Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Do You Want To Be A Black Belt?

Following bow out at the senior classes Shihan usually takes a little time to give out any notices about upcoming events, to comment on how he thinks the class went and to generally talk about any points he feels need to be raised.

Recently one of this chats turned to higher gradings and what’s expected of people once they reach that level. Shihan went on to mention that once me and the other highest grade in the club (Louise) had reached 1st Kyu (hopefully by the end of the year) he would be talking to us both and asking us if we wanted to consider beginning the process to grade for black belt.

Wow. That gave me some serious pause of thought.

My initial response was “Why would he even need to ask that?” The more I thought about it though the more it made sense that he would ask. Agreeing to start Black Belt training is obviously a big commitment…but not only for the student. It’s a big commitment from the instructor team aswell. It’s additional training (black belt specific) every week. It’s a great amount of stuff in the syllabus to be covered. It’s help with research, with presentations, with overall fitness and endurance (as well as karate fitness), help with mental preparation for the grading. Any of you who’ve been reading Sue’s blog about her upcoming Shodan test will know what kind of commitment is required from students preparing to grade so thinking about that level of requirement and the amount of time and effort you’re asking the instructors to invest in you as a student then its easier to see why the question would be posed.

So then. Do I want to train for Black Belt?

Big question.

Immediately the answer for me is YES.

Then the brain checked into the argument.

Am I doing myself and my instructors a disservice if I answer “Yes” without giving it some serious thought? I think probably ….yes.

So another question raised then. WHY do you want to train for Black Belt? Maybe the more important question, and definitely one which requires some serious soul-searching.

Firstly, I have to say that the very act of even being in a situation to be asked to this question still occasionally baffles me! It’s strange for me to think that 2 years ago I had no interest in martial arts whatsoever. I do still sometimes think someone is going to come in and declare it’s all a big mistake and I can’t possibly have my purple belt and take it back! LOL. Yet despite the occasional mental wobble here I am, knocking on the door of 2nd kyu and giving this whole black belt thing some serious consideration.

Why? Why do I want to be a black belt?

Clearly it can be seen as a logical progression. You work hard up through your Kyu rankings. Gaining knowledge. Building on the foundations of what you’ve learnt. Expanding your experience. It’s a long road to travel and being a journey it must be perceived to have some sort of final destination. So, is that it? Is it the final destination, the ultimate achievement of ones journey? The end of the road?

Well, no. I don’t believe that at all. From all I’ve come to learn over the past two years Black Belt to me seems the very opposite of that. It’s not the end at all. It’s the beginning. It’s the START of a martial arts journey.

It’s “I’ve read and understood the handbook”.
It’s “I’ve passed the driving test”.
It’s “I’ve achieved my qualification, now give me a job!” ;)

It’s the beginning of being able to really explore karate with the solid foundation you need to understand it. So that’s part of the reason. I can begin to see the start line lingering on the horizon. I want to make it there so I can move on with the big karate journey I’ve begun.

Now I’m going to back track a little. I’ve said Black Belt is only the beginning and that’s true. However, that’s not to say that Black Belt in and of itself isn’t a momentous achievement. It is. Probably one of the greatest of your life I imagine. When I think of how far I’ve come in the last few years I’m continually amazed at the things I can accomplish. I was a smoking, drinking, junk food eating couch potato. No doubt about it. What began with a little 8 week run/walk programme has completely changed the way I look, the way I eat, the way I live and my outlook on fitness and on life. Discovering karate has opened a whole new world of interests to me. It’s given me an awareness of self that I didn’t have, it’s made me think about my morals, my beliefs, how I treat other people, what my part in the world is. The journey this far has been astounding compared to what I thought I could ever achieve. To get to Black belt…. well….. it will certainly be something I never thought I would say I’d accomplished.

That’s not all though. There’s another element which spurs me on in pursuit of this goal. Another thing I never thought I’d see myself doing with my life. The most surprising thing that has come out of my karate journey so far is discovering that I like to teach. As a child I never harboured the “I want to be a teacher” dream. I would say I’m quite impatient by nature and I always thought I didn’t transmit information well to others. Maybe it’s my age that is the different factor now. Maybe it’s being a mother that makes it easier somehow? I don’t know. All I know is that I LOVE assisting with the junior classes. I love teaching these kids. Being able to pass on what I know. Watching that moment when it clicks with them. Struggling through those moments when it won’t click with them (oh how I know how they feel then!). So that’s something else achieving Black Belt will bring for me. It will mean I can teach. I can impart all this amazing knowledge I’ve learnt to others. I can share the karate love :D

That’s not to say that I think obtaining a Black Belt automatically means you can teach, on the contrary. I’m pretty certain not very Black Belt could or should be an instructor. I’m lucky enough that running along side my Black Belt training programme will be an Instructor training programme. Building in all the elements I’ll need to be able to take that step from Sempai to Sensei. Scary…. but uber-exciting.

