As I neared red belt, Master Yun left the ITF and as I mentioned before, developed his own martial art. As my instructor was only a 2nd degree black belt he was unable to grade his own students. We went in search of someone who held the rank of 4th degree black belt or above to conduct our gradings. I ended up grading under a number of Master Yun's former students. When I reached the rank of black tip we turned our minds to my black belt grading. I was 16 years of age and in Year 10 at high school at the time. My instructor went in search of a different examiner for my black belt grading and we found a 4th degree black belt from Sydney who was also one of Master Yun's former students. He would travel down to Ballarat and do gradings and seminars for a club located there. It was agreed that for him to grade me that I would need to do a seminar with him first, three months prior to going back to do my grading.
My instructor and I travelled to Ballarat for the seminar. This was the first time I had had the opportunity to train with other ITF practitioners outside of my own club. It was eye opening to see the variation in quality of students and I realised that our quality was good compared to other clubs, though my new examiner was head and shoulders above the rest. Mr Daher was the 4th degree who was going to grade me. The two days were hard. I'd never trained like that before. We ended up sleeping in the hall where we were training and it was cold! Mr Daher was extremely knowledgeable and we learned a great deal. He was also very strict and I have vivid memories of him disciplining another student which stopped everyone doing what they were doing to see what was going on and I remember feeling very sorry for that student. Upon completion of that seminar something switched on inside me and I started understanding a lot more of the art I had been learning for the past four years. We went home and I began training three times a week and my technique took another leap forward.
In June, 1989, I returned to Ballarat to be graded to black belt by Mr Daher and my family travelled with me. The morning was full of training and the afternoon was for the grading. I had had little sleep the previous three nights due to nerves. I hadn't experienced those kinds of nerves before but I felt ready. I worked my way through my patterns and did well until I reached the pattern that I had learnt for black belt. I was the only person grading to black belt that day and therefore being up in front of everyone the nerves came back and I performed the first two moves and my mind went blank. I stopped and thought, “Oh no, what now?” I returned to ready position, cleared my mind and started again. This time I got through to the end without a hitch. I then moved onto the breaking component for my grading. I had to do a number of breaks including boards and roof tiles. I broke everything which was great as it was one area that I hadn't had a great deal of experience in. I reached the end of the grading physically and mentally exhausted. I was called up to the table by Mr Daher and he said that he was impressed by the way I had performed. He said that I showed a great deal of power but that I needed to put on some weight and get a haircut (I had waist-length hair back then!). We travelled home and I slept well!
I was 16 and I had achieved a goal that many people don't achieve. I had reached black belt after 4.5 years of training. Unknown to me though, it was the start of a very long journey in the martial arts. The martial arts are a way of life and I had learnt that and particularly employed those philosophies in my everyday life, including school. One thing the rank system in martial arts teaches you is that to achieve anything you must first set yourself goals and then the hard work unlocks those goals. The other thing I learned along the way was that physical exercise helped me during stressful times. Something I carry forward with me to this day. I would try and avoid missing class whilst studying because being in class meant a break from the worry of homework and exams, which was great. I always walked out of class with a clear mind, free of stress.
Quote - “Put your heart, mind and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.” – Swami Sivananda
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