Sunday, 21 April 2013

Should nidan grading feel less stressful than shodan grading?

Why does training for nidan feel so different to training for shodan? I am currently training in preparation for taking my nidan grading in June. Strangely it feels a much more low-key event than my shodan grading nearly two years ago…yes, it really was nearly two years ago, how time flies!

I keep trying to put my finger on why it feels so different. By different I mean that I don’t feel the need to put together a week by week training programme for 6 months like I did for my shodan grading (remember my Countdown to Shodan blog?); neither do I feel so stressed or compelled to train every spare minute.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m training hard and taking it very seriously – I want to pass after all, but it doesn’t seem like quite the big deal that shodan grading did. In fact, I think I made some mistakes with my shodan preparations that I don’t want to repeat this time around.

I think I had placed shodan on a very high pedestal and made it into a much bigger deal than it really was, this is what made it such a stressful time in the months leading up to the grading. I also think that I over-trained a little resulting in a thigh injury and a bit of mental exhaustion.

So, for nidan preparations I have a different approach, different because I am different compared to two years ago…

I am more relaxed than for shodan grading – nidan is not on some high pedestal, it will not be earth shatteringly terrible to fail, I’ll just try again. In fact, if I don’t feel ready to take it in June I will postpone until the next round in December. Please note that relaxed doesn’t mean laid-back it just means that I’m not so frazzled by the task!

I understand my abilities/weaknesses better and have a clearer understanding of what the grading panel will expect of me. This means that I can target my training better to improve my weaknesses.

I understand a lot more than two years ago and seem to learn new things a bit more quickly – I have a greater understanding of the underlying principles that govern all techniques and so I’m more able to apply them to new situations. I think this is the result of all the teaching practice I’ve had since my shodan grading, teaching really tightens up your own understanding of what you are doing.

I trust in my regular training more to get me through. Obviously I’m doing some training at home as well as in class since we are expected at this level to work out our own ippon kumite, goshin waza and bunkai applications – sensei will help and guide as necessary but he won’t spoon feed us at this level.

For shodan grading I worked on a general fitness programme as well as practicing the karate itself. This time I am only training in karate. Why? Because I have come to believe that extreme fitness is not required for the grading. The level of fitness that I already possess gets me through some pretty demanding karate sessions without too much trouble. I think that maintaining the fitness I already have is important but trying to up it for the grading may be counter-productive and risk injury.

Nidan grading is not an extreme sport; it is merely a demanding demonstration of martial arts skills – the stuff I do week in, week out. If my current fitness level sustains me through these lessons then it should sustain me through the grading. Extreme fitness is not sustainable in the long term so it seems slightly ridiculous to need extreme fitness to pass a grading when you don’t need it for regular classes. I don’t see why a grading should require something that normal classes don’t. This is the way I’m thinking at the moment…

So far preparations are going okay, I’m not there yet but I’m feeling fairly confident that I will be by June. I attended a black belt course this weekend and have the pre-dan course in May, then it will be decided whether I am ready for this grading or not. If I get the green light to go for it then sensei will be turning up the pressure in class to get me mentally and physically ready.

If you are a nidan did you find the thought of nidan grading less stressful than shodan grading? Do you think I’m in for a shock in June?

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Shukokai Karateka said...

Firstly, well done on the blog! It's extremely informative and your subject matter very interesting.

Secondly, I am in the exact same position as you are; currently training for my Nidan in Shukokai karate (I have targeted December for mine, but am eligible to do it already having had more than 2 years since black belt).

I definitely agree about your mindset ahead of the forthcoming grading and believe you have hit the nail on the head in why this is; quite simply, you better understand what is required and expected of you.

Good luck in your grading.

Yamabushi said...

Congratulations on making it this far! Many do not continue on their paths and the fact you do and love to do so means a lot!

As for importance, I think the blackbelt ranks are the real training. Each step is not a linear increase, but more exponential in terms of effort. So in some ways, you have been training two years to make a single step forward - that is admirable and considerable.

