Dan Grading, Exam results. Sunday 24th June 2012.

Congratulations to Gael and Robert on the passing of their respective Dan Grading Exams. Gael is now Shodan (1st Dan) and Robert is Nidan (2nd Dan). The Black and Brown belt course with associated Dan grading was held in Plymouth on Sunday 24th June.

We thought it may be of interest to read the thoughts of Gael just after passing the grading.

Sensei Merv, Gael, Robert and Sensei Faye.





As Sensei O'Donnell called out my name, I was so nervous I could barely get the words out: 'Osu Sensei!'

'Shodan,' he announced. One simple word that meant so much. It felt unreal. Shodan - 1st Dan Black Belt... Finally, after all that hard work, my real karate training, as everyone had promised, was really starting!

My journey began back in 1992 when I first started karate at university. After a long break, I returned to training in earnest in my mid 30s at Sensei O'Donnell's club in Portchester. I had a goal in my mind; black belt by 40. It was a tough, but not an unrealistic goal. At times I had felt on track, at others I thought I would never get there. That's something I've learnt happens throughout your progression in karate; one month you can feel you are really getting somewhere, then another you feel you have taken a giant step backwards. Looking back one of the biggest challenges is to get through those low points. To remind yourself that you are progressing, even when you feel you are going backwards.

My first real glimmer of hope that my goal was reachable was at my second kyu grading. I was paired up with someone going for their first kyu... suddenly I was being asked to do freestyle kumite. I landed a punch. One punch that gave me so much hope. Right on target, but with control to my opponent's chin. It surprised me. Wow, I could actually do this! I stored that moment away and at numerous low points over the following 18 months I drew on that memory to give myself the boost I needed.

As well as keeping going in my normal Dojo training, I took every other opportunity I could to enhance my training. I have a very demanding job, and sometimes it gets in the way of training... So I take the approach that I train whenever I can. After getting my third kyu I attended every black and brown belt course, putting the dates in my diary early on. I trained at every session I could and went to the kata focus classes when I was invited - I became an expert at “forgetting” advanced katas, but doing the classes definitely helped my training, and now I hope I can remember them again as I need them! I was also lucky enough to be invited to attend two extra courses in Holland, which were a tremendous help. Finally, I also entered a number of competitions - which was good training for dealing with nerves and high pressure as well as undoubtedly improving my kata.

Outside of the dojo, I was running most mornings with my dog... Something I was doing anyway, but it was a useful way for me to keep my general fitness up. Partway round my route, I would stop and do kata, really cementing them in my mind - this was really useful,and if I had a kick or punch I was working on, that too would be worked on. I'm not sure what the other dog walkers and runners thought of me, but my dog loved it - more rabbit-chasing time for him while his mad owner did funny kicks and punches and let out these silly yells!

The week of the grading
One of the challenges of a black belt grading is definitely fitness and stamina. We built up for this by arriving at lessons earlier and spending lots of time continually doing kata to warm up. No time for chatting before the class started, every spare moment was for warm-up. We also did some double sessions on Wednesday nights whenever possible. The last of these gave me a real lift. After training hard during the first session, I pushed on with kata waiting for the second session to start. Towards the end of the second session I could feel my legs tiring... But there was no let up. We were into kumite, and this time Sensei mixed it up a bit... Teaming me up with people I didn't usually go with, including some who were far bigger and stronger than me. The knowledge that everyone was pushing me deliberately helped me to raise my game and gave me the confidence to try plenty of different moves. I left that session feeling absolutely drained but calm and with such a feeling of well being. I knew if I did the same on Sunday I would be fine, and the heart-warming good luck wishes from so many people meant so much and made me feel very supported and positive.

There was one more session before the big day. 'You're very calm,' comments Sensei Faye before Friday's session. I was striving to be calm about it, but just how closer my nerves were to the surface showed when my movement in my kumite was commented on. It threw me, I felt I couldn't do it, felt I couldn't do what was being asked of me. But I battled with my self doubt, and remembered Sensei O'Donnell's words from earlier to just keep doing thinks the way I had been taught.

