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!
Scott has been training in Shoto Budo since 2007 and is a 1st Dan Black Belt. He is working towards his 2nd Dan grading.