My Shodan Experience - Zöe McMahon

I was told in November 2013 by my Senseis that I was invited to grade for Shodan in April 2014.


The first thing I remember feeling was nausea. I was very excited but there was an underlying sense of foreboding. Over the next few months, and during the build up to the day, waves of panic, extreme happiness and inadequateness hit me in stages. Regardless of how I felt, I continued to put my all into my training.


I work in finance and am studying for an accounting qualification, so I attend a college session at least one evening a week. When I wasn’t at college or training in the dojo, I was studying karate history online and on the CFTS website. Every waking moment was filled with either going over the history in my head or reading what I had printed off the website.


Along came March, as if months hadn’t passed since November. The CFTS competition day came and went, and all of a sudden it was three weeks to the big day. I remember feeling that I was going to let CFTS, Renshi Kidby, Shihan O’Reilly and Sensei Waterhouse down. But more than that, I was going to let my Dad (Sensei McMahon) down. This spurred me into more proactive action as I was determined to make the federation and its Sensei’s proud of me. I took it upon myself to fill free moments with karate related revision. College work was put somewhat on the back burner.


In the three weeks between the competition and the grading, I spent my lunch breaks at work frantically pouring over and re-reading the history, techniques, stances, body parts and Sensei biographies. When I woke up in the morning, I would always run through my tokui kata (Kanku-dai), and Jiyu Ippon set 4 in my head.


On the Big Day, I woke up feeling very uneasy. The drive to Kempston was tense and I was already sweating with nerves. We (Sensei Simon McMahon, Sensei Waterhouse and I) picked up David and Elliott Thomas on the way and drove together.


My stomach was churning as I walked in and got changed. The four of us, myself, David, Elliott, and Paul Comb warmed up in the corridor, waiting anxiously to be invited in. Panic took over from nausea. Sensei Ryan Sigward then opened the door and beckoned us in. On entering the hall, Sensei Sigward joined the standing black belts to make eight Senseis in total on the stage ahead of us. It was the most intimidating sight I had ever seen.


During the first few combinations something hit me, a feeling that I had to somehow prove I was a worthy black belt. Panic and nausea ebbed away and I felt a surge of power that carried me through to the end.


We were not told the result at the end, just instructed to change and wait while the panel decides. We were out there for what felt like years. I was convinced I had failed. I knew I could have done certain parts better; I felt humiliated and angry at myself. We were invited back in, and the panic returned.

On being given feedback by Renshi Kidby I felt my heart stop and the tears come. I felt exhausted from the day but also felt like I hadn’t given it enough and I had in fact let all these people down who had taken up so much of their time to prep me for this day.


I was then told I passed and doubled over with the overwhelming feeling of elation. I was so happy and overwhelmed I could not stop crying. Panic, nausea and anxiety turned into shock and elation; and I just know it will take weeks to knock the smile off my face.


The first lesson after the grading was Tuesday 8th April. Getting changed and seeing the belt in my bag made me nearly cry with happiness again! I put it on and felt and enormous wave of shock and also responsibility. I had become a figure that kyu grades can look up to and I had to live up to that.

I don’t think the joy will ever ebb away and I will continue to channel my emotions into my grading and just hope I can live up to the grade.


Zoe McMahon – April 2014




Recent Posts

See All

Back in January when I received the 2015 calendar I took note of the dates for the Dan grading. The nearer I got to March the more impossible it seemed. I felt that the more I tried to learn the more

‘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 piec