Thoughts, anecdotes and reflections on becoming a black belt in karate - Glyn Curtis 1st Dan

I believe that many Karate-ka (karate students) I have known that gave up karate, will have achieved one of the brown belt stages before making their decision to quit.

Glyn CurtisFrom the beginning of training, it is a key goal to achieve the next belt in the syllabus, so it seems like progress is being made. But I think the long road to the end starts with achieving your brown belt. That brown colour belt is going to be worn for some time and sometimes it can feel that the road just gets longer, seemingly with no end in sight. This is an endurance test I am sure! I focused on the next stage one step at a time and for me it still felt like an achievement every time I graded and passed. I originally started training in Wado Kai Karate 25 years ago, and later changed to Wado Ryu 4 years ago. The text below are a few answers to some questions about my grading and the training I did leading up to the final weeks to D Day' Dan Grading!

Q: How much training you have had to do to get you to the goal of 1st Dan?

Well, I have been going through my diary of the last couple of years and I have two days a week booked in for my training as a bare minimum. Due to some injuries, like pulled muscles and a few niggles I have missed the odd day, but have trained pretty much every day. On top of that training I have tried to make it to every course available to me. Karate is a bit of a full on commitment and you do have to be dedicated if you want great results. There are easier ways to get a Dan grade, some associations give out Dan grades like sweets. When I started in Wado Ryu I quickly realised that I had my hands full in picking up my game after being out of training for some time. In short I will say that you need a minimum of two days a week and a Sensei that varies the training so not to get into a boring routine.

Q: Was there any particular type of training you had to do for your Dan grading?

No, not really.........just lots of it! I did have some things I needed to work on and focus to improve rather that practicing the things I think I'm good at or favour. I do try and train on the things I am not that good at mostly, which is not always great fun but it will not get better any other way!

Q: How did you know you were ready for the grading and know when to take it?

I had been to see some previous gradings to see what it was like, I must say just watching was tense enough as the atmosphere is very intense. This is only because you are being graded by some of the finest Sensei's you're going to come across, which in itself is nerve racking. I looked at the standard of 1st kyu grades that were taking their grading and was looking for what level of performance was passing. I wanted to make sure that "just enough would do" attitude was not going to be good enough. I had to make sure that I was going to be a lot better, listen to the Sensei's and make sure I was improving on what they are asking from you. I then finally gave myself 6 months to fine tune and set the date. I worked towards my grading, training with my Sensei who kindly gave up his own time to help me.

Glyn CurtisQ: So you felt comfortable that you will get it all right in six months?

Well I felt that I had to fine tune some things yes, but I had to make sure that I had got rid of some bad habits that I picked up from my old training. I also had to make sure that I didn't have any major things to change, so that I didn't feel like I was climbing Mount Everest to get there. More like Guildford High Street was steep enough J. We all know the bits we are not good at but tend to not make much effort to make things better..... perseverance was the key.

Q: So you have done all the training and now it's the final week, how did you feel?

I had taken the week off as a holiday as I have for every other week of training for the past three years! God I wanted to sit on a beach sooooo much and just relax but it had to be done!

It began by me travelling to Yate (Gloucestershire) on the Friday evening but I couldn't make it in time for the lesson with Kazutaka Sensei, who was taking the usual class held by Sensei Grimes. I did get to Yate though for a well earned beer though and although I didn't show off any karate skills, I did manage to cut some decent shapes on the dance floor!

On Saturday morning I did manage Kazutaka Sensei's class, which I always enjoy. In the afternoon we all made our way to Bideford to get booked in and get comfy in our various accommodations. I say that, as it's entirely up to you whether to stay at the college or sort out your own comforts. I was sharing with some good buddies at a chalet park which was just outside the town.

Q: So you were settling in ok, when does the training start?

Training starts on the Sunday morning and ends on Friday afternoon and then the Dan grading takes place.

Q: Did I hear something about a morning run?!!!

Oh yeah, there is a run which starts on the Monday and it was a bit of a shock to the system as I haven't run that early in years! Mine usually takes place in the summer evenings and not at 6:30 in the morning when the sun is coming up. I must admit though it did feel good to be up and out in the fresh air which made a refreshing start to the day. The morning run and exercises last for an hour and we then went back for a good breakfast to then start proper training at 10am. Every morning starts with nearly 30 minutes of Mokosu (meditation), which is really tough.

