On the weekend of 2nd December we held our biggest grading of the year in Basingstoke. We had students from Karate, Ju Jitsu and Judo all grading. Of which Seven of them were being examined for their Black Belt.
The weekend started with the younger children from the Young Legends, aged between 6- 9 going for their first belt. Their grading consisted of a 60 minute class to give a brief reminder of the things they had to demonstrate. They progressed onto the formal grading itself which consisted demonstrating blocks, kicks, strikes, throws and groundwork along with their forms and partnerwork.
Bryan and Steve Rowe 8th Dan Shi Kon Chief Instructor
On Friday 17th February I was awarded my 6th Dan in Karate from Steve Rowe Sensei 8th Dan, head of Shi Kon Martial Arts. Quite a few people have asked me what the grading involved and whether it was simply a time served promotion. The following is a précis of my experience.
Those of you who know Steve well will know that every class, lesson or seminar with him he is testing your understanding and also your techniques, so grading with him can and often is a long involved process. He will leave you in no doubt about how you are progressing and what you need to work on. Some teachers will often tell you how awesome your are, at every class, this is most definitely not Steve’s way
The formal start of my grading for me was in December 2015 and agreeing some targets to be measured against with Steve. This sorted, my wife Lindsey Andrews kindly interjected and said words to the effect that it needed to be more challenging in some areas. So version 2 was born. (Note to self, must stop Lindsey and Steve talking about me.)
Karate Kata, Kung Fu and Tai Chi forms
I had a number of these that we chose in order to show competence on some particular technical points or principles inherent in that Kata or Form.
In terms of Karate Kata, the Shito Ryu ones selected from me were Suparinpei, Chatan Yara Kushanku, Kosukan Dai and Anan. The Shotokan ones were Gojushiho Dai, Sochin and Tekki Shodan. Some of these were ‘ticked’ off earlier during the year so I could put them to one side and others, notably Suparinpei and Chatan Yara Kushanku I continued to work on throughout the whole of the period and in fact I’ve still been working on improving these two today. I have to say that this doesn’t mean that I think I know these Kata yet, merely that for the sake of my improving some technical deficiency or skill, I worked on these Kata and when we thought I was showing reasonable competence, I moved on. Clearly as a teacher I need to know a number of Kata to be able to competently teach them, however for my personal training, I generally work on no more than 4 at a time and try to look in depth. To give you an idea I worked on Tekki Shodan for about 25 years as my favourite Kata playing lots with the Kata and how I performed it and still know there’s m0re to learn. I was given Kata from two different styles as each style performs their Kata with slightly different nuances in terms of power generation, timing, and stances.
National Award as British Judo’s Club of the Year for our community work in Basingstoke with Chris Doherty 6th Dan British Judo Technical Officer.
Moving onto the Shi Kon system, I was looking at all the forms we practice from both a practical physical aspect and as a teacher working on understanding at what level of training do students begin to grasp the concept of internal principles and how to better develop students with this skill. When is it appropriate to anticipate a student being able to demonstrate that they are utilising these principles in their training and how would you expect them to demonstrate this. Finally where is the significant switch from hard to soft training in our Karate/Kung Fu systems. The beauty of the Forms is that as senior instructors we are encouraged to make them our own, so different clubs will have some idiosyncrasies of their own because of the thinking of their chief instructor, it goes without saying that we have to test and validate the forms.
I’ve been working for many years with Steve on our Yang family Tai Chi syllabus. So it wasn’t a surprise that I had the challenge of being able to apply the core techniques, dynamics and harmonies to each of the forms including The Tai Ki Form, Grasp Sparrows Tail, The Long Form, Long Boxing, 2 Person Form, Broadsword, Double Edge Sword and the Spear. Not forgetting also being able to apply these skills to partnerwork. Although a very different art to Karate, there are many similarities to explore and which have helped me to improve my Karate.
I also had a number of fitness and fighting targets courtesy of my wife to get ready for the WUKF World Championships in Dublin in Summer 2016. With a mixture of hard focussed training against the senior grades at our club, who really pushed me hard from January to June to iron out some areas I wasn’t happy with. Plus advice and feedback pre Dublin and during the matches themselves from Sensei Tricia Jordan The Shi Kon Head Coach in Dublin.
I exceeded my expectations and targets and after a very tough evening of fights starting at 8:20pm and finishing at 11:45pm I won a Gold Medal in the Veterans Kumite. (We had other members of the Shi Kon Martial Arts squad who also Won Gold medals in their respective divisions.)
I was really pleased with my performance, but was more proud of the fact that we, as an association were able to showcase Karate as an inclusive activity for all as part of the opening ceremony.
