and position.  He now knew when and where to land a punch.  Even if others did not realize it, he could handle himself in a fight.  His skills were stealthy, like a ninja.

He realized it was silly to think that way, but Glen considered achieving a black belt as important as graduating from college.  He had finished college because his parents and society said it was necessary.  Karate school was his choice and he had started without any encouragement.

Welcome to the Jungle finished and Glen opened his eyes.  As he reached for his door handle, he spotted a familiar face.  Robbie, an intern from his office, walked in front of Glen’s Camry.  Robbie looked like it was his first time at the strip mall.

“I better catch him before he goes inside,” Glen thought to himself.

He had cracked open his door when another car pulled up beside him.  Glen paused to let the car finish parking.  Glen did a double take when he saw another familiar face behind the wheel.  Mallory Hathaway had miraculously shown up.

Glen met Mallory on a dating app.  They had done lots of talking, weeks and weeks of talking.  It finally led to a face-to-face meetup.  Glen thought it went smoothly and had asked Mallory to do it again.  She replied with a non-committal, “We’ll see.”  Now she had decided to come to the studio to witness Glen’s greatest triumph.

Glen had to assume that Robbie and Mallory both found their way to the black belt test because of his Facebook and Instagram posts.  He avoided telling anyone personally about it.  He did not want to come across like Dwight Schrute from The Office, who bragged about his karate belts.  But Glen figured an innocent social media mention would not sound like he was showing off.  And it looked like at least two people who had seen the posts were interested enough to come and see him.

Glen pushed open his car door and timed his exit so he would intersect Mallory leaving her car.  He stood up wearing his gi, the white uniform required for students at the studio.  His brown belt, one step below black belt status, was tied around his waist.  He hurried toward Mallory.

“Wow!  I can’t believe you came!” Glen called.

Mallory reacted as if someone was running at her with a knife.  Then she recognized her former date.  “Glen.  Oh hi.  You’re all dressed up.”

“Yeah, this is my uniform.  You’re here to see the test, right?”

“Sure.  But I didn’t know you were part of it.”

“You didn’t see my post?”

“Uh, your post?  No, I’m here for my daughter.  She’s probably inside already with my ex-husband.

Glen tried to hide the embarrassment on his face.  “Oh, your daughter.  She comes to this studio?”

“She has been for years.  It’s a big day for her.  Looks like it might be a big day for you too.”

Glen nodded and smiled as he reached down and pulled his brown belt even tighter.  Mallory had mentioned in their chats that she had a daughter, but Glen did not know the girl’s age.  Given how young Mallory looked, Glen guessed her daughter was no older than a tween or young teenager.  He slumped toward the studio door with dread.  His worries had moved beyond the disappointment that Mallory was only there by coincidence and that he would soon be meeting her daughter and ex-husband.  He was more worried that the studio would be filled with adolescents.

Justice Ranger, the owner of Thunder Strike studio, taught many age groups.  Glen attended late night classes for adults.  He never mingled with the kids from the classes earlier in the day.  Whenever Glen achieved a new belt level, Justice simply presented it to him during one of the adult classes.  A black belt test and presentation was meant to be more special.  Glen hoped it only involved adults reaching that new level.  His heart sank as he realized he was probably going to be mixed in with the kids.  He knew they learned the same forms and techniques taught to the adults, but it was hard to take twelve-year-old black belts seriously.  How effective could they possibly be in a real fight?

Glen followed Mallory into the studio, and just as he feared, the padded floormats were covered with kids wearing white gis.  Parents sat in plastic chairs surrounding the mats, cheering their sons and daughters as they threw warmup kicks and punches.  Glen desperately scanned the twelve practicing students, hoping to find someone his age.  The kid who came closest, was maybe sixteen.  He had glasses and an uncombed mop of scraggly hair.  Where were all the other adults?  Glen knew he was the only person promoting to black belt from his class, but what about the other adult classes?

As Glen half-heartedly walked toward the floormats, he passed Justice, who was chatting with one of the parents.  “Isn’t there anyone older promoting today?” Glen whispered to Justice.

“I’m afraid not,” replied Justice.  “But don’t worry too much about it.  You know that all black belts are at the same skill level.  You all know the same forms, no matter how old you are.”

Glen nodded his head even if he did not agree.  “It just seems a little weird.”

“They’ve all worked just as hard as you have,” replied Justice.

Glen shuffled past more parents until he was standing next to Robbie, the intern from his office.  Glen had given up on the idea that his social media posts had lured anyone into the studio to see him.  When Robbie recognized him, Glen asked, “Who are you here to see?”

“My nephew,” said Robbie, pointing toward the sixteen-year-old with glasses.

“Oh, he looks like he’s been doing this a while,” said Glen, trying to sound complimentary.

“I wouldn’t know,” replied Robbie.  “I’m here because his mom promised to take us out to lunch afterwards.”

Glen hid a disappointed grimace as he walked onto the padded mats and found an empty corner.  As he stretched, he felt like another TV character – Kramer from Seinfeld, who beat up a bunch of kids during his karate classes.  Out of the corner of his eye, Glen watched as one of the tweens, a girl with dirty-blonde hair, left the mat to speak with Mallory.  The two looked enough alike that Glen concluded she was Mallory’s daughter.  Sitting next to Mallory was a man who was the size of Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies.  The giant’s arms hung from his shoulders like bed pillows – thick and soft.  He had to be Mallory’s ex-husband.

