This may very well be one of the most mentally and physically challenging things you’ll ever do. It’s usually over in 15 minutes, but it takes months and even years of (often) blood, (always) sweat and (sometimes) tears to complete successfully.
I’m talking about your Shodan Grading!
This past weekend, the 14th of March 2015 to be exact, four from the Solis Ortus family were assessed and awarded with their Shodan or 1st Dan:
Marcel Wouda, Dewald Bekker, Liam van Rooyen and Morney Plescia.
This post is brief description of the run-up and the actual grading from a personal point of view – I hope it gives future Shodan candidates an idea of what to look forward to and work towards.
Personally, I felt that I was prepared to go for my Shodan assessment in 2014 already, but unfortunately had to postpone my attempt at the grading due to a work-project calling me to Australia.
In hind-sight, I am glad that it happened, because I spent half of 2014 gaining valuable experience. Taking the solid foundation that Sensei Eugene had established in terms of etiquette and character, I was able to train in Australia and other dojos and I learnt and grew even more.
You see, in 2014 I thought that I was physically prepared, but now I realize that I was not mentally prepared. I needed to be prepared both physically as well as mentally and I only achieved that by training more and for longer.
This is the point: Don’t chase your belt – work hard towards it every day and only when you’re ready in both your mind and your body can you choose a grading date and then work even harder. It is then that you may start to expect to achieve success.
In 2015, our year started with fitness training, the same as for everybody else, but once that was done, February and half of March was spent focusing on the knowledge and skills required to be successfully assessed for Shodan.
We spent sometimes up to two hours per day, four times a week in the dojo, training on our own, or being assisted by various other black belts and twice a week being taught personally and individually by Sensei Eugene.
(At the same time, Sensei Eugene had to give class to the other black belts as well as coach and train those karatekas going for nationals – it was a tough time for him as well! )
He and his team’s dedication to our training resulted in us being more than prepared for the grading.
This is another important point: you need a dedicated teacher to help you – without one, your chances of success dwindle exponentially.
Although Sensei was sometimes tough on us, it is so very, very important that you as karateka understand that this is something you need. You need to be treated like this and you must take it as positive reinforcement and motivation towards your training and improvement. It is a strange thing about the human mind – but we need disciplined teaching to grow as people. Not coddling and soft-talking gentleness. There’s a place for that, but not usually in a martial arts class.
Yet another point: Accept your Sensei’s teaching as coming from a good place – one where he wants to see you succeed.
Grading day itself found us gathering together early in the morning at the Mandeville Sports Club in Bezuidenhout Valley. Besides us few, there were literally a hundred or more other karateka.
After the initial administrative formalities and a quick cup of coffee, we were ready to start a three-hour pre-grading session.
This was extremely important in a number of ways.
Firstly, the pre-grading helps confirm that you’re ready for the grading technically, because they go through everything that you need to know. If there’re are no surprises, then you’re good to go. With Sensei Eugene’s personal intense involvement in our grading preparation, there were no surprises. This is important from a mental perspective.
Next, the pre-grading helps by taking your mind off the grading, since you are actually focused on training and making sure that you polish your skills a bit before the main event.
Lastly, the pre-grading gives you some time to become familiar with the various Senseini that are going to be assessing you. Don’t forget that they are also looking at you.
Also, importantly, do not overdo the pre-grading training – you need to conserve some energy for the actual grading later on.
So, although the pre-grading is required, it is also there for good reasons. Use it to your advantage!
After the pre-grading, it was time to grade. The order of the grading was from youngest to oldest and in groups of four. The assessment was done on our abilities and skills in the areas of kihon, kata and kumite.
If you’re older, like I am (42 this year), then you wait until all the youngsters are done. The mental anguish was indescribable and I must admit, at one point I fleetingly entertained the idea of running away – but only for a split second! I don’t feel ashamed – it’s fight or flight syndrome and it’s normal when you’re under stress.
After the katas, I felt like throwing up, but when my stomach refused to give anything up I said to myself: let’s do this and let’s get it done! And that’s what I did and so did my team-mates.
It is important to understand the following important basic concepts pertaining to age:
The younger you are, the more they expect of you physically – for example your kicking needs to be better, above the height of your belt and powerful or explosive. Don’t be fooled, your mental abilities are also tested though.
The older you are, the more they expect from you mentally. Make no mistake, your fitness is also tested. You don’t necessarily need to kick jodan-height for example, but you still need good form and since you wait until last, it is akin to a form of mental torture.
However, whether you are young or old – the amount of mental stress you have is indirectly proportionate to the amount of physical strength you have. In layman’s terms: if you’re stressed, you’ll run out of steam quickly.
After you’ve had your turn at the grading, your results are announced almost immediately.
Afterwards, we enjoyed an ice-cold beer (for the adults) or cold drink (for the youngsters) and had a relaxed chat with Sensei Eugene.
That’s right: our Sensei stayed there from early in the morning until the last of us had graded that afternoon. Some other Sensei’s did not even accompany their students to the grading, never mind waiting until it was finished.
Well, if you’re part of the Solis Ortus family, then you’ll know by now that you may not wear that black belt until Sensei Eugene has placed it around your waist. It is not only etiquette and tradition, but it is also good manners and a tremendous honor.
There is a certain ceremony that needs to be performed before the belt can be put on and this particular tradition is an extremely important part of your grading: it is the shodan initiation.
That’s right: the grading effectively spans about two days. One day for the national or regional assessment and another in the Solis Ortus dojo. In the dojo, there is a special initiation ceremony that takes place, which is the pride and joy and privilege of every Solis Ortus karateka to experience.
It is the final test and it is a personal test. You emerge from it with a feeling of camaraderie, pride, joy and a tremendous sense of achievement.
I will not spoil it for you now by discussing the details. It should be your own goal to look forward to and privilege to experience it. Try to take in every moment and enjoy the journey.
We all know that the first time of doing something big, remains engraved in our minds for the rest of our lives!
May your Shodan grading preparation go well and may you enjoy every step of the process and journey, as did we!