Martial Arts Blogs A Journey to Shodan: February 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

My Shodan Grading.

When I left my house I admit I was nervous, but as soon as I walked in the door and bowed into the Dojo, my nerves seemed to disappear. It felt like any other night; the space looked the same, smelled the same, felt the same and I managed to push aside any feelings of anxiety I'd been suffering from during the preceding weeks. I looked at the clock and reasoned with myself that in two hours, this would all be over, I just needed to get myself through it in the best way I know how. I knew my Basics, I knew my Kata and my Bunkai was prepared. I knew I would make mistakes and was at peace with that.

At 7pm myself, my three Sensei’s and Sempai lined up and I bowed us all in – and then it began. Basics lasted about 25 minutes and thankfully I was allowed to omit my back kicks due to my lingering groin injury. I was so concerned about the injury (or making it worse that night) that I completely forgot about the kick combination I would be expected to do, which had a back kick in it – and when I was called to do the combination I froze... I hadn't thought of what I would replace that kick with, so on a whim I threw a set of four kicks together and went with it. Not the shining moment of the evening, but I was allowed to move on, so perhaps it wasn't all bad.

Next came Kata. I was asked to start with Heian Shodan and continue through Tekki Shodan. I had to start each one at a new 90 degree angle, so I was really happy that I had practiced all of my Kata facing different directions. It certainly came in handy and I didn’t blank out or become disoriented due to the change of direction. One of my biggest concerns about the test was that I would draw a blank in a Kata I had done hundreds of times. I’m happy to report that didn’t happen.

For a change of pace, the Katas were stopped and out came the boards. I was told to break boards however I chose, so I started with a Gyaku Zuki. Now, we never practice breaking boards – ever – and my feeling is that without being properly taught how to break boards, it is an injury waiting to happen, and case in point I was in the hospital on Sunday getting my still-swollen hand X-Rayed for a possible fracture.
However, this being my Shodan grading I didn’t want to object in front of a crowd so I broke four boards, one by punch, two by hammer fist and one with a side-kick. My right hand has certainly seen better days.

Then it came time to spar. I was expecting to spar with a fellow student, however one of my Sensei’s stood up and put his gear on. He definitely got the best of me, but I did manage to get in a few good kicks and punches to the head and body which felt fantastic. By the time it was over I was relieved and out of breath, so I removed my gear very slowly in order to catch my breath in preparation for what was to come next.

My pre-shodan and Shodan Katas were next, still facing different directions. Again, I’m happy for the practice because this second set of Kata didn’t disorient me either. Mixed in amongst the Kata were my Bunkai – which I admit could have gone a bit better. I did draw a few blanks but I won’t beat myself up over that, I was simply asked to start again and each time I was able to recover and get through it.

My cardio was decent as well - but I took the time to breathe between sets which I'm sure helped. I was so worried after last Sunday's pre-test that I think I really slowed down and paced myself - I didn't want to be gasping for air through the whole test.

As expected it did seem to go by fast and at some points I was thinking - "wow, I'm done that Kata already...I barely remember doing it!" I just really hope I didn't rush things and miss the details, I practiced so hard for this and the point is to 'show what you know', not rush through it.

After my last Kata was complete, I thought the test was over, but I was asked to perform one final Kata of my choice for the audience and to make it the best I'd ever done. I chose Empi – my favourite. I felt like I really rocked that one out, knowing that I was only moments away from receiving my black belt. I finished, kneeled down and closed my eyes.

Then came the moment where I stood up and accepted my certificate, and next my belt. Only the belt was being presented to me in a beautiful leather case - which I'd never seen happen with other students receiving their Shodan. As my Sensei was removing it from the case he told me that this was a gift from my husband, and he presented me with a Satin black belt with an embroidered Shotokan label. It is beautiful! Certainly an unexpected surprise.

I was SO relaxed come Saturday I couldn't stop smiling. I actually spent a day NOT thinking about February 24, the list of grading requirements, breaking boards, sparring, my cardio, kata, bunkai, combinations, basics....

What's next? Well, I'll give my hand another few days rest and then I'll be back at it - it's time to learn a new Kata.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Shodan Achieved.

What Karate means to me. My Shodan assignment.

I look back to the start of my journey, where I’ve been and where I am now, and realize that along the way Shotokan Karate has taught me something very special. It has taught me to be kind to myself.

Karate is not a team sport, I cannot defer blame if my stance is too narrow, or if I forget where I am in a Kata; every mistake I make lands squarely on my shoulders and weighs heavily. I am my harshest critic, my own worst enemy and I will always strive for perfection, that’s who I am – I wear this trait on my sleeve.

Somewhere along the way, a wise man told me “Mistakes are a part of learning”, and although I’m sure I’ve heard that phrase many times in the past, this time I finally listened. I started accepting my mistakes instead of beating myself up over them. I learned it’s OK not to get things right the first time, or the second, or even the third. It’s OK not to be perfect – I now accept this, forgive myself and move on. Dwelling and obsessing over my imperfections only held me back.

To put it simply, Karate has enhanced my life.
It has provided me with many years filled with personal goals and challenges.
It has tested my patience (and as it turns out, I do have some - very deep down, who knew!?!)
It has also given me a real sense of pride in the commitment I made to myself to make it this far in my journey.


Tonight is my grading.

Well, this is it. The day I have been focused on for months. The day I secretly wished would disappear from the calendar. The day I didn’t want to come, but knew was inevitable. February 24, 2012 has indeed arrived.

