The last quarter of training in 2023 has been a busy one for First Tae Kwon Do Western Australia’s members. Several senior belts at the highest coloured belt rank (1st Kup; brown belt with black tip) underwent preliminary testing for black belt status in October. As normal, most candidates did not make it through. From my personal observation and experience over the years, it seems to be a consistent trend that most candidates are not mentally, physically, or emotionally prepared adequately for the test, despite (no doubt) repeated instructions and encouragement from their instructors over the many months leading up to this kind of occasion. I dare say it is like being the target in an actual physical assault—unless someone has actually experienced it, or has undergone intensive training (with realistic levels of aggression), most people will likely be grossly underprepared. (They have simply never been in that kind of situation before, so this is not a criticism, but it is a sober caution.)
Preliminary testing goes through essentially the same process as the actual black belt grading examination, but under significantly more pressure. (Better to be overprepared than underprepared.) Key components include unarmed self-defence against an unarmed assailant, unarmed self-defence against a knife-wielding assailant (using rubber training knives), breaking (pine boards), patterns (preset sequences of techniques), and various forms of sparring (simulated combat against one or more unarmed assailants).
In the following photographs, we seem some of these components being tested. It is worth mentioning that just completing the preliminary test is an achievement in itself—not everyone who starts finishes, although most do. Almost every candidate I have spoken with after a preliminary test has been of the view that the event was much harder than they thought it would be (despite being told clearly that it would be a hard test), and almost all of them have reapplied themselves to their training with a new level of seriousness. That said, over the years, a few candidates who did not make it through the preliminary test have decided to stop training, rather than work towards undertaking the test again.
For those 1st Kup candidates who do continue their training, they have the grading under Master Vernon Low to look forward to. Master Low has been teaching Tae Kwon Do for several decades now, having started teaching in Malaysia in the 1960s before moving to Australia in that decade. His Tae Kwon Do school in Adelaide was the first Tae Kwon Do school there, hence the name of First Tae Kwon Do. The school now spans two states with two Chief Instructors, South Australia (Chief Instructor John O’Brien, 6th Dan) and Western Australia (Chief Instructor Dane Meade, 5th Dan).
First Tae Kwon Do WA held its last grading for 2023 recently, with hundreds of members undergoing tests for advancement in rank. For the three afternoon grading sessions, there were senior coloured belt members, black belt candidates (including two Junior Black Belt members being tested for promotion to 1st Dan), and then the most senior coloured belt members.
The black belt candidates showed excellent technique overall, and I have included some photographs below from the basic technique and pattern components of their test.
Candidates then moved to the self-defence, knife defence, and fixed sparring components, which allowed for some range of movement, but still under set parameters.
Free sparring is generally where the real test of character comes, as the candidates face multiple waves of fresh opponents, without a rest. At this grading, the breaking component then followed, and then further free sparring.
At the end of it all, the exhausted and sweat-drenched candidates had their grading results announced by Master Low, and then received their new belts directly from him. As customary, Chief Instructor Meade presented the newly promoted members with their First Tae Kwon Do black belt rank certificates.
After a few formal group portraits to commemorate the promotions, the last grading session of the afternoon began, with the most senior coloured belt members (apart from black belt candidates) taking their tests.
Congratulations to all First Tae Kwon Do members who were promoted recently. Particularly for those who were promoted to 1st Dan (whether from 1st Kup or from Junior Black Belt), it will be a special occasion that you will always be able to look back to—and hopefully, an encouragement to continue persevering with learning and improving in this martial art.
After a few shooting sessions this year with the 70–200 mm telephoto lens, I am certainly becoming more comfortable with this tool. It is an excellent lens, but quite heavy for someone who is accustomed to prime lesnes or consumer-quality zoom lenses. Paired with my Nikon D700 and a battery pack (to enable shooting 8 frames per second), I would guess that the kit comes to around 5 kg in mass … perhaps slightly more. This would be around the minimum kind of kit that a professional sports photographer would have to handle, and it is a flexible combination, but possibly not optimal for martial art photography unless there is good lighting. Shooting from f/2 to f/2.5 is something that I am missing.