The grading
My grading was set for June... At the black and brown belt course in Plymouth. This was when I was very thankful I'd made the effort to attend the course there the previous year - I knew where the dojo was and somehow it helped having been there before, especially as mr Tom Tom has difficulty with the Plymouth dojo address!

I tried not to get too concerned about the grading itself... I had done the training, Sensei felt I was ready, and if I failed then, well, there was always the next course. I was going to give it my all and could do no more than that.

The day itself went in a flash. I didn't hold back during the training, having the faith that I was fit enough and prepared enough to give my all right through. By the end of the training session my gi was wet through - it was a brilliant but challenging session, with Sensei O'Donnell warming us up and then Sensei Dewey 8th Dan (SEKU Chief Instructor), taking us through Tekkie Sandan, with various aspects of its Bunkai. It allowed me the opportunity of letting the training push thoughts of the grading out of my mind. I changed into a fresh gi and then my nerves started to build a bit. Breakfast seemed a long way away but I couldn't eat anything. I was very grateful for the bottles of energy drink I'd filled my bag with.

It seemed like forever before we were called in for our grading... There were five of us, three up for their Nidan and two of us for Shodan.

As we finally lined up I started to feel rather short, small and insignificant next to my fellow Shodan grader who seemed to be seven foot tall! Kumite was going to be fun! Well I told myself, it wasn't just me - Rob who was going for his Nidan was also flanked by two giants!

The grading passed in a blur. I have no idea how I passed, I seemed to make so many mistakes but I just kept on going. Throughout I kept saying to myself, 'I want it!' When my hip delivered a jarring pain, when my calf cramped up, when I felt my body yelling slow down, I pushed it out of my mind and refused to listen.

When it came to jiu ippon and I found myself gazing up at my seven foot opponent (he was probably only six foot, but he seemed huge!), who was very good, but approaching it more with competition kumite style, I almost let myself get psyched out, especially when he threw a mean mai geri at me. I remember thinking 'no one is going to get me... I want this, I can do this!! My next kia was louder, I felt my determination growing when it could have withered. I think that was the turning point. To be honest I thought I'd already messed up, but told myself I had nothing to lose. I think that's what took me though to pass. I refused to let my mistakes bother me. Fought back against those nerves that had my hands shaking and had led to some silly mistakes.

I have always felt freestyle is my weak point, but I simply threw everything I had left at it, and then it was over. I walked back to the changing room and wanted to burst into tears but I didn't. I had given everything. I hadn't delivered my best performance, but I had delivered the best I could on the day. I had no more to give. If it wasn't enough... Well then I would be back in October... And I would keep coming back until I got it. As it was, although I would be back at the next black and brown belt course, it would be on my pathway to Nidan...

In the car on the way home I didn't feel elated, nor was it an anticlimax. It just felt like a step. It felt like I had fought myself, my self doubt, my nerves and it was both physically and emotionally draining. Oscar Wild once said 'Be yourself, everyone else is taken.' I had needed those words to stand my ground against my bigger, younger opponents. I had taken another step forward  in my growth as a person and as a karateka. My real training had begun.

Things that got me through
1. Not giving up
2. Being fit physically
3. My physio who had done so much work on my hip injury that I barely noticed it
4. The amazing scones, jam and earl grey tea at the magic Chidock tea rooms
5. The four black and brown belt courses and Holland Easter training courses I had done
6. Faith in myself and my training
7. The amazing, positive attitude and support of the whole dojo
8. Most important of all Regular Dojo Training - especially on those evenings when a relaxing evening and glass of wine were calling and I dragged myself to the dojo instead



Karate Day time lessons

Daytime Karate lessons are now being held on Thursday mornings at the Castle St, Portchester,  Day Centre. For further information please ring 07713284430 or email mvodonnell@portchesterkarate.co.uk

These classes are for a range of people with varying abilities and in particular for the older and fairly active person that would like to benefit from the health aspects of practicing Karate and at the same time exercising their minds in the learning of new skills.

Existing students of Karate are also catered for in the lessons. In particular those on shift work and others that cannot get to their regular training lessons.

Further information

For the Portchester Karate Club and clubs in other areas or different training times, please email modonnell@portchesterkarate.co.uk or telephone 07713284430.

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