He knew he’d be called on to be point.
The thing about being an intermediate or advanced belt is that, not only do you need to work on learning all the more difficult stances and forms, you also have to retain mastery of all the basics.
This was a big grading for him. He was testing to go from the highest intermediate belt (green) to the lowest advanced belt (apprentice red.) Not only is red the last color before black, but it also brings with it the privilege of wearing red lapels on the dobok (uniform.) That might not sound like a big deal, but, when you consider that only white lapels are allowed for all the preceding belt levels– white, apprentice orange, orange, apprentice blue, blue, apprentice purple, purple, apprentice green, and green– it becomes more apparent why it’s a significant achievement.
I expected him to work hard on mastering Form 8, the newest form he’d be asked to do. But, while he did run through that one a few times, he spent hours working on Form 4.
“Why Form 4?” I asked him. “Didn’t you have to show mastery of that one back when you were a blue belt?”
He nodded. “Yeah, but I think I might be called to be point on that one. Probably even point front.”
“Points” are the higher belt students who stand in the front and rear of the space. Their sole purpose is to serve as reference points for the lower belt students who are testing on those forms. The idea is that the higher belts should have these mastered and, so, those testing can rely on them should they get stuck or lost.
In theory, it’s a great concept. In practice, it’s far from perfect. Many times, the points haven’t practiced those lower forms for quite some time and wind up leading those watching them astray.
He crossed the room, leading with chops, turned 45 degrees, and continued.
“The thing is,” he said as he bowed at the end, “if I make a mistake on Form 8, I should be able to look to my points and get back on track. That’s the whole design, right? But, if I’m the point, I need to get it right. People are counting on me and I’m the one they’ll be looking to. The fact that I passed that test years ago doesn’t mean a thing for them– they need me to know what I’m doing now.”
The orange and apprentice blue belts were called forward.
“Pyong Ahn Cho Don, Form 4,” the black belt called.
“Pyong Ahn Cho Don, Form 4, yes sir!” they responded.
“A.– point front, please.”
“Yes, sir!” he answered, strong and clear.
He took his position at the front of the room. And the black belt started calling.
I watched my child perform that form flawlessly and with the utmost confidence. He never staggered, even when the point rear got hopelessly lost. I watched his peers look to him and re-find their way by following his sharp, clear moves.
When class was over, a black belt approached my (now apprentice red) little guy and said, “You did a fantastic job as point. You absolutely knew that form inside and out. Great work.”
A. bowed his head, put his hands behind his back, and gave a quick nod. Then he said, “People were counting on me. When people are watching you to try to stay on track, it’s even more important that you pay attention to what you’re doing…”
He started to walk away, then looked back over his shoulder, “I hope I remember that when I’m a dad.”