I began taking karate lessons at Personal Best Karate in Norton, MA, in February, 1997 and in June, 2001, I received my first degree black belt. It was a lot of work for the first one, but more than that, the friendships that I have made at the school have been wonderful. The final section of earning each belt is a sixteen week "Training Cycle", followed by a three day / six hour test called "Power Weekend". In my cycle, we started with nearly 40 people in the cycle, all helping each other through the course. It's a tremendous feeling to achieve something like this as part of a team, all working towards the same goal.
This is a picture of the people who passed our first training cycle, along with the instructors. There were 28 of us who received our first and second degree belts (some of the people in the original group were working towards their 3rd degree belts, and therefore needed to take a SECOND cycle 6 months later to finish, and some people did not complete the cycle). I'm standing in the center of the back row, right under the number "1" in the student creed. Standing at the far right of the group is Master Christopher Rappold (at the time, a 4th degree black belt, two-time world champion, and the owner of the school). He runs one hell of a program. I put together a slideshow of our training cycle, which can give you an idea of some of what we went through. I also put together a slideshow of the Fall 2003 Training Cycle which features a new cast of people (and a different theme for the show).
Proving again my inability to learn from experience, I continued to take karate classes after getting my black belt, and, in June of 2003, I was one of 8 people to earn an advanced black belt at our school. Five of us from our first cycle received our belts at this time (the three young ladies in the front row, and the two of us on the right in the back row). Rounding out the group were two black belts from other cycles plus Zack Stone (front row center) who received his third degree belt. We're shown here with Master Rappold (2nd from the left in the back row), who is currently a fifth degree black belt. This one was much harder than the first, but well worth the effort! The second cycle was much larger, starting with over 50 people, as Personal Best's second school is now graduating far more black belts than during our first cycle.
In addition to the training cycles and the classes over the years, we also had to participate in a YMCA ropes course. This is a team building exercise, culminating with a leap from a 40 foot platform in a harness. This is a lot more fun than it sounds, and I enjoyed it so much I went through it a second time just for the kick. There are some photos of this available on my ropes course page.
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