“I need all students to join me on the mats,” Justice announced.  “As you know, this is the culmination of a lot of hard work.  Many of you have your parents and loved ones here.  They know how much you’ve practiced.  We’re going to start our black belt test with some physical fitness demonstrations.  Everyone on the floor for pushups.”

Justice explained that the minimum requirement was twenty-five clean pushups.  He counted as the students around him strained to raise their bodies from the floor.  Glen was hyper aware that Mallory and her ex could be watching him, so he kept his body as rigid as possible.  He powered through the pushups, acting like they were no big deal.

“Now let’s see fifty sit ups,” called Justice.

All the black belt candidates flipped onto their backs and grunted through their sit ups.  Glen fought to maintain a perfect form.  After sit ups, they did burpees.  While some of the kids lagged, Glen kept his form clean and crisp until Justice said they could stop.

“Next, I want to see Dragon Warrior, the form you’ve all been learning for this test,” announced Justice.  “Line up and you’ll do it one at a time.”

Glen watched as the teens and tweens demonstrated the same punches, kicks, and spins he had been practicing.  Many of them only went through the motions and did not punch the air aggressively or call out “Aye ya!” with each strike.  By the time it was Glen’s turn, all the psyching up he had done in his car to Welcome to the Jungle was long gone.  Still, he did his best to look powerful with his thrusts and jumps.

“Very nice!” Justice called out when everyone completed their form.  “Now I want to see some self-defense techniques.  Everyone pair up.”

Glen was afraid Justice would make him work with a partner.  He knew anything he did would look silly when matched up with someone smaller and younger.  He was teamed with Robbie’s nephew and they demonstrated how to react if attacked from behind.  Glen pretended to be an attacker and wrapped his arms around the nephew, who pivoted around in slow motion.  Glen loosened his grip so that the kid could escape.  Robbie and other relatives clapped with approval.

“Now for some sparring!” called Justice.  “Put on your gear and I’ll assign partners.”

Glen found his gloves and helmet.  This time he was assigned to work with Mallory’s daughter.  She was more than a head shorter than he was and moved like she was underwater.  Glen avoided any eye contact in the direction of her parents.

In his adult classes, Glen felt like sparring was his best skill.  His hands usually moved quickly when simulating fights he might encounter on the street.  But when he stood there in front of Mallory’s daughter, he felt no motivation to bob and weave and throw exploratory jabs.  He simply stood in one spot with his hands in front of his face.

“Come on, get in there and score some hits,” Justice called to Mallory’s daughter.

She acted as reluctant as Glen to engage, but with Justice’s encouragement, she began to wildly swing and kick.  She was used to sparring opponents closer to her own size.  When one of her wild swings connected squarely with Glen’s groin, it was a shot intended for her opponent’s abdomen.  Whatever the intension, Glen dropped his arms and fell to his knees.  He rolled over on the mat, groaning in a fetal position.

“I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!” cried Mallory’s daughter.

“You okay?  Looks like she surprised you,” Justice said to Glen.

Glen continued to scoot and crawl to the edge of the mat.  He barely paid attention to the reaction of the onlookers and whether the whole studio was laughing at him.  The pain finally subsided near the end of the sparring matches.  Glen hobbled back onto the mat and stood at attention with the other candidates as Justice decided their fate.

“I’m pleased to announce that all of you have passed your test!” Justice called out.  “This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since all of you have worked very hard up to this point.”

Parents and relatives clapped and cheered.  Justice pulled out a stack of black belts and with great ceremony, handed one to each of the students.  Camera flashes burst from the surrounding audience.  Glen sheepishly took his belt and then looked around at the smiling kids on the mat.  Did the black belt mean anything?  Was it only about putting in your time and going to classes?  Holding the belt in his hands, he did not feel like he had imagined while pounding his steering wheel and singing Welcome to the Jungle.

“How about a group picture?” Justice shouted.

Glen stood for the picture, but he ducked his head and did not smile.  While the rest of the room was talking about celebrations over pizza, Glen quietly put away his sparring gear and waited for the others to leave.  When the coast appeared to be clear, he headed for the door.  Mallory was outside waiting for him.

Glen blushed with embarrassment when Mallory smiled.

“You looked pretty good out there,” said Mallory.

“That didn’t go the way I thought it would.  We don’t have kids in my class.  I didn’t think I’d be sparring your daughter.”

“Sorry she beat you up,” Mallory said with a laugh.

Glen had no idea how to respond.  Before he could open his mouth, Mallory said, “I’m only kidding.  I liked how patient you were today.  You looked confident without trying to be all tough and macho.”

“I did?”

“Yeah, you did.  Are you still interested in going out again?”

“Sure.  Are you?”

“After seeing you in action, I think so.”

“How about tonight?”

“Send me a text.  I should be free after my daughter’s black belt party.”

Glen watched her drive away before scrolling through some music for the trip home.  No more Guns and Roses.  He switched to some love songs he needed to rediscover.

 

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Submitted: October 01, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Aaron Hawkins. All rights reserved.

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