Roller-coaster Ride 2018: The ins and outs of negotiating the ups and downs.

2018 has been a good year. I’m not saying it’s been without its share of adversity, disappointments, or annoyances. I’m not even going to bother going into the ins and outs of most of them…..because as they say:

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift – that’s why it’s called the present!”

What’s been good about this year and the ups and downs that have come with it, has been the realisation that I can deal with everything, without letting those speed bumps get in my way and without letting them define how my next day / week / month / year will go.

One of those speed bumps, came in mid May. I “failed” my shodan (black belt) grading. There were many factors at play, probably some of which I’m not even aware of, and I’m not at liberty to really discuss any of the factors I am aware of. Let’s just say, it wasn’t what I had planned, or expected to happen. I won’t pretend it didn’t upset me at all. After holding it together at the post grading lunch, (really afternoon tea by the time we finished at the dojo), I was a mess for a good 24 hours.

But, after letting myself grieve a little, I decided (actually just knew), that all I could do was keep training. I’ll also admit that the main reasons convincing me to come to the dojo two days later, for the belt award ceremony (where I knew I’d be up front helping award most of my kohai with their belts/stripes and certificates), even though I knew it would be potentially triggering for me, were mostly about other people.

Although, I’m mostly past caring about what other people think of me, and what I do, I do care a lot about the example my behaviour sets for others. So, what got me through the door two days after grading (or rather not grading in my case), was largely to do with setting a good example to my seven-year-old daughter (who also trains), and my Kohai. I wanted to send some messages.

  1. Turn up and don’t give up. (Begin Again, Don’t Quit!)
  2. Be there for your “family”.
  3. Your best isn’t always good enough, but if you keep trying to improve, your best is going to get better still.

Of course, once I’d got through the door, the reasons didn’t matter, not being awarded a new belt myself didn’t matter; I felt very happy for my Kohai, who had achieved their new rankings, and it felt great to be back training in my home dojo again.

A month or so after the grading, I set off on a much anticipated journey, to meet, and train with my instructors teacher in Boston. My husband suggested (wisely), that I spend a week sightseeing in New York beforehand, since I’ve never visited. Of course, I couldn’t resist tracking down a dojo in New York too. I managed to attend to classes at Downtown Dojo, in New York City. I wore a white belt, as although our style incorporates Uechi Ryu, I am not ranked at all in Uechi Ryu. The dojo were very welcoming, and it was nice to have some company and conversation for a few hours, since I was travelling entirely alone. Of course, I also enjoyed many of the other cultural and culinary delights that New York City had to offer. I also found that I enjoyed my own company, and the freedom to do whatever I pleased whenever I wanted.

The two weeks I spent in Boston after that week in New York City, were a life changing experience for me. I was accomodated and hosted by two of the warmest women I have met, (one trains and teaches at the dojo), in their lovely home, with their gorgeous fur babies, and was well looked after in and outside of the dojo, by them and by my instructor’s Sensei, and the other main instructor of the dojo. I didn’t spend much time sleeping, as there was so much to see and do (and….jet lag never really let go of me!). The days I wasn’t training (there were three perhaps), were spent enjoying the sun,  sea, and fresh air, and also seeing some of the city. After hours, there were parties (including 4th July celebrations), and social occasions.

Training days during the week, were spent at a summer camp, helping teach, and also joining classes, in karate, BJJ, MMA, and Kobudo (weapons), with kids aged 7 to 14. There was also time for training and talking with my instructor’s Sensei. Evenings were spent in the dojo, training karate and or BJJ, and sometimes helping to teach the kids. Saturday was spent all day in the dojo, starting with yoga, and then various karate and BJJ classes. I had never trained BJJ before, but by the end of my 20+ hour crash course (pun intended) on the mats, I had a whole new appreciation of grappling, and some good ideas to help my ground game.

In between training, and chilling out with new friends, I had some wonderful, and insightful discussions with many people, both in and outside of the dojo. I’d anticipated, going there as a black belt, and had been apprehensive, that not having “got there”, before I got there, would somehow impact on what I could contribute, and what I could get out of my time there. It was made clear by my hosts, from the outset that it mattered little, and in reality, I probably got more out of it, because I could relax and train, unhindered by any perceived expectations of me.

Two weeks flew by, and soon it was time to say farewell to my extended dojo family, and meet my own little family (i.e. husband and kids), in Bali, for some rest and relaxation, and a completely new culture, and pace of life. Whilst I was enjoying a cognitive and physical holiday for a couple of weeks, lots of things were happening in my own dojo. It made me homesick, which was a bit strange, but unsurprising. I wasn’t sure how to feel, but had limited communications with people from the dojo, so in actuality, I had to wait until I got home.

Not long after I got back, I was tested for black belt again. This time, it was a completely different experience. For one thing, I’d just (except for two weeks in Bali), come out of a two week intensive training program. That said, I hadn’t been psyching myself up for a test, since, to be honest, I had no idea when I would test again. The test kind of “happened”. One minute I was teaching the juniors, and the next I was testing for shodan! I don’t know if anyone else (apart from my instructor), knew, but I really didn’t, and as I was used to being put on the spot, and put through my paces, it didn’t actually dawn on me what was going on, until about the third or fourth round of kumite (sparring), by which time I was beginning to get somewhat suspicious. The test I did that night, felt real, when I analysed it after the fact, as I had been made to apply (in a practical way) everything I had learned, rather than just performing various techniques “clinically”, as had been the case in my first test, (at least that was how it had felt to me at the time).

After completing the test, I was presented with my shiny new belt. It felt somewhat surreal, but also perfect. It was a much more intimate affair, more personal than it might have been in May, and I was surrounded by the people who’d help me get there; my teacher and my fellow students. My US dojo family were there in spirit, and I was read messages from them also.

The second half of the year went very quickly. After some initial teething difficulties as a new shodan, I let myself believe it, and stopped worrying about what anyone else thought. There were some changes in the dojo, which I was able to take into my stride, for the most part fairly quickly, and I got on with training, and teaching. I probably took on even more responsibility than before but that was ok. Part of my role was helping the next cohort of black belt candidates prepare for their grading in November. My experiences testing, on both occasions, probably helped me help them prepare for the test, and for the results. And helping them and my other kohai helped me put some of my doubts to the side. Last month I was awarded my certificate and even though it’s physically just a piece of paper, it’s way more than that to me.

We finished training for the year a week ago and have another 13 sleeps until we commence for 2019. Neatly, perhaps even serendipitously, I finished the notebook I started in April 2018, (the 8th I have completed since I started keeping a karate Journal at the start of 2015). I found myself writing not only about the nuts and bolts of what I was learning, and the feedback on things I needed to work on but also about what I was going through and how I was feeling at different points. The last Thursday class (the penultimate class for the year) I got home to discover that I had managed to leave my Journal at the dojo. I felt like part of my soul was missing. I was so relieved when my Senpai was able to collect it for me that night so it wouldn’t go astray. I am not a materialistic person in the main, nor particularly sentimental but my JOURnal is my JOURney.

I am looking forward to 2019. I have no idea what challenges and excitement it will bring, but I just know I am ready to ride that roller-coaster and enjoy every moment, no matter what lies over the next hill or around the next bend. May you all be blessed with the same sense of adventure!


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