In about three weeks' time, I will be testing for my Third Degree Black Belt in TaeKwonDo*. For the last few months now, I have been focusing on what I need to know to pass that test and practicing those things. Endlessly. Repeatedly. Over and over again. And then I do it some more.
I have decided that this is very much like casting on several hundred stitches of fingering weight yarn so you can knit a queen size blanket in garter stitch. There is nothing new to learn, just the repetition of the same series of motions to make one stitch and then another, and another and so on. There is no relief to be had at the end of a long knit row when you turn the work and begin the refreshing difference of the purl row ahead. There will only ever be more of the same until it is time to cast off, but until then there is only the endless, relentless monotony of the knit stitch.
Since my Second Degree test, I have learned two new forms (Keumgang Poomsae and another that is unique to our school), eight self-defense techniques, eight grab techniques, the school's form for the bamboo staff (we call it "stick form"), learned advanced kicking and board breaking techniques and, at least in theory, improved my sparring. I say "in theory" because 1) I really do not like sparring at all and 2) I'm terrified of getting seriously injured. Not because I'm going to get hit, but because I'm afraid of landing badly or off balance and ending up in the emergency room. Again.
I say that training for the test is like the blanket because of the sameness of it. Six days every week I go to class, do the warm-up, and then SaBumNim sends me into a corner of the dojang with one of the assistant instructors where I'm told to practice 1-8 of self-defense and grab techniques until the end of class. And before class is dismissed, I know I will be tested on them with the rest of the class watching. I have already been tested on them, and earned the tip proving that I performed them well enough to pass the test. I have been tested on them at least twice each week for the last four weeks and this will continue up until October 4. The big test, the real one that I have been preparing for, is on October 5.
So until then, I will be doing the daily exercise in patience and humility that is the martial artist's garter stitch blanket. I will go to class, I will do 1-8. And then I will do it again and again and again. Then I'll do it some more, but with people watching. This sequence will be repeated today in class, and the next day and the next and the next after that until I wake up on October 6 and realize that the previous day I finished my blanket. I have cast off; the project that once seemed endless is finished at last, and that now will be the time to start something new.
*It sounds far more impressive than it really is. By all rights, my black belt should have a little blue handicapped wheelchair sticker on it, like they put on the parking spaces and license plates. I have accrued so many injuries during my martial arts career that most of the curriculum has been heavily modified to accommodate my physical limitations. My instructor has invented new sparring techniques for me to minimize stress on my knees, and I don't do any jumping kicks. I have said for years that anyone who can run away has absolutely nothing to fear from me, because there's no way I could catch them.