First in the Kyu (or last in the Kyu); the lead up to the beginning.


From here on in, it gets tougher, and even more serious. Bring it!

As I mentioned in my last entry, last Saturday I successfully tested for my first kyu. I went in feeling as prepared as I could, and came out feeling fairly happy with how it went. Obviously, there is still a lot to work on (I would be worried if I were sitting here typing that everything was perfect!!), and there were things that I probably have done better, but overall, I think I did my best on the day, which is all one can do. The feedback from the panel and other observers since has been very encouraging, but also constructive, and to my relief was similar in nature to my self-assessment.

Panel gradings can be quite confronting for many people. You are putting yourself out there in front of family, friends, senpai, kohai, not to mention a panel of 3 or more high ranking karate-ka with many, many, years of experience between them. This can understandably make candidates very nervous, flustered, and as a result make it difficult for them to perform at their best. I am fairly fortunate to have had many years of performance experience (no not in Karate, but as a musician), which has made this aspect much easier. So, my karate in front of the panel was probably, by and large, not a lot different from what it would normally be, either at home practicing by myself, or in class practising with everyone else. In fact, cognitively, the way I cope with the situation, if the nervous energy in the room does start to invade my head-space, is by convincing myself that I am in class, and just ignoring everything else other than what is being asked of me.

This grading period was a little different for me. The month before grading I publicly offered to assist my kohai prepare their material for grading, both in and outside of class. As I have mentioned, this has helped me learn more about teaching, and also helped me develop a deeper understanding of a different aspect of the meaning of Hokkori – pride (when I see their development).

The last lesson I had which focused on any of the material I needed was a whole week before the big day. The week leading up to my own grading, other than individual practise at home, rather than training and preparing during class times, I had been doing some learning of a different sort. On the Sunday I attended an interesting (though not relevant to what I was being tested on) seminar for IBF (International Budo Federation) on various things including: kick boxing style drills, judo / jujitsu, security / containment. My only active training session had been my Wednesday night kumite class at our sister dojo (which was certainly useful but obviously mainly for the kumite aspect).

The classes at my home dojo, however were primarily given over to grading tests for the higher kyu candidates, and I was sitting on the other side of the panel table writing feedback and assessment notes, or demonstrating techniques for them. I continued to practice outside of class though and ask for help from my instructor with things I felt weren’t working well enough for me.

As I mentioned I was particularly concerned about the bunkai aspect of the test, which was unfortunately the most difficult thing for me to practice alone, and my visualisation skills were tested in a big way. I was hoping (maybe even expecting) to be given some sort of heads up about which kata or even which aspects of the kata I would need to demonstrate bunkai for. However, when this was not forthcoming, I just figured it was all part of the next challenge, tried to stay calm, and prepare as best as I could….and then wing it in the test, which worked out better than I thought it might.

I have already been told things are about to get tougher, and having seen what my Senpai went through leading up to his shodan testing, I already had a reasonable idea. I know as things go on, expectations will be higher, and knowing in advance what is expected of me will not necessarily be a feature, but that’s ok; life throws the unexpected too. We just have to deal with in the best way we can, and move on.

Right after the grading, my instructor asked me how I felt about being first kyu (subtext implications behind that). He looked pretty happy, which made me happy, but truly, I felt a bit shell shocked so I was honest and told him it felt a bit surreal.

Now, not quite a week after the fact, having had my second stripe ripped off on Monday, having been given a welcome / initiation as a 1st kyu at our sister dojo on Wednesday, (just as well I am away next week as I suspect they might lynch me for how long I made them spend in shiko dachi!! – a wide squatting stance, #sorrynotsorry #toughenup #takesalongtimetocounttoone), I feel I have settled, (perhaps almost too quickly) on the top rung of the ladder to the launch pad.

I am on the last kyu or the first in the kyu (sic), depending on which way you look at it. I have been counting down since I started training. The lead up to blast off will be tough but I am up for the challenge. From there on in the counting, just like the learning, goes up.

BUNKAI BALLAD – The crane who Smashes and Tears Calmly in the Storm.