As an Association coach I also had a number of coaching targets, including looking at what are the best in class practices for Martial Arts Clubs/Associations in a number of different areas, Sport England Clubmark recertification, charity and community work, coaching at seminars and in clubs, mentoring clubs and coaches and improving value to our members.
Other areas being tested
Like the other Black Belt candidates at our club in Basingstoke, I had a number of other topics to work through which needed to be signed off. Like everyone else with each of these areas, I was challenged to test my beliefs, views and actions in each of these.
These areas included:-
a monthly review of skills and areas to focus upon
a food diary for at least a month to review nutritional needs
a training diary for at least a month
reviews of progress against targets
the application of my learning to members
progress of 2016 potential Black Belt candidates
Shito Ryu Kata Suparinpei
In essence my grading was a mixture of physical techniques, a number of theory based areas around the physical skills which were demonstrable and repeatable along with coaching skills all tested and retested over a 16 month period. Additional training and testing from many members at our club in different areas and what seemed like endless private lessons with my wife who encouraged me to do better, I’m still trying. Private lessons most weeks with Steve to work on what he thought I needed to work on and lots of surprises saying “we worked on this x weeks / y months ago, show me. Monday 13th February a nice session with Lindsey looking at Kosukan Dai and being not so gently prompted to fix some issues in a couple of sequences. A wise teacher once told me, train everyone day and you will improve. I had a private lesson with Steve on Wednesday 15th February and he told me that we were going to work on the beginners Tai Chi form. The key thing from both was Fundamentals or Kihon is really the key to success.
This is what my grading involved. Someone else’s grading with Steve will be slightly different as he will get that person to focus upon their own weaknesses and areas that need improvement and will challenge them accordingly.
Black Belt = Shoshin
I’m lucky really that I’ve had some very good teachers over the years who have all helped me to improve as a Martial Artist.
Whilst living in Torbay, Dave Owen Sensei helped to set a thirst for high quality Karate and consistently set high standards to follow and exceed. A superb and much under-rated Karate technician, thanks for setting me on the right path.
Hirokazu Kanazawa Sensei who in my mid 20s introduced me to the concept of Tai Chi and soft Karate after I fought him at our dojo and lost convincingly. I stopped competition Karate immediately to focus upon this and 25 years later, I’m still trying.
Tomiko Mitsuoka Sensei, who although many years older than most of her class, 9/10 times got into the line and trained with us and outdid us in terms of effort and performance. I remember turning up to a class once and only her and I were there, I asked her if she wanted to cancel the class and go home, I can’t remember her exact words, but it was to the extent of “stupid boy of course not.” Or the course she taught for a number of very senior Black belts, my phone line buzzed for 2 weeks with the complaints “that the training was too hard and we didn’t need to train like that anymore.”
Mitsusuke Harada Sensei from Karate-Do Shotokai although of slight stature a real Karate giant with some very impressive Karate, he and his senior students like Tony Lima Sensei helped me to understand Shotokan better and want to be able to block like Harada Sensei and punch like Tony Lima Sensei.
After 22 years of putting up with me, I’d like to Thank Steve Rowe, for his laughter, admonishments and encouragement to become the best Martial Artist I can be. Above all it is else his laughter at me and with me, that teaches me. I’m not there yet, but I’m still trying and I will get there. I knew I must be improving when part way through 2016 Steve told me that my Tai Chi almost looked like Tai Chi now, almost. The same is true of much of my Karate or Kung Fu that I practice with him.
World Union of Karate-Do Federations 2016 World Champions
I’ve been with my wife Lindsey for 25 years now, I first met her, when I was a Sandan (3rd Dan) teaching at a club in Marlow and she came in wanting to learn Karate. Now after all these years, the circle has turned and she teaches me now just as much as I teach her, as a 4 time world Kata champion, I still wish I perform my Kata like she does. Only one thing for it, train harder and smarter until I can do it. I need to bear in mind though, something Lindsey said “Keep dreaming Sunshine.”
As a final point – I needed to buy myself a new belt for the WUKF Competition in Dublin last year, so went back to Kamae who I’ve brought my previous two Black belts from and bought one with white embroidery on it, to remind me and the people I train with, that every single day that I still feel like a beginner and that’s a good thing. SHOSHIN!
Congratulations to our new Black Belts who after many years of practice achieved their goal.
Traditionally December is our biggest grading of the year and the one that prompts the most nerves as it is also the time for our annual Black Belt gradings.
