Mas Sarah’s Black Belt test begins at 7PM on Friday, March 23rd and goes until Sunday, March 25th at 7PM. With the expectation that she passes her test, a beautiful rice ceremony will take place to celebrate her achievement on Sunday evening at Naga. All students are encouraged to attend.
The white belt grins as she scampers off for a water break. Her excitement reminds me of myself when I started training martial arts four years ago, in sixth grade. I practically lived at the Poekoelan school, learning and eventually teaching. The practitioners became my second family, especially the two head instructors, Silvia and Jeff. They taught me to be confident, commanding, patient, and humble. In middle school, I strove to progress through the ranks quickly. The tests became more difficult, from an informal assessment, to a 6-hour evaluation, to my most recent test with 12 hours of physical demonstrations followed by 12 hours of meditation. My goal is to do the 10-mile run, 250 push-ups, and 24 hours of meditation required for my black belt test before graduating high school.
My student returns. “Time for meditation,” I tell her. “Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. If you made mistakes during class, let them go.” I feel my body relax.
Afterwards, Silvia approaches me, smiling. “Hey, Sarah! I’ve seen you training hard for awhile. I know you’re wondering about your black belt test.” My heart jumps as she continues, “How about the summer after this?”
The summer before my senior year, I reflect. After junior-year academics and before college applications. “Perfect!”
“Fantastic,” Silvia says. “I’m excited for you! I’ll put it on the calendar.”
A year later, three weeks before my test date, I am studying nuclear physics when an email arrives from Silvia. My eyes widen. “I need to let you know that Jeff’s dad is dying…we may need to reschedule your test.” My stomach contracts as if I’ve been punched. I fervently hope that Jeff’s dad will recover. I have been training so hard, and I don’t want to reschedule. I can’t bring myself to reply.
That night, thoughts bombard me. The whole situation seems so unfair. I hate that all the energy I’ve put into preparing could be wasted. Although I don’t know Jeff’s dad, I am sad about his illness. I try to imagine how Jeff feels. Wanting to calm down, I attempt to meditate. I picture Silvia and Jeff. Slowly, my bitter heart fills with love for them. I want to support them in this difficult time, and the last thing they should be focused on is my test.
The next day, I email Silvia, expressing my sorrow and saying that I trust them to decide about the test. She hugs me when I arrive at class that evening. While we practice, my mind wanders. A stray elbow catches me off guard, and my nose stings as I blink water from my eyes. “Don’t worry about it,” I tell the student, “It’s not your fault.”
Later, Jeff pulls me outside. “We need to postpone the test. I recognize that you’ve worked hard to prepare and that this is bad timing.”
My stomach drops, but I can accept the news. “I understand,” I reply. “I’m so sorry about your dad.”
“Thanks,” Jeff says, and his voice catches in his throat.
I wander back into the studio. I notice students working on their kicks and grab a pad for them to target. “See if you can move a little faster,” I coach one student. His kick knocks me backward. I smile. “Awesome! One more time.” Glancing around the room, I see martial artists, but I also see my family. I still want to get my black belt, but that is less important than being part of this community that I love.