first two days of promotion

sunrise over Bear Mountain

Charles and I have completed two of the five things we have to do for our promotion to yondan, a.k.a. fourth-degree black belt, a.k.a. sensei.

Wednesday night, the two of us and Gordy, who is an advanced brown belt going for his shodan, or first degree, went over basics: punches, kicks, blocks, stances, combinations. We all did very well, showed good spirit, good form, good knowledge of the material. The only hiccup Charles or I had was when we were doing sai combinations, and those were more practical issues: he was sweating so much he was having trouble gripping the sais, and the point of the sais kept almost getting caught in my uniform sleeve. But we fought through that.

The only other hiccup was when Shuseki asked the fateful question of Gordy, “What’s your favorite kick?” This question is a trap. *laughs* Because the next thing you do is one hundred of the type of kick you answered. Gordy fell into the trap, because he answered the question literally with back-spinning hook kick, a kick that involves a 360-degree turn. (Here’s an example of the kick.)

They say that some mistakes are opportunities, and this was certainly the case here. While Gordy realized his tactical error, the three of us then gamely did one hundred back-spinning hook kicks (alternating which leg does the kick every ten kicks, which ameliorated dizziness issues). It was amazing, stunning, and now I can tell the grandchildren I’ll never have that I did a hundred back-spinning hook kicks once.

That was a fantastic, if unexpected, way to end a strong first night of promotion.

Charles and I then went home to try to get some sleep, as we were to meet Shuseki at Elk Pen Parking Lot at 4am. Charles picked me up at 3am and we drove up there to meet Shuseki, who then drove us to Bear Mountain Inn. That’s the start of the Appalachian Trail, and we were to hike on the AT from Bear Mountain Inn to where Charles left his car. That’s 25 miles of actual hiking, which includes going over four mountains — Bear Mountain, West Mountain, Black Mountain, and Island Pond Mountain — plus up and down bunches of other hills, and going through the Lemon Squeezer (a rather tight rock formation).

Usually that hike is done by black-belt candidates in 13-15 hours or so. Charles and I did it in 11, partly because we were chasing daylight. Normally, these promotions are done in March or October, but thanks to pandemic-related stuffs, this one was put off to November, where the days are much shorter. So we set a brisk pace, took no real breaks (pauses for things like relieving ourselves and to switch clothing around, but that’s it). Shuseki left us at the top of the AT at 4.51am, and we walked back into the Elk Pen Parking Lot at 3.51pm.

It was a glorious experience, and while I’m achy today, I’m thrilled with how it went. It was absolutely beautiful, too. We got to the top of Bear Mountain just as the sun was starting to come up (see picture above), and the views were just stunning. I’ll put up more pictures down the line, but here’s one more I particularly loved, where we could see the Manhattan skyline from atop Black Mountain:

I can see my house from here!

Tonight is Day 3, where the three of us do kata and self-defense, and also discuss our essays. This is always my favorite part of a black-belt promotion, whether my own or someone else’s, as kata is what I love best in karate.


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