Test day was hot. For weeks, I’d hoped that the stars would align and the weather would some how be unseasonably cool, but it wasn’t. In true Kru Test fashion, the temperature was destined for the upper 90’s, and the humidity was so thick air felt more like a winter coat than the gas it was.
Believe it or not I slept the night before my test (probably because any seminar day is exhausting and that’s what the previous day entailed). I got up, had breakfast, and even took my dog Korra for a short walk. I packed my cooler, a change of Muay Thai shorts, and a change of clothes. And once again, I drove down to Dick Harrell Martial Arts. Now, there’s nothing left to do but finish.
If anything, the fact that it was test day and there was no training left made it easier. Sure, I was nervous. The butterflies I’d experienced the day prior were mere adolescents compared to those that bopped around in my stomach on test day, but the pressure was off. And honestly, those butterflies abated once we got to moving, drilling skills and combos, while sweat ran off us like rivers. There were more people in attendance on Sunday, which is typical because of the test. Seeing some of the BBUSA students I hadn’t seen in weeks or months felt really good. A tester always does better with a good cheering section.
The day moved much quicker than I anticipated. Suddenly it was lunch time, then late afternoon, and then Michael and I were done with the seminar. We were sent to fill out forms and change. My husband Mike, my skater friend Josh, and my family showed up, complete with my almost three year old niece in tow. It was all happening so fast, and while this is a bit trite and definitely well worn, it was a blur, rather like I’d left my contacts out or something. All while Michael and I were being told to hurry up.
Then we were in the ring, and of course, at that moment time warped again and everything got really slow. We began our test with the Ram Muay. I was really thrilled to be able to do it on test day. The year prior, those taking the test had done the Ram Muay the day before, but I was really grateful to be doing everything at once. I really enjoy doing the dance. It calms me down, gives me a rhythm, and helps me focus on the important things. As you know, if you have been following through all chapters of this story, I’ve been doing it for a long time (FYI…I still do it now). Conditions were quite perfect. There were only two of us in the ring and we’d been doing it together for months, so no weird collisions or anything. Execution was a little more difficult for me because an actual Muay Thai ring is bouncy, not something I was used to and something I’d be super grateful for later, but it didn’t matter. I did the Ram Muay for everyone who supported me in getting to where I was – my family, my training partners, Arjarn Chai, but most especially for Arjarn King and Arjarn Dr. King. Because of the cultural significance, it was where I wanted most to shine. And when the final drum beat, it felt good.
Form demonstration was next. I’ve seen a lot of Kru tests, and I knew how this went: Listen to what Arjarn Chai says, don’t go until he says go, he’s going to pause at awkward spots to try to trick you. The really funny thing is he even told Michael and I that he was going to try to trick us. Just a heads up, if you ever find yourself knelt down in front of Arjarn Chai while he tells you how your Kru test is going to go, he really, really means don’t go until he says so. That isn’t just for the actual strikes and stances. No, it means getting up off the floor too. So right off the bat, Michael and I were doing push ups because we got up when he told us to but didn’t wait for the “Go”. It was 30 pushups every time we got ahead of ourselves. Not the best way to start out. It wasn’t the last time we did push ups either. Arjarn Chai stopped us to correct the way we were stepping through on a spinning elbow. Back down to the floor we went again. We did 60 pushups before our rounds even started. In good teammate fashion, we did everything together.
I was first for rounds. Time warped all blurry again as Kru Amir and Kru Schmitt came up to corner for me. There was no time to process anything, and the only thing that had time to flash through my head was – this is it.
My first pad holder was Kru Janet Harmon. I had seen her at seminars before and perhaps said a “Hello” before but that was it. She is roughly my size, perhaps a little smaller, but I knew from watching her, she was no joke. Kru Rob Kelly (not from BBUSA) was refereeing, and as he took me to my corner, he told me to put her in the corner. I said, “Okay.” The bell rang, and out of the corners we sprang. And no, Janet was no joke. She started everything off right with a quick foot jab before I could even get the first strike in. That’s how this was going to be. I found my rhythm and executed. I don’t really even remember hearing the people who were counting my kicks and knees between my heart pounding, the strikes, everyone screaming so loud. I checked some kicks and blocked punches. I also got hit with more than I’d prefer to admit, but we’re being honest and real here. I’m pretty sure I got hit more than I blocked or checked. But I kept kicking and kneeing back. Like Arjarn Dr. King says, “don’t let them kick you for free.” I used my footwork. I actually did get Janet in the corner at one point about half way through. I just kept going. Then, Round One was over. Janet and I hugged, and I thanked her for pushing me. Kru Amir and Kru Schmit put me back in my corner, got me a drink of water, and way sooner than I would have preferred, Round 2 was on me.
My Round 2 pad holder was Kru Sonya Yardley. I knew going in she was going to be my final pad holder. I’m not going to say I was really ready for Sonya, but I had been training for Sonya all along. I saw Sonya test years ago. Kru Eng held for her last round. She is the only person I’ve seen stay on his/her feet when Eng tried to sweep. She is seriously double tough, and I swear no woman has ever hit me as hard as Sonya. I’m not going to lie to you. Round 2 felt like an utter beat down. From the very beginning, she would not let me clinch. I used several different footwork strategies for getting in but she would long guard me right out or rapid fire body shots until I went back to kicking. I only got her in the clinch twice – which was a HUGE departure from the strategy we had been training (ie. Get in, get three knees, get out before you get swept). I couldn’t get in to knee. So when I finally got there just had to hang on for dear life and get as many knees in as possible. It was exhausting. Fortunately, Arjarn King had trained me for long periods in the clinch in case things didn’t go according to plan. Just so you know, in a Kru test, nothing goes according to plan. Remember back in Chapter 4 when I was talking about rooting my foot when I kicked to make it harder for the pad holder to kick my supporting leg out from under me? Yeah, I still got my supporting leg kicked out. Not once – twice. The last time, Sonya’s kick landed high and cracked right into my left knee. I screamed from my back before I could even really process it. It hurt – sure – but I think I was more terrified that my left ACL was going to be ruptured. But in the very next moment I couldn’t hear anything but a roar of voices. I realized I didn’t have time to even be afraid. I had to get up. All I had to do was finish. The roar was deafening as I rolled back onto my feet. At the end of the round, I did get a nice foot jab in, but I paid for it with a jump punch to the face – one I knew was coming, one I’d seen Sonya throw before. She still hit me, but in that moment, it was over. Kru Rob’s hand went in between us. I had finished.
I passed too. I’m not sure how. I had no clue how many kicks and knees I had. I don’t even remember what I said to Arjarn Chai when he asked how I felt. What I will say now is that I felt relieved, grateful, and changed. My Kru Test was a big life moment. And while the test itself was a gigantic moment, it wasn’t just the test alone. It was also years upon years of moments leading up to it. You don’t go through those big moments and come out the same person you were going in. Mike got to come in the ring and hug me. Arjarn King and Arjarn Dr King were waiting outside the ring, and of course, once I left and hugged them at the bottom of the steps, I was in tears. One Hannah went in, and a different one came out.
From the my very first Muay Thai test, I knew that there is something very special and essential about simply finishing. Some days, you finish looking better than others, but the really important thing in Muay Thai and life is that you finish what you start. Before I left that day, Arjarn Chai wrote me a messages on the cuff of one of the gloves I tested in. It says – “Hannah, what ever you do NEVER give up – Arjarn Chai”.
I can assure you, Sir, I won’t.