Grading – yellow belt (9th kyu)
The air of mystery that surrounds a karate grading session is palpable – it’s like you’ve got to get somewhere really important, without a map that points out what you might encounter along the way and knowing that you are going to be tested at each intersection. Me and my trusty karate partner (Jamie “van Damme” Boulter) had been asking our fellow Goju Ryu comrades, “what’s the score with grading?”, “what happens during a grading session?” Each time the answers were as vague as a Conservative Party manifesto, with recurring words like ‘tough’, ‘militant’ and ‘you’ll be fine’ feeding our appetite for worry. Even the Sensei was vague.
My conclusion? Grading must be a right of passage – a kind of warrior test, the element of the unknown is necessary and adds to the sense of occasion. And what an occasion it turned out to be.
The day of grading came, and along with it the nerves jangling in my stomach like a swarm of bees. Not a minute passed by without me thinking about the grading – interspersed with nervous half-yawns. My day’s work done, including an abnormal amount of visits to the toilet (mostly to practice my kata!), I was ready for the grading. Man, I was taking this really seriously…I surprised myself in how I was preparing, even going to the extent of asking a Japanese friend how to pronounce the word ‘ichi’ properly! And I am glad I did.
My preparation included:
- Not too much exercise on the day or the day before grading
- Good meal at lunch time on the day then no food before the grading
- Drink good amounts of water / isotonic drink during the day of grading
- More isotonic drink (about double the usual for a class)
- Pads and mits for kumite (sparing)
- Go-go Gadget arms and Go-go Gadget legs
Jamie and I got there early enough to get some light kata practice in before the session began. This brought back my memories of test-taking at university – you know, those antagonizing moments just before you are about to sit a test, when you are waiting outside the examination room and kill time by conferring with your friends about how your revision has gone, then you realise with horror that you’ve forgotten to do something in a particular way, or haven’t revised what the other person has revised. Jamie and I did this with aplomb, raising our respective heart rates a notch or two and our worry-ometers now off the scale. There always comes a point when you let go of the worry and think, “ahh, sod it…what will be will be.” Needless to say, we reached this point pretty quickly after our kata practice.
The grading begins.
Grading is a test – a test of your karate skill and technique but you also need to show spirit, enthusiasm, effort, strength, stamina and flexibility in equally high measures. The higher the kyu (meaning ‘grade’), the tougher the test. From the very first moment to the end of the session (almost 3 hours in this case), you are being watched and observed. I am guessing that no two gradings are exactly the same. This grading for me and Jamie was for the lowest kyu (9th – yellow belt) – there were others in our class going for Orange (8th kyu), Blue (6th Kyu) and Brown (3rd kyu). Ours followed a pattern of doing a warm-up, basic moves, combinations, sparing and kata – but there were many other options that we simply didn’t cover but probably will in future gradings.
Here are my highlights:
Doing 10 jodan agiuke’s (upper arm block) in a row x 10 sets
Being first up to do my individual kata
Sparing with Jamie and crunching my thumb
Watching a guy who was going for brown belt spar with 4 others at the same time…impressive!
Watching the same guy do Sanchin kata and Sensei doing ‘shime’ (shee-may) on the karate-ka. Intense!!!!
Doing the strength exercises at the end of the grading without any problems whatsoever – 3 months ago, I would have failed miserably.
For me the end of the session was quite emotional – not in a tearful kind of way, but in a massively uplifting kind of way. 3 hours of solid exercise and testing really does take its toll but it is also a big achievement. Those magic words meant more to me than I’d ever imagined, “Charlie: Goju Ryu to the order of 9th kyu – PASS!”