On Saturday 6th October I completed a shodan grading assessment with CFTS. It was the product of no little amount of hard work – both from myself and from the many people who have supported me inside and outside the dojo. It also wasn’t the first time I had faced a grading to shodan, though, but the second.
On 30th April 2016 I graded to shodan with Sensei Tennick of Tigra Karate International. I’d been training with them for about a year when I was invited to take my shodan along with three or four others, and several more going for grades from brown belt upwards. There were perhaps fifteen of us in total, and it meant for a lot of spirit and enthusiasm generated in the room. However, it also meant that the grading didn’t have much of a sense of occasion to it. It was ‘just another grading’.
The two gradings shared some parts - basics, a selection of kata, kumite - but there the similarities ended. Kata only went up to Jion, rather than advancing to CFTS’ shodan kata. I ended up doing more kata in my TKI grading, as we ran the full syllabus from taikyoku shodan upwards. Although it meant for more work, it did mean that we always knew what was coming next - kata were performed in order. Much easier, when you know what’s coming.
It was kumite and beyond where the two gradings really diverged. Candidates fought each other in sparring bouts to demonstrate their readiness - challenging in its own way, but not compared to the fight I experienced with CFTS. There was no sparring with higher grades, and the grading ended there. It was long, yes, but not as long as one with CFTS - and not as thorough.
At the time, though, I had no idea whether I would be able to rejoin CFTS in the future. I had also been away long enough that the difference between the two gradings wasn’t too apparent to me. I accepted my black belt and continued training.
Ultimately, we would move away from that club, and I wasn’t easily able to find another club to train at. When we moved out of London and back to the Milton Keynes area, it meant that I was able to come back to CFTS and essentially pick up almost where I left off.
Completing a second black belt grading, relatively close to the last one, throws the differences into stark relief. The philosophy of karate - the karate-do - is emphasised with CFTS. There was no expected knowledge of the history of karate with TKI, and, looking back, the terminology used at my previous club was not anything like as detailed as I know now. CFTS has tested my adaptability, my resilience, and my specific subject knowledge in a way that TKI did not.
So were the two comparable? Sort of - in that they had some of the same working parts, albeit with my CFTS grading being far more polished and far more than ‘just another grading’. In reality, I would say that my previous black belt grading was more akin to a slightly-more-complex 1st kyu grading with CFTS. Which seems oddly appropriate, since those are often suggested to be a dress-rehearsal for shodan!