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Saturday, August 4, 2001

Let me start by saying that I know almost nothing about martial arts, so when I was watching Eric today as he tested for his black belt in tae kwon do, all I could do was admire the composure and self-discipline it takes to do the forms. Even when he had problems, he faced them and corrected them.

As for me, I lost my composure just trying to get there. I've been to the studio once before, a few months ago, and I remembered where it was in a vague sort of way. Rohnert Park is one of those towns with no center, where parallel streets tend to run into each other somewhere down the line. So it only takes one wrong turn to be so confused you don't know where you are.

But we had directions and a map, and I managed to find the lane I needed to be in, usually before it was too late. Only once did I have to fish-tail across two lanes to get where I had to be. Luckily there was no one in my way. After I found the parking lot, I was fine.

When we arrived at the studio, there was a beginner class finishing up for the day. I assumed it was a class for beginners, because the students seemed to be aged between about four and eight, and they were batting around a balloon with their feet. That doesn't strike me as one of the more advanced forms of tae kwon do, but as I said, I know little about it.

The studio is set up for the students, as it should be. Spectators aren't allowed inside during the testing, but they've put wooden benches on the sidewalk, all along the large glass windows. So we could watch, but we couldn't hear. And at times we couldn't see, either, because of the glare. But we made do.

Eric was nervous, and his practice this morning hadn't gone well, but he's been working so hard, especially the last few weeks, that he knew he was ready. So he was in a good humor about it all. As he went through the forms, we could at times see him thinking about what he was supposed to do next, and occasionally shaking his head.

He was testing with four other black belt candidates, and several younger students who were at an advanced level for their ages. There is a lot of individual work, but all the students support each other. Even when they were sparring, the interaction was an interesting part of the test. It was funny to see a six-foot man and a four-foot little girl looking as if they were trying to hit and kick each other. Some of the little ones were very aggressive, and all of them appeared fearless.

They also had to break boards, with their hands and their feet, even the little ones, and all of them eventually did what they had to do. They were given as many chances as they needed to get through the required actions. There was a lot of bowing and hand-shaking and polite clapping for one another.

Eric's performance wasn't flawless, but he did complete everything, even if it wasn't always on the first try. He'll find out during the week if he's being approved for a black belt. He didn't seem to have a strong feeling one way or the other, but of course, all of us in the family who watched him believe he did it. And if not, he can try again in a few months, just like the bar exam.

Twenty years ago, I was watching him play soccer and baseball. In high school he tried track and wrestling. He still plays softball every week. He started tae kwon do after high school, as a way to keep his body in shape. This isn't the kind of athletic activity that encourages observation by spectators, so it's rare when I get a chance like today. I was glad to be able to watch him do something that means so much to him.

after the test

Eric and another black belt candidate comparing notes after the test.

Afterwards, Eric went off to the fair to gamble on the horse races and listen to the blues festival. I took Mom to Chili's for lunch, then came home and pulled a few more weeds. Then I did something I haven't done much of since I got back from vacation (in other words, since I got TiVo). I pulled the patio chairs out onto the back porch and read. Just sat and read from a book. It was lovely.

While I was sitting out there, the cows came home. That is, the cows that traverse the field just beyond my backyard every day made their way leisurely from the pasture to the barn, munching on the grass and the leaves on the lower tree branches as they went. It was a good way to end the day, for me as well as the cows.

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