This was my first senior grading - for red and brown belts - with students and Senseis from all over London. It lasted nearly four hours, and bar one short break was absolutely relentless. I sweated pints, and drank most of a jug of water afterwards. Frankly, I was beat before the warmup finished.
It's always hammered home that your basics (punches, kicks, blocks and stances) matter whether you're at your first ever grading or going for a black belt. By my calculations we do ten strikes, eight blocks and four kicks, and by the time you've done each of these ten times slowly and ten times fast, plus a few extra because apparently you weren't putting enough effort in, you're worn out.
But then it's time for kata. We all did the first four kata together, then went up in groups to perform the kata for our grade. The red belts were finished with first, and we sat panting and admiring the higher grades' graceful movements.
Lastly there's kumite, sparring. I got off quite lightly here; most of my partners were students from my class and we went easy on each other by mutual agreement. We knew, though, that the Senseis were still watching us and judging the quality of our strikes and the effort we were putting in.
Mitts and pads off, a little jogging on the spot and arm-swinging to warm down. It was all over. A Sensei I didn't know, from one of the other London regions, stood up and announced that many of us had failed. He talked about Focus and Effort and Karate Is A Journey Not A Destination, then the names of those who had passed were read out, starting with the red belts.
It's agony waiting to see if your name will be called. I clapped the successful students, smiled and thumbs-upped as the other three red belts from my class went up, and thought about how I could have done better, how I ki-aied at the wrong moment during my kata and how much of my apparent inability to do proper press-ups was faked to give me a breather.
Then my Sensei, Aaron, was saying my name and beaming at me like a Cheshire cat, and it was my turn - the very last red belt to be called - to trot round to the front and bow and shake hands. And when Sensei Aaron says 'well done', you know he means it.
So now I'm a brown belt, third kyu. After this it's second kyu, then first, then the black belt and onward to the dans.
But it's a journey, not a destination.