[ FEATURE ] Nanakorobi Yaoki (七転八起)


Nanakorobi Yaoki (pronounced “nah-nah koh-row-bee yah oh-kee”) literally means “fall down seven times, get up eight times” and is often used to illustrate the perserverence of the karateka needed to achieve success, whether in training or battle.

Below is an old article written by one of our Shodan about his journey to reach Shodan, and is a perfect illustration of Nanakorobi Yaoki


Shodan: a time to look back as well as forward…

Christmas 2003, I picked up a CKA end of year award “For effort and dedication shown in training”…..nine years later, still trying to show the same commitment and whilst the mind is strong, large parts of the body seem to be getting progressively weaker, but hey ho, never mind, if it was easy, it wouldn’t be half the challenge and I don’t have any plans to stop just yet!

Nine years since I picked up the flyer in the local paper advertising beginners’ courses in Shotokan karate, picking up the phone and talking to Sensei Erin Thwaites for the first time…”I’m getting on a bit (me to her of course !), various injuries from playing rugby, not fit, and some may even suggest a ‘pound or two’ over weight, should I bother to turn up for the beginners course or am I a lost cause”, response was encouraging, “you’re younger than me, get down here, give me ten!” (£10 for the beginners course, Mr Warner wasn’t there then so sit ups / press-ups weren’t so common).

I remember my first lesson at Chesham, warm up all together, then taken off to the drama room with the other beginners (who have all since given up), also my first grading, I was the very last person in the line, standing there in trackie bottoms and tee-shirt feeling a little apprehensive. Got through the first grading ok, and carried on training, each subsequent grading meant I was moving up the line, from Beginner to Black Belt, it’s the only way, everyone starts at the same place.

I remember doing the pre-grading warm-up as a purple and white belt as no brown belts were grading or training that day, I hadn’t learnt the Dojo Kun as I didn’t think I needed to at that point, safety in numbers etc, very embarrassing, I strongly recommend that all grades know these five verses…..one day, it will be you ! Everything was going reasonably ok, graded successfully to purple and white in successive gradings, so providing you put the effort in, in no time at all you’re looking at becoming a brown belt.

Around this time, I started to pick up various injuries, in no particular order : kneck, shoulder, calf, hamstring, lower back, knees, ankles, asthma, achiles have all impacted, training became much more disrupted, twice I actually thought that’s it, I’m finished, once for a bad knee and once for my back, each took 3-4 months to recover, then 3-4 months to get back to where I was pre-injuries, so just these two add up to over a year of karate stagnation, the easiest thing would have been to give up, but I didn’t want to.

March 2010, the day of my first Shodan grading. As I recall, I had a pretty good run up to it, regular training and visits to the gym, fitness wise was reasonable, but could have been better, unfortunately, I was not successful. Got the feedback, and knew what to work on, was feeling ok leading up to the June grading but a week before, my back goes. As the week passes, no training at all and my back slowly improves, decide to go for the grading, mistake. Became clear to me within minutes that it wasn’t happening, further tweaked it during the grading so gave up after half an hour or so, not happy, here we go again, a month or so out from training, quite a few months to get back to where I was, (in fact I’m not convinced I’ve got there yet), all very disappointing and demotivating, easiest thing would have been to give up, but still didn’t want to.

March-2011 grading, “do I, don’t I”…..didn’t – trapped nerve in shoulder, achiles still giving me trouble so couldn’t do any running, fitness was a big concern.

June-2011, some improvement, neck and shoulder were better, achiles hadn’t responded to treatments, two weeks before, sore knee, bit of fluid so more disrupted training but decided to go for it – I’d come to two conclusions. firstly that I was becoming an expert in finding reasons to postpone the big day, secondly, that I’ll never have a day when something doesn’t hurt, it’s just the degrees of pain and to what extent they may impact, so June-11 grading it was!.

I knew it would be tough, and it was, having already attempted a shodan grading before, I thought I knew roughly what to expect, but grading on my own was an experience in itself, a disruptive lead up didn’t help, and I knew fitness was going to be a big, big problem, and it was, if I train too hard and often something always breaks, under train and the fitness isn’t there….bit of a catch 22!

Mrs Ibson said to me just before entering the grading, once your physically tired, you’ll need to draw on mental strength, these words were racing through my mind after about 5 minutes – it felt like my lungs were going to go bang but I thought, at least it wasn’t my back !

I know I am very self-critical about my karate, I was very pleased to pass but disappointed with my performance on the day, I left knowing I could and should have done better. Maybe a number of things combined, nerves from grading solo, pressure from taking so long to get to this grading, pressure from having failed before, pressure from constant disruption to training, but I put a lot down to inadequate fitness, please don’t make the same mistake !

Shodan – A time to look back as well as forwards, I know I have plenty to work on, I aim to go right back to basics and try to improve on those many areas that I know need to improve, just because you get the belt, doesn’t mean you’ve arrived and all things are wonderful in your karate, whatever grade you are, continue to self- analyse your karate, train hard and strive for continual improvement, one step at a time, as Sensei Croft has said before, karate is a never ending journey.

I think it will help my future karate by revisiting my past ….areas I know need to improve : kime, hip rotation, breathing, stances, targeting, speed, fluidity of movement, actually, thinking about it, might be easier to just say everything.

“Spirit first, technique second” – Gichin Funakoshi

I find karate hard, but I believe you get out what you put in, I hope what I lack in technique I make up for with spirit and effort (and sweat !), it really is an endless journey, and one that I look forward to continuing with you all.

So to finish, many thanks to all the Dan and Kyu grades over the years who have offered advise and encouragement, there’s so many people who have helped me get to this point, I am very grateful to you all and I look forward to continuing to take advise and encouragement, but also, hope and expect to be able to give something back!

Good luck in your training and Respect to you all!

Steve Warren 1st Dan