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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Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Why do we.........observe reishiki?

In general terms reishiki refers to the demonstration of good etiquette or ‘correct behaviours’ in a traditional martial art dojo or club. This can be anything from knowing the correct way to enter or leave the training area, how to address your sensei, knowing where and how to stand in line, to showing good manners and respect to your fellow students. Each club will have its own variation on reishiki but at the heart of all reishiki is the concept of respect (for your club, for your sensei and for each other).

In more specific terms reishiki refers to the opening and closing ceremonies that most traditional martial art clubs observe and this is the definition of reishiki that I want to discuss in this post. The word reishiki is made up of rei (bow or respect) and shiki (ceremony) and is all about setting the right tone for the class and preparing the students mentally for the training ahead. I have been involved in seminars or classes where reishiki has consisted of nothing more than a quick standing bow to sensei at the beginning and ending of class to a rather elaborate and prolonged standing , walking, kneeling, presenting the sword, bowing, more standing, walking backwards, more kneeling, bowing, standing etc. etc .etc - like a rather complicated and precisely executed kata. I had the feeling my head would be cut off if I got it wrong!

These, of course, are two extremes of the bowing ceremony.  A ceremony that is too short does not adequately prepare the students mentally for the training to come. One that is too complicated is just unnecessary and time consuming (in my opinion).

So, what should a reishiki ceremony help the student to achieve?

When we enter a dojo or training hall we are entering a world that is different to the one outside. Our roles and responsibilities inside the dojo are often very different to the ones we have outside. You may be very senior in your career and be in charge of many staff but in the dojo you may be the new white belt. On the other hand you may be an unskilled manual worker outside but a senior black belt inside the dojo. It is important to be able to leave your external roles and responsibilities outside the dojo and assume your ‘internal’ ones. A reishiki ceremony is one way of helping you to make this separation of external and internal roles. The wearing of a gi is another.

Participating in a martial art requires us to learn about and practice violence towards other human beings. Though the mindset of the martial artist should be purely about defending oneself, the techniques often needed to do that are inherently dangerous and violent. It is imperative that training is done is a controlled and mutually respectful environment that is free from ego and machismo. Reishiki helps to create this respectful environment.

When practising a martial art we are benefiting from the skill and teachings of our martial arts forebears, people who devoted most of their time to developing and perfecting techniques and encoding them in ways that we can remember today. Reishiki is a way in which we remember and honour the founders of our system and also honour the sensei that teaches us that system today.

How does reishiki achieve these things?

A typical reishiki ceremony:

Sensei gives the following commands:

1.       Seiretsu. The students are called to line up in grade order. This is the time when you have to address your position in the dojo and let go of external roles which become unimportant in this context.

2.       Seiza.  The students sit in a formal kneeling position. In some clubs the students may be sitting opposite the shomen or shinzen (shrine). In clubs that meet in a school gym or other temporary ‘dojo’ the students may face a symbolic shomen i.e. face a direction that sensei points to. Other clubs may miss this stage out altogether and just face sensei.

3.       Mokuso. The students close their eyes and observe a few moments of meditation. The idea of this is to let the students clear their minds of distracting (outside) thoughts and prepare for the training ahead.  See ‘Why do we…….perform mokuso’

4.       Mokuso yame. The students stop meditating and open their eyes.

The senior student (or a student chosen by sensei) will then give the commands:

a.       Shomen ni rei. The students bow to the shomen in order to remember and show respect to their founder.  In clubs where there is no longer any connection or communication with their Japanese origins this step may be omitted altogether.

b.      Sensei ni rei.  The students bow to sensei to show their respect to him/her and show that they are ready to listen and learn.

c.       Otaga ni rei. The students and sensei bow to each other in a mutual display of respect and courtesy. Remember, in martial arts bowing is about showing respect not subservience.

At this point the students may say words such as onegaishimasu or osu (note that osu is a contraction of the word onegaishimasu). This basically means "please let me train with you." It's an entreaty often used in asking the other person to teach you, and that you are ready to accept the other person's teaching.

Sensei then gives the following commands:

5.       Kiritsu. The students stand up with feet together and arms by their side.

6.       Rei. The students perform a small standing bow to end the ceremony.

The whole ceremony is then repeated at the end of the lesson with the gesture Arigatou gazaimashita which means thank you.

Though each class begins and ends with reishiki it must be remembered that good manners, courtesy and respect must permeate throughout the class. This keeps the class civilised, controlled and safe at all times and keeps big egos in check.

Do you have any particular reishiki rules or behaviours to share?

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