Hello,

I did my grading on Saturday. I brought three protein bars, three bottles of water, two powerades, a big tetrapack of juice, a towel, and a (puke) bucket. I arrived at 9:30, taught 3 classes, trained for an hour, ran the demo team practice, and then my grading began. I managed to eat a protein bar and have some water just before it started. I was then asked to go into the dojo and begin meditating in Seiza (kneeling) position. Kneeling has always been an issue for me. My legs don’t like it very much (nor do I), and before this, 5 minutes at a time would leave my legs quite sore and stiff. I was left to meditate in that position for 30 minutes. During this time, people who would be involved with my grading began to filter in. This included Gord, an adult green belt I’ve trained with before, Scott, a teenage junior black belt, Mike, an adult black belt in judo, and my Sensei’s sister who is also an adult black belt in Karate. As I kneeled and tried to meditate, I had a hard time ignoring how much my legs hurt. The more I could relax, though, the better they felt. At some point, a woman (I believe my Sensei’s sister) came in and asked me if my legs were numb. I nodded, and she said to hang in there as I only had a few more minutes. Eventually my Sensei came in and told me that I could now begin stretching. But he more so meant that I may now begin stretching, as when I went to stand up (even to sit up from my feet) I found that everything below my knees was completely numb. So I moved myself into a sitting position and began stretching things out as best I could. This meant first straightening my legs. I did get things stretched out and the feeling came back to my (no longer blue) feet. I was then asked to stand up against the wall, go into a horse stance, and stay there; basically a wall sit. I’m not sure how long I stayed there for but I’m sure it felt longer than it really way. I was then asked to begin doing suicides across the dojo and back. A few times, I was asked to speed up. This concluded the non karate-specific part of the grading.

Next, I began doing combos on focus mitts. I was then asked to do combos on both Gord’s mitts and Scott’s mitts, turning from one to the other continuously. At this point the black belts took their seats in the dojo, and began asking to see particular moves.  The first move they asked to see was a jump spinning kick. Next they asked to see a kip up. So I added a kip up into a combo and did that on the pads. Next was a cartwheel and jumping kick, so my last combo was simply a cartwheel followed by a pop-up front kick. Eventually I was asked to take my gloves off. The acrobatic kicks were more tiring than more traditional kicks would have been.

Next came katas. They asked me to perform each kata, and I would repeat it until they asked for the next one. Once I had finished all  of the katas I know, my Sensei asked me which kata I would perform if my whole grading depended on it. I said Seipai without hesitation. He then asked me to perform Seipai as though my whole grading depended on it… backwards! The kata normally takes me about a minute to perform. This took about five times as long. But I did it, and I believe it was close to correct.

Then I was asked to get my sparring gear on. Scott, Gord and Mike already had theirs on. Sparring gear consists of gloves, foot gear, a padded helmet and a mouth-guard. The sparring began with each of my three opponents rotation on 30 second rounds. So I would spar Scott for 30 seconds, and then spar Gord for 30 seconds and then spar Mike for 30 seconds, and then back to Scott. This way they didn’t get tired, but I certainly did. After a little while of this, my Sensei kept two people in at a time, so it was two on one.Then Sensei let the third person in at the same time. So I was sparring 3 people at once. During this portion, my left quad cramped. I managed to continue defending myself, only throwing kicks from my right leg. After the sparring, Mike and I got our gear off. I managed to massage the cramp out of my leg and we began grappling. I haven’t grappled since my days at Dynamic Arts. I could remember one lock, and I could only apply it from a weak position (for anybody keeping score at home, it was the Key-Lock applied from the Guard). Naturally I lost all three rounds of grappling; one to an arm-bar, one to a choke, and I don’t remember the last, but it was unpleasant.

I was near the final part of my grading now. All tired and sore, I had to demonstrate my ability to defend myself. So, Sensei had Gord put me in a Full Nelson (arms under my arms, hands behind my neck), and I had to escape. So apparently, the normal way to escape this is to lift the arms straight up and drop down, then do something awful to their legs. I, being unaware of this, maneuvered Gord to the side, took my left leg behind his right leg, bent my knee into the back of his and sent my weight backwards, knocking him over my leg. He released his hold when he fell. Unfortunately, this particular method caused my cramp to come back in both legs. I dropped to the ground, as I couldn’t stand without a lot of pain. While I was on the ground, my Sensei told me to begin thinking of a self-defense from Seipai to demonstrate. My main concern was getting rid of the cramps so that I could stand. I remembered something about electrolytes effecting cramping, so I started downing powerade while I tried to get ready. It didn’t help. I wasn’t able to get up.

I heard my Sensei say to his sister, “It’s sad to see somebody fail in the last five minutes.” That was when I realized what was at stake here, how close I was to completion, and most importantly, how close I was to failing. I decided that I would not let this make me fail. I asked my Sensei if this was the last part of my grading, and he said that after this I would have to stand and answer questions from the black belts. I decided on a self-defense and explained it to Scott so that I could perform it on him. I had him stand in front of me, and with my legs still cramping badly, I stood to perform the self-defence. Just like in Seipai, I reversed the wrist grab, popped the elbow up, stepped, struck the leg, struck the jaw, struck the neck, and kicked the knee. I managed to stay on my feet. They then asked me to expand on part of my essay, and to explain why I wanted my black belt.

“Grading dismissed” was the most relieving phrase I’ve heard in a long time. I wasn’t able to drive all the way home, and I needed somebody to come pick me up, but I felt good. I had never completed anything so difficult in my life.

The next day was the graduation, which went off without many difficulties and I think the kids all enjoyed it. Before Sensei brought me up to receive my belt, he spoke about how the grading went. He said that he, and the other black belts were only there to facilitate the grading. They are there to bring the person to the point where they want to give up and that if they find it inside themselves to carry on, that is the moment they become a black belt. He talked about seeing in my eyes that I wanted to quit when my legs were cramping, and that I pushed through that pain to complete my grading. He then asked me to come up on to the stage and he presented me with my black belt.

Reflecting back on the last 14 weeks, I realize how much I’ve really done, and how much I’ve grown as a person. I’ve found a lot inside of myself that I didn’t know was there, and while it was very very difficult at times, I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am a black belt. And while this is an end, it is so much more a beginning.

This is, after all, only first dan.

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