Q: Well it sounds like everything was going well for you and you were ready for grading?

Mmmmm, well there was one little hic up, as my grading partner decided that he was not ready during the week, so I had to find another partner. I didn't feel too relaxed at that time and definitely felt some added pressure that I could have done without, but you have to take what life throws at you and I didn't let it affect my training. I was fortunate to find another brown belt that was grading to partner me who was John Scudamore. (I hope I spelt his surname right)!!

Q: So, were you nervous during the weeks training leading up to the final day?

I don't think I was nervous until the day to be honest, as I was focused on learning during the days and practicing the grading stuff after that, I don't think I had time to be nervous.......I just had to keep saying to myself that I had put in as much practice as possible and to try my best. I was going to enjoy the training and not let nerves spoil which was my holiday at least! What was going to be was going to be............

Glyn CurtisQ: Ok, sounds like that would be a better experience, so the final day and you just got up. Did you go on the last morning run or rest for the big day?

Rest?!!! No, the last run of the week is on the beach and then a swim in the sea!! How could I miss that? It was so good to do that and wouldn't have missed it for the world. It was probably the best start to the day and fun too, with Sensei Shiomitsu and all the instructors joining in, bare chested like the rest of us!

Q: So this is it, what was going through your mind during the last training before the grading?

My bottom I think! Well, the nerves were starting to make their presence felt and I wasn't really taking much in as far as what was going on in the last hour, as I was rehearsing the grading in my head. It's really strange, you're there in body but your mind is miles away, I remember looking at the clock thinking, nearly there!

We had a break at the end of training before the grading started, so had some last minute practice. But the break is nearly 2 hours and really tests your nerve!

Q: Were you first up to grade?

No.... we are given numbers and mine was number 9 of 9.......last! I had the opportunity to at least see how it was going first.

Q: How did it feel during the grading?

I remember walking up to the line and standing in front of the grading panel, all that was going through my head were two points, one fixed on one wall in front of me and a wall behind me. I had to keep my head up and not look at the floor or my feet, also I didn't want to look at the panel. This was so that I could focus on what was being instructed to us and nothing else. I didn't want to get distracted by any looks of disapproval if any or put off.

Glyn CurtisQ: Did you have any indication as to how you think you were doing?

Well I spoke of my buddies that I stayed with, Laura, Leanne and Jitendira. They were all there giving me the thumbs up as I finished each segment of the grading. I was especially grateful of Lesley as well, who came all the way to watch. The nerves really hit in when I realised I was going to have to do my Kata's in front of the panel on my own. I watched as the last pair finished their katas, I then heard the number nine and walked up to my starting point. That had to be the longest walk of my life, I started with Pinan Yodan which I was comfortable with. Kushanku was the real test as it's so long but just took my time and didn't rush it..... the relief after I finished it was fantastic. Naihanchi, I almost did it on auto pilot as I remember thinking it's nearly over! Throughout the grading I just focused on not being tense and tried to relax as much as possible and most importantly remember what had been taught to me by all my Sensei's. One big huge thanks has to go to my Sensei, Corin Pegden as he helped me to get here and for all his help in his free time. It was his lessons that regained my enthusiasm in karate, thanks to his dedication to teaching and learning the proper Wado Way!

Q: If there were any words of wisdom or inspiration what would they be to others that follow?

It's a long trip to the 1st real rung on the ladder, I say that because it's only until you reach 1st Dan that you really start learning. Basics are what you learn to 1st Dan which is the solid roots of Wado. I would say that becoming a Black Belt in the Academy feels fantastic, I feel that I have attained a high standard, something to be proud of and to share with others. Words of wisdom? Well always try your best no matter what, practice regularly and with a focused mind. It's not always about the body, most of it is in the mind! Also, try and understand what is being taught to you and if a particular technique has 5 parts and you don't understand 2 parts or even one, all five are no good. I'm never too proud or embarrassed to ask if there is something I don't understand. I felt like a right plonker on the summer course when I asked a question to Sensei Shiomitsu about turning using Shuto Uke! Never the less, it answered my question and it's one I will never forget!

Glyn, well done and thank you for your thoughts about during and leading up to your grading.

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