Grading has been a bit of a sporadic event for me. Whilst they are not quite as rare as the 75 years between sightings of Halley's Comet, there certainly have been some lengthy gaps between them. As my First Dan grading approaches, I thought I'd look back on my previous grading experiences.
My first one was on 10th February 2008 at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow. I had joined the club in September 2007 and this was my first course so I was still very new and didn't really know what to expect. Pauline Walmsley took the grading and if memory serves me correctly, I was grading along with another couple of white belts and red belt. It seemed like hard work at the time and I was beyond delighted to jump past red belt and get a yellow belt. I like to think the knee bars we had been working on at the club helped score me bonus points that day. Whether they did or not, it felt so cool being able to apply them in this setting. The journey was underway!
It wasn't until 7th June 2009, again at the Kelvin Hall, when I exchanged that yellow belt for an orange one. In between grading, I had several length work trips away, got married and went on honeymoon in September of 2008 and when I returned, I was dropped on my head during a takedown practice. Fortunately the injury wasn't serious but my neck was stiff and sore for months and I was very tentative when I came back to training at the end of the year. I don't remember much about this one, other than there being no mats so I did not get a chance to demonstrate any ground work, takedowns or breakfalls.
Green belt followed along in February 2010, with this grading being at Springburn Sports Centre. This was the first time Shoto Budo's technical director Billy Haggerty presided over my grading and that definitely added to my nerves. I was alongside Paul from our club and few others. I remember having to do practical application of the Taikyoku Shodan kata, with attackers from random directions and thinking to myself "have I done all of the moves?" over and over again.
Momentum was on my side and on 14th November 2010, I graded for blue belt, with this being the first time I had done so at a national course in Largs so there was a much bigger audience than previous times. A couple of weeks before this course, I had a dose of the flu so my fitness wasn't as good as hoped and I remember feeling like the padwork section went on forever and by the time that was done, I don't think I had energy left for the rest of the session. I also recall trying to do sticky hands with Richard Price and, well getting nowhere with it. It's a skill I still struggle with now.
My most recent grading was on 25th March 2013, again at a national course in Largs. I was working for a US company at the time and had spent most of 2011 and 2012 either away from home or working Eastern Standard Time hours so my training had been curtailed. Hugh actually gave me the option of grading at the Springburn course in January 2013 but we agreed to postpone it to March and make sure my fitness was where it needed to be.
This proved to be the right decision as I felt this was my best performance in grading. My fitness felt very good and I actually really enjoyed the whole thing. Hugh took this grading and it was quite a varied one. There was kata, pads, parrying and wrestling as would be expected and also some wall defence which was a first for me. It's not something we do often so doing it in a grading setting was quite the rush of adrenalin. After several rounds of parrying, I faced my final opponent and saw the human dynamo that is Pauline Sharp waiting for me. I love training with Pauline but as a 6th Dan she can (and indeed did) kick my ass. I think I was only pretending to cry when I saw her waiting!
As I say I really enjoyed this grading and everything clicked. Back at the club, Hugh gave me some good feedback on my performance from the other senior grades and I felt like a million dollars.
Three years have zoomed by again and now it's time for my next grading. It doesn't feel like that long since the last time but a series of injuries, work commitments and some motivation issues that I have previously written about have all contributed to the gap. But you know what? That does not matter one bit. It's not a race, it's not a competition, but it is a personal challenge and to be where I am, regardless of the time frame, feels like an achievement to me. I genuinely am looking forward to this next grading and testing myself once again. Let's do this!
With our regular venues closed for the October school holidays, several of us descended on Kaizen Shoto Budo's Tuesday night class at Springburn Academy.
I always enjoy training with Pauline Walmsley as she breaks down the elements of a practice and then pieces them together so that by the end of the class, I always feel like I have learned something and improved in some way.
