Today was the day of my return to Balliol School - the first time that I have been here since my own Shodan grading in October 2005. However today I returned in a role which should be far more relaxing - that of a member of the panel of Dan grades who reside over the fate of a number of hopeful, willing, eager, capable and nervous 1st Kyus. I had been looking forward to being on the 'other side' (nothing to do with Darth Vader and the Dark Side I hasten to add) of a Shodan grading for some months, yet on arrival at Balliol School I was probably just as nervous as the 1st Kyus.
Why, I hear you say?
Your question is echoed by me as well - was I nervous for the people about to go through their Shodan grading or was it my sub-conscious memory reminding me of the time that I had spent here only 8 months ago? I'm not sure which it was but I know that I found it hard to look at any one person for fear of distracting them.
The grading started in the usual format with Karate basics. Nothing unusual in that, except that you try doing your basics whilst being outnumbered by ‘Judges’! It is not for the faint hearted and is extremely difficult to muster a Kiai and lots of spirit on such an occasion. I have to admit that listening to Sensei (not Sensei Kidby!) giving the instructions I began to get a few ‘Mind Blanks’ and I really felt for the 1st Kyus.
Eventually the nerves of the Karate-Ka began to settle a little and they began to fall into the swing of things (the image of Graceful Swan kicking like fury under the water springs to mind at this point!).
Moving on to Kata next and we were treated to Enpi as the Tokui Kata for 2 of the students. Next came Kanku-Dai (my favourite) for the remaining 2 students – all went well! Everybody then had to do several other Kata including Sochin, Jitte and Jion to mention a few.
By now the sweat was pouring – the sustained effort, both mentally and physically, was really showing and yet there was much more to come. Faces were red and chests were heaving! It was time for me, and other Dan grades to don our Gis and enter into the fray!
Next came Kumite. The Dan grades had an easy life – we just had to do the attacking moves. We went through Kihon Ippon in Hidari and Migi, quickly followed by Jiyu Ippon in Migi and Hidari. There was no pause for thought. This was then followed by Jiyu Kumite. There was some very spirited fighting. What stood out most for me was the difference from the Dojo compared to the grading – Everybody was so ‘up for it!’ The 1st Kyus did not hold back – it was thrilling to watch and to take part.
It was at this point, between fights, that one 1st Kyu left the hall... to be sick. This was closely followed by another 1st Kyu. Maybe it was something that they ate? (I am reliably informed that this is actually a first in a Shodan grading but they both came back prepared to fight on!)
By now the students were totally shattered – mentally and physically. All that was left of the physical test was a demonstration of Tameshawari. Unfortunately I left the room at this point to change back into my Blazer so I missed this bit. However at the totting up of marks at the end it was evident that there were some very good displays! Pity I missed it. The final part of the grading was the oral part – questions were presented to the students to examine their understanding of Karate-Do and the history of karate.
But there was one more surprise... but I can’t go into that I’m afraid – you’ll have to find out for yourself!
At this point the students left the room to change and to then come back to hear the decision of the panel some time later. You will know by now that they all passed the grading – But look at the pictures below!
Do these look like people who have just passed their Shodan Grading? This was the moment when they were all told that they had attained Shodan. I think the descriptions ‘Shell Shocked’, ‘Numb’, ‘Disbelief’ describe their faces – these are all the things that applied to me when I passed. You are just totally unaware because you are totally and absolutely mentally and physically exhausted. You are just glad that the ordeal has ended and you can go home and have a rest!
The remaining pictures show the students with smiles – that’s only through the encouragement of the photographer asking them to say ‘Cheese’ or ‘Sausages’. No doubt by the time that you see them in the Dojo they will have had time for it all to sink in and they will all have massive grins on their faces the first time they enter the dojo and we all bow in respect.
All in all it was a wonderful experience and a privilege from my viewpoint – you can ask the new Shodan’s for their thoughts of the day yourself!