In other ways, though, you are right. It isn't the same sort of test like kyu into dan ranking - you don't have to prove you should be here. But you do need to give it your all, its just that your all is now much more!

My own nidan was stressful because I changed styles after shodan, and it was my greatest fear at the time I would be found lacking in the new style.

Best of luck, train hard.

INVICTA said...

I know exactly what you mean. Preparing for my nidan was definitely different than preparing for shodan. I suppose I felt as though I had less to prove?

I really, really enjoyed your blog! Very informative and well-written. We should link blogs, my dear! I'd be happy to throw up a link to your blog on mine because female martial artists need to stick together :)

Good luck with your nidan grading!

Sue C said...

Shukokai karateka, it's quite unusual to find someone doing the same style as me so thanks for commenting. It's reassuring to know someone else in the same boat as me has a similar mindset about nidan grading. Good luck with your grading too!

Yamabushi, You are right, it is unusual for many people to pursue further dan grades after shodan, we only have 1 third dan and 2 second dans in our entire club (over 150 members in total)though we have many 1st dans.

Don't worry, I am training hard even if the post gave the impression I'm not!

Invicta, I think you are right with the feeling of having less to prove. I'm glad you enjoy my blog, I've just looked at yours and would certainly be happy to link up (I've already added you to my blog list). I'm glad to have found you since female self-defence instructors who blog are rare as hen's teeth so keep blogging!

Charles James said...

Sho-dan seems to take on legendary status, i.e. it is a milestone in the martial arts world. It seems to have become like an initiation to the world of a true practitioner. It is felt to be the coming of age type thing and therefor often felt as an end rather than a beginning.

All the things you experienced were meant, at least here in the west, to provide a type of shugyo, i.e. much like some hazing that goes on for other disciplines. It is a right of passage, and so on. ...

In my studies this phenomena only arrived in the last fifty years or so since on Okinawa traditionally there were no belts or even the consideration of a black belt. All of us are aware of this fact and it was western influences that created this as well as the creation of the feeling or idea that making black belt made the person an expert vs. simply a proven dedicated student.

Traditionally you trained to train and that was it. So, sho-dan tends to have the feeling of that right of passage and Ni-dan becomes a more or less level/grade check vs. a real test. Don't get me wrong, we should take all of what we practice and do seriously but once you put on the coveted black belt many westerners feel "off" in relation to the sho-dan adventure.

In other venues of martial training and practice the right of passage feeling is actually greatest at sho-dan and then continues through ni-dan and san-dan. The remainder are simply smaller tracking milestones for the individual and really mean little except to recognize a person's efforts and dedication to their self-evaluation and self-improvement.

I agree with your assessment that for ni-can it should encompass a more shugyo approach to your daily training and practice and teaching. I think you can expect some pressure and stress you normally don't experience on a day to day basis but if it goes as I suspect it will be as you believe.

Have fun and enjoy the process. Oh, and yea it seems like only yesterday to me I read your post on the sho-dan testing. Does not seem like two years to me but then I believe since I am so close to my winter years that time flies much faster to my perceptions. :-)

Sue C said...

Hi Charles, thanks for your comment. Like you advise, I'm just going to work hard and enjoy myself!

Anonymous said...

I am training in a different, kenpo based, system. In this system the instructor explained that the reason he requires some fairly extensive fitness work on the day of testing immediately prior to the main portion of the test, is to simulate the stress of an actual attack. Obviously there is no way he could replicate the stress of being attacked by a knife wielding maniac. (We have plenty of maniacs, but they only get access to practice knives!) But he can simulate the feeling of an adrenalin dump - the wobbly legs, feeling as though all your reflexes have slowed, confused thinking. His goal with testing is to be sure that we can perform adequately in the face of extreme stress.

He already knows whether we have gained the technical knowledge, from having assesed us in class. The testing is his opportunity to put us under pressure to see how well we perform then.

Michele said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shukokai karateka said...

"Shukokai karateka, it's quite unusual to find someone doing the same style as me so thanks for commenting. It's reassuring to know someone else in the same boat as me has a similar mindset about nidan grading. Good luck with your grading too!"

