Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Pre-dan grading course - a dose of reality!

Movement from Bassai Dai
On Saturday I attended a pre-dan grading course. This was an opportunity to go through the syllabus with the dan grading officers and iron out any remaining problem areas before the real grading on June 12th.

There were around 30 people present on the course, mainly 1st kyu grades but also a couple of 1st dans ready to grade to 2nd dan. I hadn’t expected so many people because I know at the last dan grading there were only five candidates and at the one before about nine. I had a nasty feeling that a huge cull might happen following the session!

Applying a leg lock
After the warm up we were given some guidance about how the grading day would be structured and what the required etiquette would be. The marking scheme was also explained in quite a lot of detail and we were each issued with a sheet of paper containing the syllabus and a marking grid. We were told that we would be given a score for each section of the syllabus as they came around and observed us. We were also given feedback and guidance about our performance. The idea of this was that we should end up with a realistic picture of our strengths and weaknesses and have a plan of the things we needed to work on.

We started off with all the kihon sections followed by kata and bunkai and received scores and feedback. The starting point for awarding a mark is the basic pass mark of 6/10. A six represents the performance of a good average student. If you show exceptional ability in a particular section you may get a 6.5 or even a seven (8, 9 or 10 are for the truly gifted!). However, if you make mistakes or don’t perform the technique to the required standard then marks are docked, which puts you below the pass mark for that section. You then need to make up marks in other sections to keep yourself at or above the overall pass mark.

This gives you the feeling that you are standing on the edge of a cliff – gaining marks pulls you back from the edge but losing them can topple you over. After the first 6 sections I was clinging to the edge of the cliff by my finger tips having scored five 5.5s and one 6! I was starting to feel my stress levels rise as my heart sank into my stomach. Was I ready for this? Was I going to be ‘culled’?

How to throw your husband!
 We then moved onto the sections that require partners – ippon kumite, goshin waza and a floor drill. These are generally my stronger sections so I was hoping to make up marks here. Unfortunately most people did not have their grading partners with them so paired up with each other. My grading partner (my husband) was there so we could still work together. However, due to the large number of people to observe and the fact most people were working with unfamiliar partners, the grading officers gave some feedback but no marks for these sections.

Now this shouldn’t have mattered to me because I know these are my stronger sections but as I was already in a downward spiral emotionally I finished the day feeling that everything was negative and nothing was positive. In fact I was feeling pretty despondent and worried about my ability to pass.

I found it really hard to shake off this negativity all weekend and initially I wanted to blame the scoring system for my failures. It seemed so easy to lose marks for relatively minor transgressions but very difficult to gain marks. My dream of getting a black belt was starting to seem a lot less attainable.

However, since then I have had time to do some serious introspection! The fault is not with the system it is with me – I need to work with the system, not rail against it. I need to worry less about my scores and concentrate more on just doing my karate to the best of my ability on the day.

How to throw your wife!
The technical feedback I was given was relatively minor – my right kamae position isn’t quite correct; I need to extend and lower my arm more. I need to grip the floor more with my feet; my shiko dachi stance is a bit too wide; I need to show a bit more aggression and I need to make sure I don’t twist my hand to early when punching. Not a lot to get het up about really is it?

I realise now that the main thrust of my preparations now need to be mental. I need to get my head in the right place and control my emotions more so that I go into the grading with the right spirit and don’t let early negative experiences affect my performance of later sections.

I learnt a few unexpected things about myself on Saturday – some uncomfortable truths about my character. I have too much ego – I had wanted and expected higher marks (just sixes or six point five) so I was disappointed not to achieve that, but hey, I’m no spring chicken so why should I expect that? I don’t look like a teenager so why should I expect to move like one! I suppose that is another thing I’ve had to come to terms with – getting older. I’m usually in denial about middle-age but I have to face facts, my body can’t perform like that of a young athlete - I need to lower my sights a little. Let’s face it, not many women take up a demanding martial art in their mid-forties and stick with it all the way to black belt (and beyond), perhaps I’m not doing so bad after all. There you go, some positive self talk for a change!

Okay, so I’m getting over myself a bit now. I am regaining my perspective and feeling more positive again. I have had personal feedback from my instructor as well as the senior dan grading officer and both are happy that I am ready for this grading. I have been told to relax more and be more natural in my movements but no one seems to have any real worries about me – just me (we really are our own worst enemy sometimes!)

And that cull I mentioned? 30 down to 18!
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Colin Yates said...


Seriously! Keep attending the classes and training and you are one up from most of the rest of use (certainly me - I haven't attended in years!!!)

Keep up the inspiration!

Yamabushi said...

First off, you are in those that made the cut-off.
Second your instructor knows you well from class, and just wants you to show everyone the quality you show in class.
Get ready mentally, but don't do it for points - do it for yourself!
Be the best that you can be, remember all of the progress you have made, and good luck.

