It was a gruelling battle that lasted more than an hour, but Elmira’s Barb Lamble persevered. And now she is the better for it.
As a result of her efforts at a grading ceremony at Arthur Goju Karate Apr. 25, Lamble is now the first student from the Elmira Karate Dojo to receive her third degree black belt.
She’ll undoubtedly be feeling great about the accomplishment … once the pain has subsided.
“Right now it feels kind of sore,” said Lamble with a chuckle.
“It feels pretty good. It was a lot of work to build up to it.”
The grading was a great reward for months of hard work on the elliptical and at the heavy bag, she noted, not to mention the countless morning hours spent practicing katas (detailed patterns of movements) before work.
To obtain her third degree, Lamble – a student and teacher at the Elmira Karate Dojo, which she co-owns with her husband (and teacher) sensei Mike Robertson – had to undergo tests in several areas covering both theoretical and practical aspects of the martial art. The testing, overseen by a panel of black belt judges, required that she demonstrate her knowledge of the art and the ability to perform a variety of forms and techniques.
“The biggest challenge for me was the sparring aspect; it’s very challenging and physically demanding to get through all of [the testing] and you do it at the end,” she said, noting candidates are already tired by the time they face an opponent.
“It’s the most exhausting exercise I think I’ve ever been part of.”
The unpredictability of her opponents when sparring made this component particularly challenging. The difficulty of that multiplied when she was forced to take on two opponents simultaneously.
“With the round sparring, you don’t know how long it’s going to be; there’s no way of really preparing for it other than just making sure that you’re in the peak physical condition that you can be in,” she explained, adding that, at all times, pugilists are to show control and respect for their opponents.
To win the judges’ approval, Lamble had to demonstrate that she knew how to defend herself against the attacks of her adversaries. This meant lining up the challengers, getting away, and even using one opponent’s body as a shield against the other. It was physically and mentally grueling, she suggested.
“You have to be on your toes intellectually; you can’t just let your body take over like you do sometimes with certain activities – you have to really be thinking about what’s going on.”
Another task that required mental muscle as much as it did physical strength was the board-breaking.
While she had broken single boards before, this time Lamble had to break three pieces of one-inch pine stacked on top of one another with no spacers in between.
With this and the other tests, positioning, technique, energy and mental focus were key.
“Part of the training is to be able to empty your mind and focus on the task at hand.”
To prepare for the grading, a few months ago Lamble started a rigorous regimen that included regular work with weights, cardio, and a heavy bag.
She also practiced her kata formations and tai chi every morning before heading to work: she wanted to make sure that her muscle memory would “kick in before the nervousness” on testing day.
The ceremony itself was a unique experience, said Lamble, noting that she was joined by three others including a man in his 70s.
“It was kind of an emotional experience too because you’ve been training with these guys for the past 12 years and you get to know them and you get to know all their strengths and their weaknesses and to be able to see people, including myself, overcome these challenges – it’s really quite impressive and it’s an honour to be a part of it.”
Lamble said she hopes her feat last weekend will inspire the youngsters at her dojo to do the same.
“I’m not an athlete by nature at all … I consider myself to be an artist rather than an athlete, so if someone like me can do it, then anyone can.
“It’s accessible to anyone as long as you work hard enough.”