A "karate chick" chopping wood

This is a "get to know me" blog post about one of the best days in my life. It was the day of my third degree black belt grading. I was grading with five guys, and at 5 foot 2 and one hundred and twenty-eight pounds I was the smallest one of the lot of us. The highlight of the grading was the board breaking session, a "gauntlet" of eight wooden boards that had to be broken one at a time plus three more at the end, held together in a block by two guys supported by a third. It was meant to be an exercise of "mind over matter", a great success if accomplished, but a huge embarrassment if you couldn't do it.

I was the first one up. When I approached the "gauntlet", the sensei (teacher) in charge it looked at me dubiously and held up two fingers to indicate to the guys that they should only put two boards into the block at the end, not three. I held up three fingers to insist that I wanted three. Custom dictated that you had to break as many boards in one block as the degrees for which you were grading and I didn't want special treatment because I was a "girl".

I punched my way through seven boards one at a time, broke one with an axe kick, and then came to the end where the three boards were waiting. I decided to break them with an elbow strike. I measured off. I struck. My elbow slid off the boards harmlessly. I measured off again. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw coming towards me the sensei whose job it was to succour hapless female candidates who could not break their boards. I've seen it happen before: they would try and try and he would do everything he could to encourage them, and then take boards away one at a time until they succeeded. I did not want to go through that humiliating exercise! So I struck again, with all my might, and this time all three boards cracked cleanly through the middle, and by the time he got there all he had left to do was to congratulate me.

The whole thing was great stressful fun. Where else but at a martial arts grading could a woman yell and break things and get a standing ovation? The guys who were grading with me said I put them under great pressure to perform. It would have looked terrible if the "little woman" could do it but they couldn't.

After punching my way through seven boards with my right hand I had one tiny little scratch on a knuckle. Before I ever started I took a moment to centre myself and to fill up my hands with "protective qi". This was part of my energy training. Qi can be used in amazing ways. It can be used explosively against an opponent. It can be used to shield. It can also be directed to heal. As much as I love martial arts, my favourite use for qi these days is healing.


  1. Absolutely fantastic! Brava!! This shows us how much is possible if we prepare ourselves, believe in ourselves, and give ourselves permission to be magnificent, as Anita Moorjani puts it. Wow!

    "Stressful fun" -- thought-provoking concept!