Despite preparing for eight years for the test he was taking, Conner Barcus was nervous.
“Super nervous,” he said.
But he passed with flying colors, coming home to Parsons with his taekwondo black belt.
It has been quite the journey for the 12 year old.
Sitting in his stroller at age 2, Conner would watch the moves of the students in Master Morgan Webb’s taekwondo class that included his brother, Tanner, who was four years older.
Following in his brother’s footsteps, at age 4, Conner began taking classes, too, devoting two times a week to developing his skills.
“That’s twice a week all year. It’s not like football or baseball where you have a season,” Kendra Barcus, his mother, said.
Given the devotion to the sport, basically about every year in class he would test, showing his proficiency, and advance a belt — white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown and red.
“I like sparring,” Conner said of his main reason for staying in the program, though there were other reasons, including close friendships. He competed in a couple of tournaments a few years ago but found he didn’t care as much about the competition part. It did help to prepare him for his end goal, though.
Before he knew it, his candidacy for black belt was before him.
“That’s what his brother did. He started at 4 and tested for his black belt at 12,” Barcus said.
Asked what he was most nervous about, he said, “The whole test.”
“He didn’t want to let anyone down. He didn’t want to let Master down or us,” Barcus said. “He worked really hard. He’s probably studied an hour, an hour and a half every day probably three or four weeks before he went. The start of summer he started out studying shorter amounts of time and then built up until he had it ingrained in his head. It’s mental and physical.”
In preparation, he not only had to know the forms, self-defense moves and how to spar, but also answers to an oral test, including practical applications, history and some Korean.
Then came his test day in Greenwood, Mississippi, before a panel of six people.
“It took four hours,” Conner said, revealing it was very tiring, though perhaps as much from nerves as performance.
Before awarding him his belt, Conner was told the story of taekwondo and how it began with six seeds. Then, he received the honor of Webb untying the red belt from his waist and tying his black belt on him. Following that, they bowed to one another.
“It felt like a whole bunch just dropped off my shoulders,” Conner said while feeling proud of his accomplishment.
Conner probably won’t try to advance in taekwondo beyond the one year commitment he now faces to earn his lifetime certificate. He plays basketball, football and baseball, and he moves toward high school he is considering forgoing baseball for track and may even give tennis a try. He also has started in orchestra, learning to play the cello.
“He likes to try everything. It just gets so much harder when they hit middle school sports. I think that’s why he’s going to hit that last year and then see what happens. Tanner got so busy with all his other sports, but it is still there for them later in life and they can go back to it,” Barcus said. “I’m very proud of him. I felt they learned discipline. I felt they learned structure, self-defense and how to carry themselves. I feel it is a good program we have here in Parsons.”
Working toward his black belt, Conner spent a little time teaching newer students the proper forms and how to spar. Webb said that will be a portion of what Conner commits to in the coming year, learning better how to teach people and work with all different ranks.
“He did really, really well on the test. I saw him grow up there right before my eyes,” Webb said. “It was a good experience. It was like a dad watching his son graduate high school is how I felt.”
Conner was about the 30th student Webb has had achieve their black belt.
It is not really common across the nation for young students to walk away from taekwondo after earning their black belts, but it does seem to be common in Parsons.
“Everywhere else, they normally stay and contribute to the class, to the other group of kids that are coming up, so they have something to aspire to,” Webb said.
It is the older students in Parsons who come in to learn, earn their black belt and normally stay. He wishes more of the youth would.
“The young ones tend to shy away and then never come back until they are adults,” Webb said.
Thinking about it a bit, Webb added, “Grand Master doesn’t test anyone under 15. My students were some of the first to test at 12, 13 and 14. It might be that issue, too, and they have other interests at that age. When you’re like 15, 16, 17, you’re kind of pre-adult, so you understand what you need to do to give back to the class for the younger students to look up to and aspire to.”
While he may no longer move through the ranks in taekwondo, Conner’s inner journey isn’t over. It will continue on, as it is never-ending.