Tuesday began with some pad work, initially hand techniques only. Pauline asked that the person holding the pad moves and makes the striker work, whilst the striker should aim for as wide a variety of moves as possible (not just punches but elbows, open palms, hammer fists and so on). Training with Emma, I think both of us managed a good range of moves and it was an energetic start.
The next step was to add kicks but Pauline added these in stages. First up, we could only use snap kicks, then we could add thrust kicks and then finally swing kicks. Pauline explained that this wasn't to "dumb down" our skills but get us thinking of alternative moves. For example, an axe kick might be the natural reaction to a particular target but what if that wasn't achievable? Would an alternative hand strike work?
Initially I found I was hesitating when presented with certain targets but as time progressed, this was reducing. We have been working on response times to pads in our club and I think this was an interesting compliment to that; aiming to respond quickly but not necessarily with the same "reliable" techniques.
After several rounds of this, we moved onto parrying with an opponent. I always feel this is my weakest area and on this night I was struggling to parry well and wore a number of kicks. It was good to get some advice on my techniques in that I drop my hands when kicking and thus give my opponent and opening so that is something to work on. On the pleasing side, my stamina wasn't an issue through this high intensity practice.
Finally Hugh took some time to look at controlling distance and leading to takedowns. We were asked to look at single leg takedowns and hip throws but Hugh advised not to focus on the takedown and more on getting the position where they might work. We have been working on single leg takedowns in the club and this was an interesting variation. I was maybe 50-50 in judging the distance correctly for the takedown to work so again more practice required here.
We finished with some kata and cool down stretch to end a very enjoyable and very tiring practice. Jamie in our club has just started training for his Second Dan and has written a blog with his thoughts on the practice. Check it out here roadtoseconddan.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/18102016-paulines-insights/ and tell him we sent you!
Last time I was a few days away from the Great Scottish Run. It's now in the past and having stated that anything under 2:15 would have been awesome, I actually completed the 13.1 miles in 1:59:34. I was delighted.
Two days later, I took my very tired legs to Bearsden Academy to continue preparation for possibly grading in November. It was a fairly intense session, with some pads, grappling, parrying and kata. I wish I could give you more detail but exhaustion kicked in to the point I can barely remember the details of the night. Along with my fellow brown belts Davy and Emma, we finished the night running through katas up to Kwanku Sho and I was shattered by the end.
Wednesday night was a bit clearer, albeit one with the lingering after effects of the weekend's exertions.
We started with some 1-on-1 pad work to loosen off before moving to groups of three, one person in the middle and two pad holders. Each session was about 1 minute with me having multiple turns. It's amazing how long one minute feels when you are striking pads and trying to move. I feel my hand strikes are good, with a nice variety and decent level of power. I'm conscious that I tend to kick more with my right leg, mostly because those kicks are better so I was trying to mix it up and use my left leg more. My left legs kicks still need work.
With the sweat starting to flow, it was onto two rounds of the breakfall kata. Such a tiring exercise and given I was still tired from the weekend, two rounds was about as much as I was going to manage.
We moved onto the first six moves of the takedown sequence, with Emma, Davy and I demonstrating the moves and then training together. I find these moves are coming together and pleased to say that after hurting my back about a month ago, there were no ill effects from either taking the moves or performing them (including hip and shoulder throws). I do still struggle a bit with technique on sacrifice throws, sometimes leading to me getting squashed as my opponent lands on me rather than in front of me.
Finally it was some ground work, with some variations on a favourite technique of mine in half guard. I find this a good way to defend and Hugh was giving some guidance on alternative ways to move an opponent, including a very grace knee in the backside which proved very effective. I like the half guard so I think these additions will prove useful.
By this point, my energy level was pretty much zero but it had been a good training session. Next week I'll only be at Wednesday's session so in the next entry we'll look at that in a bit more detail and try and rank my strengths and weaknesses.
Scott has been training in Shoto Budo since 2007 and is a 1st Dan Black Belt. He is working towards his 2nd Dan grading.