What am I?
I’m nervous. If I wasn’t nervous I’d be nervous so this is, I believe, a natural feeling to have at this point.
I’m excited. Excited to finally take my place on the floor and prove I have earned and deserve the rank of Shodan.
I’m nostalgic. I received my Brown Belt SO long ago, and it is as a Brown Belt that I feel I really began to learn Karate and appreciate the sport. Anything before that time, I look back and consider myself to have been a different person. I’ve grown a lot from the day I was given the rank of 3rd Kyu Brown.
I’m Proud. So very proud of myself for sticking with Karate and not letting my own frustration or busy schedule take away from that which I truly enjoy.

What am I not?
I’m not perfect. If I remember that throughout, I’ll do just fine.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


One more day until my grading.

Something dawned on me today. I realized that I have been so consumed with the date and practicing for the test, that I really haven’t given much thought to what it actually means or the belt itself. I’ve tossed the words Shodan Grading around very loosely thinking only of the process and not the fact that soon I will remove my Brown Belt for the last time, and join the ranks of the people I have looked up to throughout my journey.

Tomorrow night I will be a Black Belt. I’ll let that sink in when it is finally around my waist, but for now the test is still a hurdle I must first clear - and with this nagging groin pull I'm not sure how high I will be able to jump over the hurdle, but I'll claw my way over it somehow.

When this is all over, my mind will certainly appreciate the rest. Tomorrow will be just another day – not ‘another day closer’.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Two more days until my grading.

Time has gone by so fast. I remember when it was three months away, 96 days seemed like loads of time and now my counter says I have one day and XX hours. Makes my stomach hurt just looking at it.

I am not going to class tomorrow night so I can let my body have some rest before the test. I pulled another muscle doing those darned back kicks - I knew they were trouble!  So, ice and heat have been my friend for the past 24 hours - so far its not been helping, but hopefully within the next day it will ease off. I'm guessing on Friday a few extra strength Tylenol will be on the pre-grading menu.

As of today, I'm feeling OK. I just have to get through it, that's all.
1.5 hours of my life is but a blip in time - although when I'm in the midst of it, I'm sure it is going to feel like a really, really, long blip.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Three more days until my grading.

Tonight in class I intended to work almost exclusively on Bunkai with my partner because there are a few sections that still trip me up, so I felt I needed to practice them repeatedly in order to drill them in to my head. Well, things didn’t quite go the way I’d intended, as my partner rolled his knee and ankle during warm up, spent some time on ice and then went home. It's not looking too good, and I wouldn't expect him to assist me while injured, so there is a good chance I will have no Bunkai partner on Friday night. Things will be what they will be.
I wish him the best and hope for his sake that it is only a minor injury that will heal quickly.

I instead spent some time reviewing all of my Kata just to keep everything fresh, going over the grading list, working on my combinations and tweaking the dreaded Ushiro Geri (back kick). And that’s it.

This was my last official class before my grading. No more instruction, no more tips, no more guidance - I’m now on my own.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Four more days until my grading.

Yesterday Sensei and Sempai set up a mock test and took me through the list of grading requirements in succession, without breaks. Let me tell you, my lungs felt like they were the size of walnuts (without the shell). It was all I could do to fill my lungs with air, and even then it was very uncomfortable and I felt like gasping.

I’ve been training four days a week, and admittedly it isn’t a real cardio buster. So on my off-days I have been going to the Y for spinning classes a few times a week, as well as skipping at home and sometimes for a while before class. It would seem that my efforts have failed me – which is concerning.

Now I’m no longer worried about forgetting kata, drawing blanks, or messing up my basics and bunkai, I’m worried that I will pass out!

Just when I was starting to feel like I was actually ready...

Friday, February 10, 2012

Two weeks and counting...

Well, I guess the countdown is really on now. Two weeks until my Shodan grading – how time flies. When I break it down, it would seem I don’t really have a lot of training time left to polish everything up. Part of me is eager to just get the night over with, and the other part wishes time would slow down. I hate tests.

2 weeks = 7 classes
7 classes = 11.5 hours (or more if I stay as late as I have been after class these days)

Overall I feel like I am ready. I know my basics, I know my kata, and bunkai is coming along nicely. The trick for me will be to keep my mental and physical focus in check during the test.

  • Don’t let anyone ‘yipping’ at me get under my skin
  • Be determined, not frustrated
  • Stay in the moment during bunkai

  • Slow down and focus on the rhythm of the kata
  • Take my time, don’t rush through everything
  • Breathe

Hangetsu Update:
I'm happy to say I have finally made peace with this Kata. It is still not my favourite, but I’ve learned to co-exist with it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

These are my bruises.

When training Bunkai, whether attacking or defending, necessarily one will end up with bruises. I’ve been on three Bunkai teams over the last few years and each time my forearms and wrists tell the same story – endless hours of training and dedication to be part of someone else’s success. They look terrible, hurt, and I sometimes have to explain that “No, my husband is not abusive... really he’s not!” They’ve always been the worst part of the Bunkai experience for me.

Now that I am training for my black belt, and my Bunkai partner and I routinely exchange blocks and punches, the bruises are coming back. Yes they hurt, a lot, but they’re different this time; they no longer belong to someone else, this time they belong to me. I don’t look at them and cringe anymore; I look at them with pride! I’m earning every one of these bruises and with each one I know I’m one step closer to achieving my Shodan. This time it is for me and it feels good – figuratively speaking.