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David Francis - My Shodan Experience

‘Chin Up! Hara forward’!

‘Don’t show your mistakes on your face’.

‘You will make mistakes, just keep going’.

‘Remember to control your breathing’.

‘More attack, less defence in kumite’.

All these pieces of advice from Renshi and Senseis Wilson, Gillies and Eagles were going round in my head as I headed for the Shodan Grading at the Kempston Dojo. How they had any room in my head along with everything else you have to learn for the grading I don’t know and in addition I had the biggest butterflies in my stomach ever. Months earlier, Renshi had approached me and asked whether I thought I would be ready if he chose to invite me to grade for Shodan in March 2015. I quickly said ‘Yes’ and then as he walked away to start taking the class, the realisation of what I had just committed to hit me. Grading for Shodan! Did I know the basics? What was my tokui kata? Was I fit enough for the kumite? Who was born when and what were they famous for? What on earth is that called in Japanese?

I’ve always practiced at home and tried to keep myself fit but this was going to require more. I work in London and getting back for training is not always easy but I managed to up my dojo sessions to three times a week along with running, squats, press-ups and sit-ups. Lunchtime at work became study time and I’ve lost count of the number of people who have given me weird looks for having Funakoshi O’Sensei’s 20 Precepts as my PC background!

Three days before the grading my diet changed to pasta, pasta and more pasta as I’d been told to carb load like mad and then on the morning, it was porridge for energy. I just wish it had settled the butterflies!

So, time for grading. All of us lined up, bowed and then it was time to start. Everyone seemed a little reserved to start with, maybe trying to conserve energy or maybe just nerves, but it soon became clear from Renshi Kidby, Shihan McClagish and the other Dan grades that they expected maximum effort and maximum spirit. In short, go hard or go home!

Did I remember all the advice? Well, I definitely heard ‘Chin Up! Hara forward!’ a few times; I know I made mistakes but I kept going and I survived the kumite (just), even with time for a comedy moment where I misjudged a mawashi-geri and kicked Sensei Saunders in the backside. He kindly returned the favour, after a smile, with a well-judged uraken that had my right ear ringing for about 10 seconds.

There were some things that I wasn’t expecting but strangely I really enjoyed those bits and it was a good test.

When the grading ended we were all sent to get changed and wait to find out if we had passed or not. It seemed to be a very quiet, subdued and nervous changing room.

I had passed! I had expected to feel joy (and that did come later) but at the time it was an overwhelming sense of relief - all that practice, all that study had paid off.

Of course the grading isn’t the end. It’s still me in the gi and I still make mistakes but there is a responsibility as a Dan grade to keep practicing, keep learning, keep improving and help others because they see the belt and expect you to know what you are doing.

That said, within the first five minutes of my first lesson as a Shodan, Renshi had pointed out at least three things I wasn’t doing properly and how I should be doing them, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The day you stop learning something new in Karate should never come. The study of Karate takes a lifetime and I’ve only just begun.

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