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Pacific Association of Women Martial Artists

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of women and girls in the martial arts.

My Black Belt Test

Photo courtesy of Kathy Long.

By Kathy Long


Editor's note:

Kathy Long is a respected martial artist, a PAWMA board member, and a talented and generous teacher. We are thankful to her for sharing such a vulnerable and deeply personal story. Please be aware that some readers may find this hard to read. Trigger warning for physical and emotional abuse.

I attained my Shodan in Aikido at age 17. I immediately started training in Kung Fu San Soo and when I was 19 and opened my first Martial Arts school with my boyfriend at the time. He was a black belt in Kung Fu San Soo and Tae Kwon Do, with a lot of experience in Judo.

Kung Fu San Soo, is a Chinese martial art based in several Chinese systems, Fut-Ga, Choy Li Fut, and Hung-Gar. The art does have wrist and arm locks, leverages, sweeps, throws etc. Mainly, a technique has a block and stun, (strike to a vital target) the body of the technique, (several strikes, or sweeps, throws, etc.) then the follow up, which usually involves striking a downed assailant.

Kung Fu San Soo relies on striking to vital targets of the body, i.e. eyes, windpipe, testicles, and ears. Since the body naturally reacts away from pain and typically the hands go to the area that is hurt, I am then able to create a collision course, striking to secondary targets thus, making the person collide into every strike I throw. For example, if I strike someone into the eyes with a palm claw, I know their head will reel back and their hands will go to their eyes. I won’t be able to strike their eyes again because they will have moved that target away and their hands will be in the way. But, it does open up other targets in that moment which allows me to then strike, for example the groin, following that I could knee to the face or strike to the base of their skull ending the technique with maybe a stomp to their ribs.

The key to making a “technique” effective is to strike with accuracy and commitment. In training, if I were to strike to the eyes, I would not only strike their eyes but drive their head back by their eyes. As they are reacting to the eye strike, I will then strike to another target following through on that strike and all others following the first. When you practiced enough, and advanced to yellow belt, you learn how to “Freestyle”, meaning someone would attack you with any strike they wanted and you had to respond accordingly.

Anyway, I’m rambling. The only reason I am bringing up the base of KFSS is so you understand what I am talking about when I describe the Black Belt test I went through, it should make more sense.

The Black belt test I had to do was 3 days in length. 24/7- 3 full days. I had to write a 10 page thesis (sadly, he destroyed it sometime later).

I had to create a two man weapon set, perform it with another student. Utilizing double weapons, single weapons, long weapons, short weapons, empty handed and blindfolded. That meant I had to perform each weapon set a total of 6 times. If I or my partner made a mistake of any kind, I failed the test and had to start all over again.

I had to create a form and also perform it utilizing empty hands, long weapons short weapons, double weapons single weapons and blindfolded.

I had to be able to know and demonstrate 3 escapes from every conceivable hold, leverage, lock etc. I was required to teach for a minimum of 3 years.

In class, I had to “Freestyle”, with every student there, starting with the under belts and ending with the senior student and being attacked by multiple opponents. I also had to defend against multiple attackers while blindfolded.

I was required to perform all of the under belt forms, be able to break them down and answer any and all questions concerning the forms. I needed to know, describe and demonstrate the 5 levels of attack, I had to know all of the lower belt techniques, and be able to answer any and all questions. If I missed an answer, I failed.

I had to know all 52 targets of the body, describe and demonstrate what bodily weapon is best to effect that target.

During the 3 days, anyone of my students would attack me randomly. In class, walking out of work, getting in or out of my car, when I was walking in a shopping mall. Sleeping in my bed at night a student broke into my house and tried to attack me while I was sleeping. If I did not sense their presence, I failed. If I did not defend myself adequately, I failed. If I missed any one small thing in the 3 day test, I failed and had to start the three day test all over again.

In those 3 days, I didn’t sleep. I failed that test 9 times…

During the time of the testing, I knew, I was the only female in the school and I needed to set the example to all the others. But mostly, I needed to pass that test to show myself that I could do it. My Boyfriend / Instructor was highly abusive so, at the end of each failed text I was beaten down physically and humiliated. It only made me more determined to pass that test.

During the 10th try, I made it through the entire 3 days and all the way to the end. I aced everything he threw at me, I did everything correctly, no mistakes and I remember wondering why, at the end of a long day, we were just sitting in his car. Then, he made it clear. He was picking a fight with me. Which usually meant I was going to get beat up. But, this time, he only lightly slapped me in the face.

Something in me changed, I suddenly knew what I needed to do, I slapped him back. The one and only time I ever struck him. We got out of the car and went into the school where he presented the belt to me in front of all the other students.

It was one of the hardest things I had to do. And I am very glad I didn’t give up on myself.

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