During the course of December we ran three Judo gradings (one at the club and two in schools that we run after school clubs at,) four Little Dragon gradings, three Young Legend Gradings, 2 Urban Warrior and 1 Adult grading plus a Brown and Black belt grading.
The gradings themselves are run slightly differently dependant upon the age groups of the taking part, but each one is designed to be challenging for it’s participants.
Ted was very happy to get his Green belt. He’s catching his older brother up.
Our Week of Gradings started on the Monday with The Little Dragons are our 4 – 6 years old and in their gradings which are carried out in class, they are tested on their ability to listen, sit and stand still, meditate and focus along with physical skills such as breakfalling, kicking and punching with control and performing a hold down and a throw onto the crash mats.
Their gradings are time based, which means that they have to attend so many classes in order to pass their next belt.
Congratulations Enzo, on 10th Mon, Green Belt and 1 Stripe
Later on the same day we carried out a two hour Judo grading for both Children and Adults which members being paired off with someone of the same grade to allow them to demonstrate together the skills and techniques necessary to pass their respective grades.
The grading was divided between fundamentals throws and groundwork and for the more experienced multiple attacks and defences were worked on. Their were some great results, Zeus and Theos both gained their Blue Belts with two stripes.
Our Young Legends are aged between 6 – 9 years old. Their gradings are all conducted at a formal grading with pass / fail criteria. The format for them at the less experienced level is to train in a 45 minutes class to remind them of the skills that they have to demonstrate. They are then asked to come up in small groups and demonstrate their skills to the examiners.
Our first group grading were attempting either their first or second belt and some were understandably nervous. We saw some excellent work from them with special mentions going to Sean for excellent focus and good forms and Sara for great partnerwork. In this grading session Georgina who was testing for her 2nd Dan during the weekend was tested on her coaching and assessment skills.
Our second session of the the weekend for again for Young Legends going for the Red and Gold belts. The format was the same although given the greater experience of this group, the requirements were more stringent to achieve the results that they desired. Emily performed superbly in her grading and over achieved, receiving a double grade.
Our final session on the Saturday was for Young Legends grading upto Blue and Black Belt. Given the seniority and experience of many of these children, the format for their grading was designed to stretch them to their limits. After a brief warm up, they moved onto a two hour grading, where they were active for all of the time performing their fundamental skills, partnerwork, fighting at different ranges with multiple opponents and forms. All the while the three examiners were looking at the technical skills of the participants and their prowess. Sophie performed well enough to deserve a double grade in this session.
On the Sunday morning, the less experienced Urban Warriors (10 – 14 years) got their chance to shine. At this level the children and teenagers are much more physically able and cover a much wider syllabus. They are tested not only on technical skill, but also on their understanding and interpretation of what they learn and how they put it into practice. Congratulations to Lex-Jay after a gruelling grading and rather a lot of fights he gained a double grade
This was followed by both Urban Warriors and Adults being text for ranking upto 4th Kyu, Purple and White belt. Those who hadn’t graded before were nervous, those that had graded were more nervous.
The intensity is somewhat higher in these sessions and occasionally an accident happens. No lasting injuries here, but suffice to say that Helen can defend herself quite ably.
We worked through a lot of partnerwork with this group to pressure test their skills in live use and their fortitude under pressure particularly those going for 4th Kyu, the highest grade before Brown Belt including for this group multiple partnerwork. Congratulations to Ryoko who put her skills to go use and gained a double grade to Red belt.
The final session was the finale and highlight of the weekend, the Brown and Black Belt grading with 23 members attempting to pass their next belt.
The excitement and fear had built up over the weekend, those people invited to test for their Black belts had already passed the theory part of the exam and now needed to pass the physical test. During this exam its fair to say that there is a mixture of laughter, tears and sighs of relief all interspersed with a ‘can do belief’ and determination to succeed.
This session tested everyone for three hours, starting with an fundamentals to test correct base skills and then more advanced fundamentals. Followed by partnerwork including groundwork, throws, padswork and fighting and forms. The forms are tested in groups, so some people get a quick breather, not the Black Belts, they got to spend time striking the kick bags with a variety of techniques before they got their turn to demonstrate their mandatory form, The Tai Ki Form, designed to show shortcomings in their body condition. Followed by additional forms or Kata of the examiners choice. Just when the Black Belt candidates thought it was all over, they had to do more work, would they fold under the pressure or rise to the occasion, the latter of course.
Congratulations to everyone who passed their grading during December, you all received the belt that you deserved. Many thanks to Zane, Isabel, Samantha and Zara for helping with the grading.
Tired but very happy, the final grading of 2017. Congratulations to all.