One of the things I was most apprehensive about before my grading on the weekend was the bunkai component. I had 4 kata to learn, 3 to perform: Saifa, Hakkucho, and Seiunchin, and had officially learned full sets of bunkai for 2 of them. I am pretty sure I have seen bunkai for the third at one stage too, and had learned bunkai at camp for the one I wasn’t performing, and I may have even been able to remember, if push came to shove,(well more likely grab but you know what I mean!!).

You would think that all that would have made me feel very prepared, and quite confident about it all, but no, instead I felt a bit overwhelmed and out of control. I practiced whenever I could find a willing and resisting opponent (for some reason it was harder than it should have been to find someone to grab or hit me, especially given the company I keep!!), but still, had no idea what I would be tested on.

The night before my test, having been preocupied for days and in my dreams with bunkai possibilities, I made a decision: it would be what it would be and there was nothing I could do except roll with it……Probably just as well…..the bunkai I was asked were not ones I particularly had practised intensively, or had even remembered well. I got past it though and instead of freezing like I had thought I might, I was able to at least describe what the bunkai was, by looking at it and thinking it through in the cases where my memory needed help. I may have needed some pointers and encouragement to make it more realistic and practical, but at least I managed to laugh and not cry about it. And let’s face facts: it was pretty funny being told repeatedly to hit my Senpai in the groin and pinch his inner thigh harder to get him to be more “compliant” as my tori (attacker).

I do promise to write something more deep and meaningful about my experiences over the last week or two. I also promise to reflect on being on both sides of the panel table, scrutinising others, and being scrutinised myself. I promise to tell you  all how it feels to be the other side of this experience, and to be (figuratively speaking) the first in the kyu (sic), standing on the last rung of the ladder leading to the launch pad so to speak. But in the mean time there is this:


Bunkai Ballad – The Crane who Smashes and Tears Calmly in the Storm.

Cranes are quite graceful but deceivingly vicious.

Hakkucho looks birdlike but the bunkai means business!

I’ll escape from your hold, head you off at the pass.

Hit your face, grab your groin and land you on your……..


Ask me about Saifa, it means “smash and tear”.

I’ll escape, and I’ll scrape and I’ll pull out your hair.

I’ll push you away and make you lose your hearing.

At the end of the day, it’s me you’ll be fearing.


Pulling in battle, can help me break free,

Seiunchin has storm within calm, you will see.

Move in to move out, move around, get them down,

Once they’re on your level, take them out and to ground.

Stepping outside of the box but staying in the lines. Dojo Kun – Revisited.

About two years ago, I wrote a post about dojo kun. At that stage, I was training at three different dojo (which I had referred to as dojo dai ichi, dojo dai ni, and dojo dai san, in the order I had started attending them), so I had (in theory) three different dojo Kun. There were many aspects of my training, back then, that were confusing, however the dojo kun were not one of these. I said it then. Having rules has never really bothered me… staying between the lines is easy.

Fast forward to today, I am training at one dojo, (dojo dai san), although I attend a sparring class at another dojo (dojo dai ni) once a week, (because sparring is one thing, which I both continue to enjoy, and continue to find confusing and difficult. I am stepping outside my box so I can be stronger within my lines. 🙂 )

I am also (as I was then) in the midst of grading season. It’s my 5th grading at dojo dai san now, as opposed to my 1st; my third in front of a panel, my first on a panel, and my last (assuming I pass) attempting a kyu belt, (ranks before black belt or dan).

Since the time that I wrote my first dojo kun blog post, there has been a lot more frequent discussion about the dojo Kun in class. Apart from my efforts at (literally) posting them on the wall (see here), we also recite them in Japanese at the end of every class, as well is frequently discussing them in English. I believe this has made a big difference in the spirit, ownership, pride, and general morale within our growing dojo family. Even the smallest members, are able to recite and understand the kun on a basic level.

Reflecting on a personal level on our Dojo kun and want they mean to me now, nearly 3.5 years into my training and 2 years since I first posted on the matter, I would say the following.

Hokori (Pride)

In the last six months, as a student, I have been carefully trying to refine my techniques and learn new kata and other skills. I have a strong desire to be able to represent my style and my dojo, which was something that had not really occurred to me much before, because there were too many other things to think about.

