Cheer Them On

When we applaud a performer, we pat him on the back from a distance.” —Desmond Morris

Martial arts training is an endurance test, marathon upon marathon with thousands of sprints along the way. It takes many years to earn a Black Belt in any style, from karate to jiujitsu. And it’s hard, hard work. What keeps you going?

A lot of it comes from people believing in you, showing up for your lessons, quizzing you on combos, coming to tournaments and tests and very literally cheering you on. This goes for parents (coaches), grandparents and your fellow students, no matter their belt level. Come out and clap.

Applause, the act of clapping your hands together in celebration of a person, performance or cause, goes back thousands of years. The emperor Heraclius once scoured the Roman coffers to boost his army in the face of a barbarous enemy. Did he spend the money on soldiers? No. He used it to hire a team of professional cheerleaders to boost the wilting army’s spirits.

Instructors put their hands together while watching a Black Belt form.

At every belt test, it helps to have teammates cheering you on during the rounds of front kicks, side kicks, push ups, crunches and the rest of the endurance exercises that you grind through before the actual testing begins. The claps and “come on, you can do it” lend you that extra stamina to keep your heels or knees or chest from hitting the mat.

Nowhere is this more evident than at a 72-hour Black Belt test. You start at 6pm. with a routine of warm up exercises. Then it’s forms and combos, the full gamut of curriculum from gold to high-brown belt. You may get lucky with a water break, then you’re on to…. well, whatever the instructors have devised into a top-secret itinerary. You won’t know what to expect exactly, but you can count on one thing: Not being allowed to let up.

Again, it’s like a long, winding, mostly uphill race. And just like a runner needs those cheers and high fives from people all along the route, a Black Belt tester needs parents, brothers and sisters on the sidelines (assuming they’re not out there testing themselves). They need the high fives and the applause. They need to look out through red-rimmed, sweat-stung eyes and just for a second see some warm eyes on them, caring about what they do.

Thank you, Momma. Couldn’t have done it without you.

To look out into the crowd and see a nod, a wink, a smile—it has a real effect on the mind, and the mind translates it like a continuous voltage to the body, keeping the muscles charged and the arms in the air even when they want to go limp, the stances strong even when you want to collapse.

The big hugs and release of emotion at the end of the test (Sunday afternoon) are possible because of the intense compression, the concentration it takes—from testers and their team of supporters—to endure it.

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