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.