An open notebook with different types of pens

A note on MAUL gradings

By: Instructor Wendi

There’s something quite special about a grading. As I left Sunday evening, after a marathon 7 hours of grading, I looked back at the empty hall. I looked at the tables at the sides, the stacked chairs, the crates of primary school phys-ed kit, from hockey sticks to kick-balls. We don’t train in glorious Do-Jangs like you see on TV. We don’t have fleets of identical martial artists standing fiercely. We aren’t Olympians, at least by eye. What we have are a variety of ages, heights, physiques, backgrounds, languages, and athleticisms. We have people who can do 80 press-ups and people who cannot do one. We have people who need help reaching the top shelf and people who have bedtimes at 8PM. And every week, they show up to this space and train, and laugh, and learn, and slack off at times. They get frustrated, they get bored repeating the techniques, they reach for the skies with their kicks and the ground with their stances. They train and work, and this culminates in a day where they put all that effort on the line. They put that knowledge and training into public, for all to see, proclaiming with their very presence that they are worthy. They stand up for belief in themselves and each other, and they await judgement. Who willingly puts themselves in such a position? Who will stand there, before a table of former-peers, instructors, and sometimes strangers, and stand to be judged?

The gradings of my club are never simple. There will be moments when everything crashes down, when the memory or power or stamina of a student fails. There will be moments when publicly a student stands alone in their moment of failure. And every student, every time, steels their eyes to that unbreakable piece of wood; takes a deep breath and filters through their brain to find that move or meaning; swallows their fear and exhaustion and impending vomit and throws every ounce of power they have left (or don’t) at the person attacking them. You never know which student will have this moment; you never know who is going to find themselves at these gradings. But every grading has had this moment that makes you believe in the power of humanity.

The grading is a test of will, of spirit, of self- and shared- belief. The classes, the training, that is the test of your skill. Every kick you throw and every form you practice is a test of your skill. The grading is a test of heart. And when we leave, the hall returns to its state as a primary school hall. It again returns to something normal, something simple, something plain. But I know, through the memories of all of our club, that the space was transformed for those 7 hours. I know that for those 7 hours, the space became a platform for life and belief. And every grading we have, more of those memories continue to fill our hearts and our brains. We bow to the Do-Jang as we bow to those visions of warriors past. And as your belt colour deepens, you also bow in respect and in memory of those moments you faced and overcame. The Do-Jang holds snap-shots of each of us at our best, and it reminds us what we can do and can overcome.

One of my favourite quotes of all time comes from an amazing movie I love, A League of their Own. In discussing the difficulty of balancing life and professional baseball in an era where women were expected to stay at home, the coach says to his star catcher something that will always stick with me:

“The hard is what makes it great.”