You must punch through a board for your Yellow Belt

Last week, Caleb took his Yellow Belt test for Tae Kwon Do.  It would be an understatement to say that he had been looking forward to that day.  He was talking about it from his second Tae Kwon Do lesson, as soon as he figured out that there were these belts that you could earn.  For about a month and a half, if you were someone new (or someone not so new) coming to our home, you would be treated to a martial arts show complete with the requisite screaming (Gi-hap as it is called in Tae Kwon Do.)  One time, Michael Brown and Rob Campbell came to our home for a visit, and Caleb instantly went into Tae Kwon Do mode.  But this particular show did not end well.  Caleb seemed like he was trying to set some records for how high he could kick, but in the heat of the moment, he slipped and landed on his back which required some consoling.  Sometimes it’s good to have an injury during the show to remind the audience that it’s not just all fun and games… so the audience can feel the danger involved…

The Yellow belt test at first seemed like it would be a breeze for Caleb.  Most of it was punching and kicking which he could do well.  There was another section on reciting Korean words.  We clearly had an advantage on this one as Caleb already knew most of the Korean words and the other kids were mostly Hispanic with no predisposition toward Korean.  But, there was a final requirement – busting through a board with your bare fist.  When the instructor was telling Caleb this particular requirement, I smiled an uncomfortable smile at the edge of the DoJang (Tae Kwon Do Studio).  Was my little 5 year old boy really required to break a board to get his yellow belt?  I got up to Green belt, but I don’t remember breaking any boards.  Usually that was left to the Red and Black belts in exhibition type events!  I wondered if he was joking.  But, the seriousness in which he told Caleb made me worry.  Perhaps, it was a way to keep little kids from advancing too fast.  I could tell that Caleb had some apprehension about this too.  Sometimes he mentioned it and asked me if I thought he could do it.  I tried to be encouraging, but I didn’t know. 

The day finally came, and I took off from work a little early, so that I could watch this day.  Needless to say, Caleb was very excited.  He had been punching and kicking every day that week.  Maybe even a little more than usual.  We studied all the Korean words that he was supposed to know, and he had mastered counting to 10.  He could probably actually count to 30. 

Caleb’s turn finally came up, and a cohort of all the white belts took to the mat.  There were 3 of them.  They were asked to do some basic punches and kicks, which all of them breezed through.  They were each asked to say a few Korean words.  One kid hesitated a bit, but for the most part they all passed easily.  Finally, the board.  From a distance it looked like a fairly thin board.  Maybe about a 1/3 of an inch thick.  Caleb was instructed to make a fist, and pound it down on the board like a hammer.  He did.  And he was the first to bust through his board in one thwack.  Those few seconds seemed like it was the proudest single moment in this boy’s short life.  I confirmed this by asking him a few days ago, to which he also added.  “Do you know what the proudest day of my life will be?  When I get my black belt!” 

He grabbed his now split pieces of wood and sat down at the edge of the mat anticipating his award – the yellow belt.  After all of the belts were handed out, he came over to us, his family, and beamed as he held up his split piece of wood, his yellow belt certificate, and his old white belt which was now replaced by his new yellow belt which he wore. 

As I was growing up, my mom had created a binder of awards that I had received over my school years.  When we got home, Caleb said that he also wanted to start a binder.  He put a picture of himself, his yellow belt certificate, and one of the shards of wood into the binder.  He is quite anxious to fill up his binder.  He keeps asking me when he can get another certificate…. when he can get as many as me…. Hold on buckaroo… I have a feeling you’ll dwarf your old man in the awards department pretty quick…

Later, Caleb and I were playing around and I was inspecting the piece of wood that Caleb broke.  Caleb asked if I could break it again.  Well… I suppose if my five year old son could break it, it certainly couldn’t be that hard….  I tried.  Several times I tried to punch through it without success.  To the point that it scratched up my knuckles and drew some blood.  Admittedly, I was trying to break it against the grain which is a bit harder… I’m not trying to dispense excuses, but it sure wasn’t a piece of styrofoam.  The piece of wood now stays (intact) in the award binder where it belongs.   Apparently, I’m no yellow belt…  

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