Master James Bowman walks over to Victoria Small, a white belt Taekwando student at JB Martial Arts, with a re-breakable board. He says he has to give the novice a little confidence before she does the real thing. She’s been studying the martial arts for just a few months. She breaks the practice board fairly easily.
The center is filled with spectators, parents and friends and numerous onlookers passing by as they walk through the Prince of Orange Mall.
Bowman then brings over a one-inch piece of board. The first time, Small can’t break it. Then, just before her second and final try, she readies herself. She builds up her internal confidence and external strength. Her shoulders move up and down as she breathes in and out. She makes a fist with both hands. Then, with seemingly everything she can muster, she gives the board an impressive front kick and breaks it in half.
As the audience watching begins to applaud, her eyes grow to three times their size as she stands there in disbelief and total shock. She can’t believe she did it.
Small and five other students bravely showed off skills they’ve mastered in Taekwondo Thursday during a belt testing at the center. Each student had a series of tasks to perform, including kicking and punching, forms and sparring to advance to their next belt level.
“They want to show off everything they know, right?” Bowman said as the students loudly answered, “Yes sir!”
Standing in order of their belt rank on an orange and blue mat shoulders back, legs straight and eyes focused were Small, Drew Fairnot, Cynthia Lingard, Douglas Fairnot, Kyle Jenkins and Dante Sanders. Christopher Bowman, a black belt, assisted his father with the testing.
Bowman, soon to be a fifth degree black belt, walked around the room joking in one breath, barking instruction in another. While he is a stern teacher, pointing out when a form is done incorrectly or telling them to shape up, he teaches with an ease that helps the children find comfort in their nervousness.
“They are junior belts because they are children,” he explains “The average man on the street can still take him. An adult blue belt, they wouldn’t be able to do it. There’s no such thing as a 9-year-old green belt. So even though they are getting promoted high, they are still children.”
As the children finished a series of kicking and punching drills, they moved on to forms, which Bowman said is one of the most important parts of Taekwondo. A black belt, he said, must learn 17 forms in order to earn that level. Forms is basically a simulation of the moves one would use during a fight. Each student is required to complete the form moves that is comparable to their level.
“A punch is a punch and a block is a block,” Bowman said. “Each form they learn goes one step further. They all have to do up to their level. If they do a form wrong, they get a second chance.”
Small was first to complete her forms. Each student completed the form with the group and was then required to do it alone. “You can relax,” Bowman tells her as she finishes. She unclasps her hands from behind her back and breathes a sigh of relief. From there, each level is more difficult, more involved. By the time Sanders completes his forms, you can see the culmination of all of the moves performed before him.
Bowman then explains the importance of sparring.
“Unless you are touching someone, you don’t know if what you do works,” he said. “Some schools produce black belts who have never even fought. We go to tournaments. Sparring against a classmate is easy. They fight against their own age and belt division. We spar to see how the techniques would work against someone fighting. We haven’t had a serious injury since I’ve been open. They are protected and using techniques they learned already at their level.”
The six students are paired together for a brief sparring match. The sparring is serious, with them delivering and receiving punches and kicks to the head and chest. A couple got upset when they lost, but in the end, the purpose is to perfect the techniques and be fair win or lose.
At the end of the testing, each child was promoted to the next belt level. Bowman said many people shy away from learning martial arts because they don’t understand it. After watching the testing, I can’t say that I understand it either. But I do understand that it gives the children something to focus their attention on and an opportunity to develop a passion and learn intensity. It allows them to think and use their minds in performing the different moves. And, as these six students experienced, it gives them the opportunity to accomplish something, and future goals to aspire to.
I don’t know if they will all become fifth degree black belts like Bowman, but they’ll be the best junior white, yellow, orange, purple or blue belts they can be.