Once you reached Orange Belt, you were then training for Purple… and things immediately got cooler, harder, and more interesting.

The way that things got cooler was that Purple Belt techniques included a lot of defenses against punches. Orange Belt has around 25 techniques, and only 1 of them is against a punch. As I said in the Orange Belt post, everything else was against a grab of some sort, all teaching you to react, to strike fast and hard and have confidence in yourself. But honestly, when you’re a teenager who chose a school specifically because you wanted to wear black uniforms and be like a ninja, learning techniques against punches feels cooler than learning techniques against grabs.

(And looking back at it now, it makes sense. As much as things might have seemed sexier if we started with lots of cool techniques against punches, we already had basic blocks to defend against punches, and the first belt is really just teaching the student how to move in general. Grabs have a little less time pressure, while with a punch, hesitating means you get hit.)

The way that things got harder (at least for me) was that Purple Belt is the belt where we get more ground-work. While Orange Belt has one technique where you are attacked with a kick while seated cross-legged, Purple Belt has three different techniques for you being attacked while down on one knee. We also get a technique that is really just a new movement drill, Six Gifts from the Earth. It’s all about falling without hurting yourself and being ready and able to defend yourself from the ground. It might just be that Weekes Boys tend to be built with strong shoulders and wee little Fred Flintstone legs, but the ground techniques are killers. I can do chops and claws and punches ’til sundown, but if you want to watch me gasp unattractively, have me do ten reps of Sacred Spike. (All the “you’re on one knee” techniques have Sacred at the start of the name.)

(Sacred Spike:
Attack: While you are kneeling, left leg down, an attacker at the front tries to knee you in the face.

  • Right arm does a smother block, which is like an inward block but goes down the front of your body.
  • Right arm does an inward block, to knock the leg aside and put the attacker off-balance.
  • Shuffle forward and drive elbow into their groin.

Fast. Still relatively simple. Will absolutely leave Patrick gasping after two or three repetitions unless Patrick is totally phoning in either the kneeling part or the shuffle part.)

The way that things got more interesting (and also probably harder as well, but this part didn’t bother me because it was interesting as opposed to just a thing likely to trigger my undiagnosed asthma) is that Purple Belt felt like the belt where you stopped doing basic self-defense moves and started doing something martial-arts-y, because the techniques were asking you to do different things with your body.

In Orange Belt, like I said, if you did the technique and basically had no stance beyond “I am standing with my feet about shoulder-width apart,” the techniques would still work (although when you come back to them as an upper belt, you see new places where you can get more power by doing little weight shifts you never thought to do as a beginner). At Purple Belt, you get into techniques that require you to not just know more than one stance, but to be able to move from one stance to another quickly and on command. Cocking the Bow is the technique that requires you to go into both a forward bow and a reverse bow in order to put power behind two strikes (a palm strike to the face on the forward bow, and a speed-chop to the throat on the reverse bow), and Crouching Cat has you hop into a cat stance both to get you away from the attacker’s punch (in addition to the block you do) and to set up a snap-kick from the front leg of the cat stance, which is something we end up using all over the place later.

Orange Belt also mostly sticks to one movement at a time, and relatively few changes in what your hands are doing. You block, and then you counter. You make your hands into fists, and you sweep the grab off your shoulder, and then you do punches with those fists. Most of the time, if you’re doing different strikes, it still doesn’t require changing hand position. You might do an elbow and then a hammer-fist, but your hand would still be curled up into a fist while doing that elbow.

There are exceptions even at Orange Belt, to be clear, but this feels like the general guideline. And again, it’s a good rule! The beginning student is trying to figure out how to move their arm at all, so yeah, expecting them to go from a fist to a chop to an eye strike is optimistic.

But at Purple Belt, you’re doing multiple things at once with your body, and you’re changing those stances and hand positions and everything else. You’re blocking with one arm and punching with the other at the same time, or you’re doing a punch to the solar plexus, and then a half-fist to the throat, and then a palm strike to the face, and then an eye strike to the eyes, all with the same hand.

(Also just in general, a lot of claws and eye strikes. So many claws and eye strikes. Just angrily curled fingers from here ’til Blue Belt.)

It’s cooler, it’s harder, and it’s more interesting, because you’re using so much more of your body with every technique. Orange Belt was teaching you the letters of the alphabet, and Purple Belt feels like your very first words.