When I was in kindergarten, Shihan Kendall came to Bresnahan Elementary School to lead an after school karate program. He was the first black belt I had ever met. My first thought was – this person is so cool. He’s a karate expert and can kick some butt. After one session, I was hooked on karate. I couldn’t wait for the next session. Then the whole world changed. Because of COVID-19, everything stopped. For kids from the after school program who were interested in continuing to learn karate, Shihan Kendall offered to teach us via Zoom. I said yes! That is how I first earned my yellow belt.
My karate journey started differently than many people’s karate journeys because I had all of my karate classes over Zoom in my living room until I earned my purple dragon belt. My parents were my karate partners. There was a running joke with Shihan Henry for me not to fall into the fireplace. It was exciting when the Dojo started holding classes outdoors, but we had to keep six feet apart. I remember Shihan Kendall brought boppers for us to punch in at each other because we could not make any contact. I attended my first promotion ceremony when I promoted to juniors and received my purple belt. Even when we were able to move classes inside the Dojo, we still had to keep our distance. Man, it was weird practicing kicking, punching, and grabbing someone from across the room!
My Black Belt Journey
By Oliver Kimball-Nisbet
When COVID-19 restrictions lifted, we were allowed to make contact finally. It took me some time to get used to making contact. Also, it started sinking in just how lethal some of the karate moves are, especially combination 11. As I promoted to higher level belts, I started viewing karate as not just a fun activity, but as a serious practice. I began learning and thinking about where each strike would hit and how to react when someone attacked me. I had to start practicing more frequently at home in preparation for testing.
When I became a brown belt, I began hearing more about the process to get my black belt. I felt intimidated when I first learned about the pre-test and bootcamp. How would I pass the test? How would I survive bootcamp? I knew that I would be tested on everything I had learned since I was five!
Man, I was nervous leading up to my pre-test. I practiced and practiced every day with my mom. I’ll admit I was a bit resistant about practicing every day, but I also saw that it was necessary to pass the pre-test. Eventually, I had all of my material down. I felt nervous and ready on the day of the pre-test. When I found out I passed, I felt extremely relieved and happy. But I also started to dread bootcamp. I had planned to train leading up to the first bootcamp, but I got a concussion and could not run or do any activity before bootcamp started. I didn’t even know if my doctor would clear me to start bootcamp, but luckily the doctor did. I was worried that I would get kicked out of bootcamp because I was too weak.
Bootcamp was just as hard as I expected, if not more. I had never done anything so difficult in my life! I had a lot of trouble keeping up on the run and felt completely out of breath. Once we got inside, we started the karate portion right away. I vomited in the bathroom from the non-stop exercise. After the first bootcamp ended, I felt happy and relieved that I made it through the first session.
Bootcamp is a challenge every week, but I keep my eye on the prize. I keep persevering. Each week, I feel stronger. I can do more push-ups and sit-ups and hold planks longer, and I don’t have to take as many breaks on the runs. I feel more confident both physically and mentally. Also I have developed a strong bond with my fellow recommended black belts. We support each other, and we are in this together. Getting our black belts together will make the achievement even more special.
To me, the black belt symbolizes hard work, perseverance, dedication and discipline. I have a lot more respect for others who have and are working to achieve their black belts. I understand and embrace that black belts are kind and respectful and don’t use their karate skills to hurt others unless under attack. Being a black belt will be a great honor and privilege. I am so excited to become a black belt.