Charles James said...

Testing and testing and testing; maybe wanted to see the effects on perspective black belts.

I can tell you that today I doubt seriously I could pass the tests they use today.

Tatsuo Sensei, the founder of Isshinryu, made a comment one time before he retired.

He also stated that if he had to test today he would not pass either.

Perspective and attitude, I hear a lot of positive in your post ...

remain mindful and in the present at all times. It is there already so remove the minds tendency to tell stories so it will allow free flow in real time.


Charles James said...

Oh, I am envious that your husband is in karate with you. My sweetheart has no interest ... :-(

Sayo said...

I had the black belt blues for alonggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg time. It started right before grading. I was faced with my abilities in a kumite match I preformed in so badly... I could cry. The blues lasted even when I received the new and shining black belt in my hands. Something was wrong. I realised two things. When passing you're black belt test, no super powers nor skills will befall on you. Passing shodan just means you've got the basics down and there for is truely just the beginning. Second, I was a sloppy and lazy. When I went for grading I was 20 years old. Very flexible and strong. It came easy, I didn't really had to work for it, so I felt I didn't deserve it somehow.

Now ten years later... after an involuntary break of a years or so... I'll be testing for nidan on the first of July. I never trained harder and smarter then the past year and a halve. If you can truly be honest to yourself and know you've given it all... than it will be al right.

With your enthusiasm... When you pass, you deserved it without doubt. Keep it up!

Sue C said...

Colin, thanks for your support :-)

Charles, I have to admit I had a bit of a wobble after Saturday but I think I'm back on track again now. "remain mindful and in the present at all time" - that's really good advice, thanks

Sayo, the black belt blues is something I really fear and want to avoid. I think it can be pretty damaging. I think entering the grading with realistic expectations and with the right mindset will hopefully help me avoid them. Good luck with your nidan grading.

John Coles said...

You need to 'lower your sights'.? Might I suggest you need to change the perspective of your sights. If you try to fight like an 18yo,you are in trouble. If you try to fight ... with the attributes you have, at any time of you life, well, then you have a fighter. If the martial art you are training has one standard based on physical ability which is intrinsicly attached to a certain age, that is not the martial art for a fighter. You might need to find one that embraces the fighter in us all no matter the age. ... If you put in the hard yards, never doubt yourself because the system does not support you. Consider the possibility that the system has got it wrong.

Journeyman said...

Talk about an emotional roller coaster. Any formal practice, or mock interviews or tests can be very unnerving.

Aren't number grand? I wonder how you would have felt about the exact same performance if you had been given 8's and 9's?

And I think you said it best when you said

" I need to worry less about my scores and concentrate more on just doing my karate to the best of my ability on the day."

Hopefully our chats about living in the moment can help with this.

At the end of the day, the only opponent you need to defeat is your own doubt. If I could tell you an easy way to do this, I'd have book deals, speaking engagements, shiny cars...

You can end up being incredibly successful on the day no matter what. Don't even be interested in the marks until you're done. Then see if they line up with how you know you did.

I can't believe it's right around the corner (although I probably don't need to tell you that).

Stay positive.

Journeyman said...

I don't know if you had a chance to read my comments before they got erased. Essentially I wondered if you received 8's and 9's in your pre grading, would you have felt differently about the entire experience? The only thing you can do is just what you said -

"I need to worry less about my scores and concentrate more on just doing my karate to the best of my ability on the day."

You're right on the money. I might suggest that you only think about the scores as an afterthought on the day itself. That way, you'll know how you did, the only thing you'll need to find out is if the numbers match up.

And hey, they're just numbers. Your warrior sprit is what counts. Score a 10 there, and the rest doesn't really matter.

Sue C said...

John, I get what you are saying. People often do find that they are mismatched to the art or system that they are practising. I don't think that this is true for me though. Shukokai means 'The way for all' and the way it is practised in our club that is really true. The syllabus is quite far reaching encompassing 'art', 'sport' and 'self defence'. People tend to be better suited to some aspects rather than others usually dependent on age, fitness and body type. I think when I said 'lower my sights' what I really meant was be more realistic about my overall ability - be aware of my strengths so that I can maximise my gains in these areas and be aware of my weaker side and try to minimise my losses in the scoring by not losing unnecessary marks by making silly mistakes.

Journeyman, I did see your original comment but with Blogger going down for a few days I couldn't respond!

If I'd received 8s or 9s I would have been highly suspicious about the standard of the grading! The highest mark ever awarded in a dan grading for our system is 114/150 which is an average of 7.6 per section. The person who got that mark is a truly gifted martial artist. Most people score in the range of 90(minimum pass mark) - 100 (the difference in ability between someone scoring 90 and 100 will be quite vast because it is very closely marked).
I'm actually toying with the idea of requesting to be told only whether I have passed or failed and not be given my mark at all, that way scores really won't be important.


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