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Karate

The End of the Beginning

When you take up karate, you imagine the black belt, impossibly far off, as the end of your journey and the pinnacle of achievement. Pretty soon, you'll be told that grading to black belt is merely the beginning of the real karate journey.

Yesterday, I embarked on that journey.

I'd been a nervous wreck ever since shihan called me aside at the end of Tuesday's class and told me that, if I decided I was ready, he'd put me up for the grading. Was I ready? I wasn't sure. But I reckoned I was as ready as I'd ever be.

The rest of the week went too fast, yet dragged. At last, there I was, standing in a school sports hall in Sidcup in my gi. Then we were told to line up, we were bowing in, and it had begun.

Senior gradings are attended by red belts and up. They're longer than the public gradings for white to blue belts. We are treated to a punishing warmup and tested on our punches, kicks and blocks, which lasts as long as a regular class, and only then go on to demonstrate the kata, a long sequence of memorised moves.

We go through every kata, from the very first white belt to yellow belt taikyoku shodan, until we reach the one for our particular grade, which in my case is seipai. Concentrating only on your grade kata to the detriment of the others is a bad idea; you are expected to give your all to all of them, and to do them significantly better than lower grades can manage.

The final part of the grading is kumite, sparring. I was dreading this; at lower levels you can partner up with someone you know, or a child, and take it a bit easy, but if you're trying for black belt the instructors will pick you out and find out how much you really want it. I got off reasonably lightly, though I did have to face an enormous sensei who stood in front of me going "Hit me! Go on! You're so timid! You're like a teddy-bear!" - which is exactly the kind of thing that makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry.

When we finished, I knew that my technique might improve, but that if I failed to grade because I wasn't fit enough, or aggressive enough, or sufficiently hard-working, I never would grade, because I had given everything I'd got.

After a cooldown and the bowing out, we sat while the results were read, starting with the red belts and going up. There were only two of us going for shodan-ho, so when the first name had been called and I saw my instructor reach behind him to pick up a second black belt, I knew I'd succeeded. But I only believed it when my name was called and I was bowing, discarding my brown belt, and tying the new one with shaking hands.

Several students I've known and trained with for years were also grading: the other new shodan-ho (we kept perfect time with each other), one grading to first dan, and the others to second or first kyu brown belt. We all succeeded, because our shihan trains us well and doesn't put us up for grading until we're good and ready. There were photos and handshakes and sweaty hugs, and I realised how attached I am to these people I see once a week, under very specific circumstances and never in their normal clothes.

It was early 2002 when I started going to karate. I had no idea I'd keep it up this long, much less reach this level. (It's possible to reach black belt in seven years. I'm not actually very good at karate.) It's been a stabilising influence in my life, giving structure to my week and an outlet to everyday frustrations.

Technically, shodan-ho is a provisional grade, a placeholder until that time at least a year in the future when I have to go through it all again to grade to first dan. But I get to wear a black belt. I'll take it.
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Comments

Congratulations! It's a real achievement and, provisional or not, you've earned it.
Thank you! Certainly felt that way :)
Congratulations!
Thanks!
Congratulations <3
Thank you! \o/
Well done!
Thank you!
Yay, congratulations :)
Thanks ^.^
Yay! That's tremendously exciting. Well done!

I was chatting to a friend last night who's going for his black belt grading in around 3 weeks. He's looking a bit green about the gills about it already.
Thank you!

We're told the date but don't know whether we'll be going up until the week of the grading, to keep us on our toes. So I was on tenterhooks about whether or not I'd be going, then about having to go through with it.
Ooooh wow, that's great news and congratulations! :D
Thank you! \o/
Amazing! Well done!
I bet you have plenty of teeny weeny little black belt Cubs. But I was a late starter!
Congratulations! That's very cool!
Thank you!
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Blimey. Doesn't take much, these days, does it?
Congratulations! =:D
Thank you! ^.^
Score! See, I told you huskies were plucky. Congratulations, and treat yourself, because you've really earned it! :)
Thank you! Many calories have been replaced since :)
Rock on, you awesome rocker.

-TG
Thank you! Great icon ^.^
Blimey - well done!
Awesome work dude!
Thank you!
Well done.
Thank you!
I saw you post this on Twitter, so logged back into LJ for the first time in aaaaaaaaages to come and read more. Brilliantly done! You should be very proud of yourself; I'm proud of you.

Here's to amazing yourself with how much progress you can make in 12½ years in other aspects of your life!

\o/
Thank you! I did think of you when I posted the news, as you've always been very supportive and interested, so...thanks again!
On a purely mathematical basis, I thoroughly approve of the existence of the shodan-ho grade, of which I was not previously aware. Grading systems that go directly from sort-of-minus-one to sort-of-plus-one without there being some step between seem to be missing something.
Yes - it is a Level 0 between the kyu and the dan!
Woohoo!
\o/
HOORAY! well done you - very impressed :D :D :D
Thank you! ^.^
Awesome achievement Huskyteer!!!
You've a lot to be proud of.
Well done!
Thank you, Fuzzy! *hugs*