Michael Thornton and Sensei Ashley Croft

[ FEATURE ] Michael Thornton: Thoughts on my last grading

When most students take up karate as a hobby or sport they will tell you that they have come along to keep fit, or to learn an art of self defence. The goal for most karateka ultimately is to be awarded a black belt. Unfortunately, if this is the only motivation to train then there is very little to keep the impetus going after you have acheived this goal.

Two years ago after a lot of hard work and sweat i managed to get awarded my black belt, and was told by several different senseis within the club that i had now come to the end of my training as a beginner, and could now become a proper student!

After a couple of months ‘enjoying’ the status of a black belt i started to buy a few books on karate and read articles by other senseis in magazines and realised that i really had a very limited knowledge, and that there was so much more to learn.

The shodan (1st dan) grading is very intense, and at my age it took me a good week to get over the mental and physical exhaustion that followed. The thought of ‘doing it all again’ for my nidan (2nd dan) was i must admit a little daunting. I had to wait a minimum of two years after the shodan grading but decided that if i left it any longer i would constantly make excuses not to grade.

In my head I set the date december 2011, and started training to increase my fitness levels in the summer.

There are seven more kata to learn for the nidan grading, as well as more kumite sets. As with shodan you have to choose a tokui kata, one that is studied/understood in greater depth. I chose Nijushiho, just because i liked the feel of it.

For my shodan grading i was with three others, so although you can’t hide away there is some comfort in safety in numbers. For my nidan grading i was on my own.

The worst bit, for me, was the wait beforehand as everyone else is grading. Gradually everyone else leaves with their new belts and certificates, until you are left on your own. All you can hear at this stage are the tables being shifted to their new positions in the dojo ready for your grading. Then you are called in.

It is hard standing there in front of all the seated senseis just with a large dojo floorspace between you and them.

Once you get going there really isn’t anytime to think. It is relentless, but i suppose that’s the point, you are there because you should be up to the standard required and all you have to do is just prove it.

Although it is a long grading the time does fly by. If you pass then you do feel that you have really worked for it, and it is all the more satisfying for it. Fortunately I did pass.

Anyone going for a higher grading? Obviously, increase your cardiac fitness with other forms of exercise outside the dojo (running, swimming, gym) and i would just say learn your kata, kumite and kihon well. Make sure you practice with as many partners as you can (the kumite and kata can even be practiced in your head, it beats daydreaming anytime!). If you can, train with different senseis both within the CKA, or on specific external courses. Take your gi on holiday with you and look up the nearest dojo, everyone i have been to has been very welcoming. Those who take their training seriously will also start to read around the subject and want to learn more about shotokan and it’s history.

Try not to make obtaining the black belt your sole reason for training otherwise it is very difficult to carry on after.

Most of all i would just say enjoy it, it can also be fun.

Happy training

Michael Thornton