A round up then.

Why do I want to train for Black Belt?

I want to pass my driving test (please God don’t let it take me as long as it did to pass my actual driving test!! Don’t ask!), I want to reach the starting line. I want to REALLY being my martial arts journey with all the tools I need firmly under my belt. I want to have that sense of achievement making it that far will feel. To be able to say to people, “Hey… I did it… you can too”. To show that you’re never too old, or too fat, or too unfit. With hard work and dedication you can get there. I want to be able to take the great gift I’ve received from my karate mentors and share it with others, so they can learn to love it as much as I do.

It’s a little while down the road for me yet, but I wanted to put this out there. I think it’ll be interesting to see if I still feel the same when I get to the point of committing to Black Belt training for real.

Shihan – if you’re reading, I guess you know my answer (for now). I can’t see it changing….unless you break me at 1st Kyu grading…. I might see things differently if that happens ;)


Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Family That Grades Together.........

What's that old saying? The family that prays together, stays together? In our case it's more like the family that grades together, stays together.

Last Sunday saw a big grading day for us. Grace and Kendo both testing for Red Belt (4th Kyu) and me for brown tip (2nd kyu ho).

In a rare occurrance (mostly because we had left the camera in the car from a recent camping holiday) we actually managed to get a karate related picture of all of us together. Here we are then:

Grading 05 06 11
That's Kendo and I in the middle, Shihan Dave to the left, Sensei Helen to the right and Sensei Chrissy (who instructs the junior class) and Grace at the front.

It was a tough grading session (particularly for Kendo who'd had to work over night Saturday night so was running on snatches of sleep he'd managed to get in the afternoon (not the best prep for grading, but unavoidable unfortunately)). Despite that he managed to do really well particularly at kumite where he gave Shihan a run for his money during their bout. My bout was slightly less successful, but still an improvement on my previous performances I think. I struggle with Kumite more than any other element of my karate. I'm still not 100% comfortable with it (although I am seeing glimpses of improvement here and there). I did manage to get an elbow in to Shihan's back when he grappled me round the waist and lifted me practically off my feet which I was quite proud of.... shame he barely noticed it. LOL.

Grace put in an exceptional performance I thought (although some might say I'm slightly biased ;)). She amazes me just how much she picks up and how quickly. She's really coming on in her karate in all aspects and is just improving constantly. I really hope she keeps up her enthusiasm for love for it. If she continues as she is I can definitely see a black belt in her future which will stand her in good stead in all aspects of her life I think.

The most important thing I learned from grading this time is that I really need to work on my breathing in the more intense kumite bouts. When I was sparring Shihan for my last bout he backed off for the last 10 second or so (unusual because that's usually when he pushes you the hardest) and I couldn't understand why. It was only in discussion afterwards that he said he was slightly concerned because my lips were starting to turn blue and that's why he'd back off! Eeekk!!

Someone had mentioned that it had happened last grading as well and I didn't think anything of it, now it's happened twice so it's clearly something I need to address (especially as thoughts are turning to eventual black belt grading (but that's a whole other post!)). The strange thing is I don't feel like I'm not breathing. I'm not light headed or woozey or anything. I think there's a possibility that my breathing is too shallow as I'm totally focused on my kumite (it so far has only happened in bouts against Shihan when I'm 100% focused on not getting my backside whooped!). What oxygen I am getting is obviously going to brain, heart and muscles to fuel the important things for I need for the kumite.... who needs lips and fingertips at a time like that?

So, I'm conscious of it now, but not entirely sure how to address it. More focus on awareness of my breathing I guess, particulary in kumite. Maybe some yoga or meditation exercises will improve my breath awareness and help with utilising all my lung capacity? Time will tell how improving that pans out. If anyone has any tips please feel free to share......

For now, it's back to working on my Seunchin (which needs to be strong for 2nd kyu) and for Grace its getting to grips with Koke Ho more and beginning the pattern for Saifa. Kendo has the delights of Bassai Dai (he's already grilling me for the pattern). Onwards and upwards in the world of Cookie Family Karate. Scary how much of our lives revolves around karate now.

© Cookie Family Karate
Maira Gall