The Long Road from New Orleans to Black Belt Excellence

Nearly seven weeks ago Master Dimitrios Beis took me aside and asked if I wanted to prepare to test for my Black Belt in June.  Our schools, Grand Master Kim’s Oriental Martial Arts College of Canada, tests (for Black Belt) twice a year, in June and then December.  Beyond the affect that nearly seven weeks of intense training would have on my family I had two concerns: could I be ready in time, and would I be in town on the day of testing.

The first concern was entirely in my hands.  Beginning that day I started training six days per week (up to three and occasionally four hours per day), went on a diet regimen that was so intense that I had my family physician monitoring me on a weekly basis, and when I wasn’t working I literally ate, slept, and thought about Tae Kwon Do.

The second concern should have been a simple matter of checking my schedule, and sure enough although I was scheduled to be in New Orleans the week leading up to the test, I would be coming home Friday night.  I would get into town around eleven, sleep comfortably in my own bed. I would wake up Saturday morning, spend a couple of hours in the gym going over all of my prerequisites.  I would get lunch, have a haircut, and at about 1:30 I would head over to the Dojang where the test was being held.  No problem.

American Airlines had other plans for me.

Sometimes we personalize plights that couldn’t possibly have anything to do with us… we say it is raining because we got our car washed, or the power goes out because we wanted to watch an important sporting event.  Of course I understand that, and this is not like that.  In this case I am certain that American Airlines intentionally went out of their way to blow my shot.

I got to the airport in New Orleans in plenty of time for my 5pm flight.  Unfortunately the plane didn’t.  It seems it had rained in Chicago earlier in the day, so the plane that was supposed to fly from O’Hare to New Orleans never made it… and my flight was cancelled.  I had to stay overnight (there was simply no way to get me to Toronto Friday night) and fly out Saturday morning.  However the Saturday flight would get me into town Saturday afternoon around 1:15pm… it would be close, but I would still make it home in time to test, minus the gym, lunch, and haircut.

Of course I got to the airport in plenty of time the next morning, even though I nearly blew it when I forgot to set my alarm (I had fortunately asked for a wake-up call).  I was on the 5:30am shuttle which got me to the terminal at 5:45 for a 7:20 flight.  No problem.  The flight was even marked as On Time, which meant they definitely had a plane and there were no foreseeable delays.  There was what looked like a two hour line at Security, but there was also a ‘Frequent Fliers’ line, and I got to the gate on time.  The plane boarded on time, and even took off on time!  I was in excellent shape to make my connecting flight from O’Hare… and if there WAS a problem there, Air Canada and United would also have flights that would get me to Toronto on time.  I sat back on the plane and relaxed.

Twenty minutes or so into the flight I noticed the overhead lights flicker… it looked like a brown-out.  I asked the flight attendant if there was an electrical issue; she said there was not, and continued to serve drinks.  Five minutes later the pilot announced that they had indeed discovered an electrical issue on the plane, and they were turning around and going back to New Orleans.  I was ready to jump out of the plane!

On the ground there was no information available for the first fifteen minutes, but the FA announced that if anyone wanted to deplane and buy a ticket on another airline (they do not have an agreement with SouthWest) they were welcome to do so.  For my part I listened in and watched the body language of the mechanic and crew, and decided to wait it out.  I spoke with Theresa and had her check all of the airlines for flights from Chicago to Toronto… she had both United and American flying around 1:05pm, arriving in Toronto at 3:45… forty-five minutes past the scheduled start time.

After thirty minutes the pilot announced that we were fixed and going to head to Chicago.  I tried to bribe them to fly to Toronto, but no dice.  We would arrive in Chicago around 12:15; they could not confirm my connection, but they would submit my request, along with the urgency.

Upon arriving at O’Hare I checked with the gate agent, and sure enough I was scheduled on the 1:05pm flight.  I rushed from terminal to terminal and got to the gate to confirm that I had a seat.  With 45 minutes to go, I had a bite to eat.  I got to the gate in time to find out that we had a plane, an FA, and a co-pilot… but we were waiting for a pilot to come in from Des Moines.  We would be delayed by another hour and a half.

I pinged Master Beis, who told me to get there as quickly as I could.  I pinged Soup (Cory Fowler), who was on his way to watch the test, and let him know that he would be my comms link to the staff from the moment I landed…

We landed around 4:30pm, and I told Soup to let them know I was on the ground.  After a bit of back and forth he told me that if I didn’t get there AND SOON I would not be able to test… my original estimate was 45 minutes.  However that included waiting for luggage and such, but once I abandoned that and ran outside to meet the family in the car, I was able to cut that down to seventeen minutes. 

I walked into the dojang at 4:55pm, and Grand Master Kim was awarding Black Belts to those who had just finished their testing.  I had no idea if it would help, but I ran into the changing room and got into my dubok.  I then walked out into the dojang and waited… I made eye contact with Master Beis, but still did not know what was going to happen.  They were among the longest minutes of my life!

When it was all over, when the last Black Belt had been punched, Grand Master Kim looked to the crowd and said into the mic: ‘Now who wants to stay and watch Mister Garvis test?’  The entire crowd went wild, and my heart soared.  However exhausted I was from the travels, troubles, and tribulations were gone: I suspected I had five minutes to warm up before the floor cleared, and that’s what I did.

I forgot one move in one poom sae, and made one mistake in another, but aside from those I am VERY proud of the test… I had my patterns down, I did my one-steps perfectly (with the help of a great and cooperative partner in the person of Instructor Mark), and then sparred damned well… first against Instructor Mark and then Instructor Sasha!  I didn’t break the concrete slab (the second try actually broke my hand), but I did break six boards, and what with the broken hand and all I am pretty pleased with that.

In the end I earned my Black Belt, which Grand Master Kim tied around me.  He punched my shoulder, and as is traditional each Master shook my hand and punched me.  I wonder how many people hurt more from the handshakes than from the punching!  I got a great trophy, but the greatest trophy of all was holding my wife and sons. 

Oh okay… the Black Belt feels pretty hot too!