I have paid attention to and become acutely aware of the things we do and don’t do in terms of not only style but also behaviour and etiquette, and tradition. My instructor, my Senpai and others within the wider network have all been a positive part of my personal growth, and given me confidence in myself by believing in me and helping me, and this has been instrumental in helping me be very proud to practice our style. I have also been very keen to learn as much as I can about the history of our style, the language, the traditions, the dojo kun, and basically everything I can find out, so that when people ask me, I can be as clear as possible. And people have been asking me……

The last 6 months have also brought about a new role for me; I have been learning how to instruct others in our style, and be a mentor for them. The prospect of doing so both thrilled me and scared me in equal measure, but when I was thrown in front of the proverbial bus (or the literal class), I surprised myself, and was proud that I could do something I had been more than a little apprehensive about. The biggest positive which has come from the experience of teaching though, and the most pride I have felt is watching others I have taught, improve and succeed, take to our dojo, and become part of the family.

Nintai (Patience)

Patience has never been my strong suit. Luckily, perseverance (which is an aspect of patience and an alternate meaning of the kanji), is something I am OK with. I am not someone who likes to give up quickly. Perhaps it is that tenacity that has taken me to the point where I find myself now.

However, it has been teaching others, that has not only forced me to be more patient as a teacher, but also made me reflect on how I need to be more patient with myself, as a student. Although I may be learning something considerably more complicated than the basic strike that I watch a beginner struggle with, over, and over again, I know that what I am trying to achieve is not dissimilar. I know that both of us will get there if we stick with it. I know we are all beginners just on different parts of the road. And I know with full 20/20 hindsight that they will get past it, because I have been on that stretch of road!

Patience is also about acceptance of change, acceptance of things you don’t necessarily like, without making a big deal of it. I am certainly getting much better at rolling with the punches (on a metaphorical level).

Reigi (Courtesy)

Dojo etiquette and even general social etiquette is not necessarily something which comes naturally to everyone. It certainly did not come naturally to me. When I reflected on Courtesy a year ago, and when I helped write our dojo’s student manual (which included a section on Etiquette, and also on the kun and putting the kun in practice), I researched as extensively as I could and spoke to many karate-ka. I had only scratched the surface. Recently when I edited the manual a year after I first help put it together, I made several changes. No doubt the next edition I will make more. The manual is not and cannot be comprehensive, in this regard, and I have found myself in many delicate situations in the last 6 months where my words would not have provided the framework for me to decide how to act. That said, I am usually certain of how not to act, how not to respond, and so can then reflect on appropriate courses of action and ask for guidance from there. So even if I am not sure how to be courteous all of the time, I at least know how not to be rude and disrespectful!

Courtesy is not simply a matter of respect but more a code of conduct for the right way to act, react, refrain from taking action. It takes all sorts to make up the world. Different strokes for different folks. We are not going to agree with everything everyone has to say, irrespective of our feelings about them. Being courteous is listening to and accepting difference without judgement and about feeling comfortable to present an opinion without being judged impolitely. Courtesy leads to concord, concord leads to a positive learning environment, and a positive general environment produces happy and successful students. And, let’s face it: the world in which we all get along is by far and away the more pleasant one, than the one where we don’t.

Seishin (Spirit)

Spirit isn’t something you can see, but more something you can feel. The spirit of Karate is alive and well within the dojo. Having a shared focus and purpose, leaving personal issues outside, training hard, and taking pride in what we do, ensures this.

Outside the dojo, it’s more personal. For me, I find kata practice is where I find this feeling is the strongest. Performing kata (even on my own), I feel like I am connected to something bigger, something greater than me. However, I also find myself thinking, reflecting and even sometimes dreaming about karate, more often than I am not, even when I am not physically doing anything karate related. I guess the karate spirit is now intertwined with my own, as a part of my psyche if you like, whether I want it there or not!

My instructor asked me today if I liked karate…..(I think that was kind of rhetorical, because the answer is more than evident!). He then asked what I liked about karate and why I liked it. It was more difficult to answer and hard (even for me) to put into words. Perhaps this is because it is more a feeling I have inside when I train and when I think about karate. The closest I could come was that Karate was something that demands my focus so that I can’t think about anything else (a positive thing for a compulsive multi-tasker) and that Karate completes me like the last piece of the puzzle that you didn’t realise was lost until you found it and put it in.