Athletes sparring two-on-one during their black belt testing.

Martial artists endure taekwondo black belt testing

The testing includes self-defense with free sparring and two-on-one sparring, knife attacks and Poomse — a series of moves or patterns.

Taekwondo martial artists from Nelson, Castlegar, Swift Current, Sask. and Turner Valley, Alta. gathered at the Nelson Covenant Church this month to endure various levels of black belt testing.

Eighteen athletes, ranging in age from 11 to mid-50s, endured a four-hour testing regime before a regional testing board which consisted of Masters Michael Twyman of Florida, Nelson’s Dean Siminoff, and locals Dave Laramee, Kathy McBride, and Pat Wong.

When the board gave the entire group five thumbs up, a collective sigh mixed with other sounds of relief and accomplishment rose from the exhausted group, and Twyman shared sage words.

“This is just the beginning of your practice,” he said.

In taekwondo there are nine levels of black belt called Dans. Students and instructors were being tested from first to third Dan.

“It’s a big day, even for people going for their second or third degree they’re just as nervous as the beginners,” said Siminoff. “The coloured belts have been training for four years.

“There is a bit of mystique around the exam,” he said. “They have never been in on an exam before so they don’t know what’s coming up.”

Siminoff, who holds a fifth degree black belt, brought Twyman, who is a six Dan, from Florida for the testing for two reasons: “So I’m not testing my own students, and it’s always more exciting for them,” he said.

The testing includes self-defense with free sparring and two-on-one sparring, knife attacks and Poomse a series of moves or patterns. And at the end of four hours, the athletes’ finale is a fitness test when they are at their weakest and at risk of dehydration, which can lead to muscle cramping. Tywman coached them through the timed sit-ups, push-ups and mixed calisthenics.

“Don’t forget to breathe,” he said.

As the athletes sparred in front of the panel, Siminoff pointed to Evan Howarth, winner of the Yes I Can award for the BC interior (for school-aged children with intensive supports), who was testing to become a third-degree black belt instructor and another athlete who has Multiple Sclerosis.

“Everyone has some sort of challenge when they get here,” said Siminoff.

Twyman was clear with the group that when athletes come before a panel, there are no guarantees they will pass the test, especially if they come unprepared. But that was not the case with this group.

“Everyone was well prepared and this reflects on your instructors,” said Twyman to the group. “Ultimately it all comes down to you. It’s your choice. I feel you gave 110 per cent, which makes it easier for the regional testing board.”

The testing, which saw the first graduates from Kootenay Christian Martial Arts’ Castlegar school, was followed by other seminars over the weekend at Trafalgar school and a banquet at the Hume.

Kootenay Christian Martial Arts also has dojangs in Nelson, Playmor Junction, and Redfish School.

(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Evan Howarth’s name.)