I know what you mean; I think this is how I stumbled across your blog, by searching Shukokai! As you say, there seemingly aren't that many of us! Your blog is excellent, particularly the pieces about the history of our katas; difficult to find information anywhere else regarding this.

By the way, have you done any teaching at all? I'm about to embark on my first club as Sensei (it's opening this Sunday!); very much looking forward to it, but it's arguably more nerve-wracking than my Dan grading!

Sue C said...

Anon, I can see the purpose of pressure testing you in that way in a grading. We start our grading with an extensive kihon section which lasts about 30 - 40 minutes and gets you pretty exhausted so I suppose in a sense this is serving the same purpose as your extensive fitness work.

Shukokai karateka, thank you for your complement about my blog, I'm glad you're finding it useful. Yes I have done some teaching. I'm a qualified instructor for my organisation and I am insured to cover classes in my instructors absence. I also teach primary school children in after school classes as part of our clubs outreach programme. However, I don't run my own club (don't feel ready for that responsibility yet). Good luck with your new club, I'm sure you'll be fine.

R. William Ayres said...

You wrote:

" I don’t see why a grading should require something that normal classes don’t."

This is exactly as things should be. If you are doing something "special" or out of the ordinary for any grading - if you're expected to do something you never do in any other context - the test is useless. You should be tested on things that you have done day in and day out, many times over. Gradings are not like school tests to be crammed for - they are opportunities to demonstrate what you have already learned and mastered.

Sue C said...

William, precisely! Thanks for commenting.

. said...

WOW. I can't believe that's been 2 years already. That's flown by.

I've been given my date for Shodan grading (May 26th) but so far I'm managing to remain pretty unstressed about it.

I think you have exactly the right attitude to get you through Nidan grading. Best of luck Sue.


Sue C said...

Hi Marie, Best of luck to you too - let me know how you get on...

Unknown said...

Dear future graduates Nidan Sue,

Good afternoon!
Congratulations for your perseverance and your all information about Karate.
I went through Nidan exam in 1996 and I think, based on how I see that you understand the art of karate-do, as you will not have any problem Nidan exam.
Train in strong. You act with determination as though you Sandan exam and will be... perfect.

Eduard Stroe,4th Dan Perfect Karate

Sue C said...

Edurd, thank you for your supportive comment, I hope I don't let anyone down in June....

Diego said...


it's right...i am quite a bit late with the response^^ never mind! I become aware of my rank even if I don’t still have it. According to Werner Lind’s word the nidan is the grade of who knows the path. When you are shodan you are looking for the Way (DO) but now you know (or better you think to know) the path to reach it.
You train differently, you begin to put something of yourself in the technique you are taught. You still need a teacher but he/she is seen in a different light.
I have a problem because I received my first dan from my first Sensei who transmitted me the love for our Art. I had to move 1500 km away and from three years I am following another Sensei who helped me to grow fast.
I passed from Hirokazu Kobayashi Ryu to Iwama Ryu. A radical change at a first view but it is not this the point. I would in my hearth quit the grade passing because I would not to be like a samurai that changes damyo. And samurais never did it.
I didn’t left behind me my aikido’s past. It is still part of me and I keep my first Sensei’s teachings with jealousy.
It would have be easier if I would have cut all my connections with the past.
However, progress in Budo I feel is not solving problems like this but the way in which you did it.



Sue C said...

Dijego, Hi, it sounds to me like you are a true practitioner of budo and are not just going through the motions of learning a martial art. In which case it is not important that you had to change arts since the mindset of the budoka transcends the art. Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting.

Diego said...

Hi Sue, thank you for the blog and the opportunity to share my thoughts and doubts.
During this weeks I had to find a solution, because my practice needed to be sincere and without any doubt.
Now I decided that I will continue to train refusing all gradings processes.
Best wishes Sue


Sue C said...

Hi Dijego, I'm glad you've reached a resolution and can be at peace with yourself. Just training and following your own path is the most important thing. Best wishes.


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