Karate And Me – Part 3 – Journey To Black Belt

KARATE AND ME

PART 3 – JOURNEY TO BLACK BELT

1983 was a tough year, at the beginning of the year passed my 3rd Kyu, which is the first brown belt of three brown belts, now the real training began, most people recognise that brown belt is the belt before black, so once you make it to the first brown belt, the kata you learn is generally the one you then use for your black belt, the grading syllabus is generally the same, it the technical detail that must improve each time.  I passed all these gradings and by the end of the year had received my 1st Kyu, next step was black belt, a minimum of six months training and preparation.  Early that year Alan had started a club in Lincoln, it ran on Friday nights and then eventually Wednesday nights too, I began to travel with Alan on Friday nights to Lincoln, at first it was only me that wanted to go, eventually others higher grades came with us too.  By the time I passed my 1st Kyu I was training five times a week and it was hard training, Alan pushed us hard, he wanted us to succeed, he was hard but fair, always fair.

One thing he didn’t stand for was any kind of bullying, he wouldn’t have anyone taking liberties with other students, higher grades were to be fair and work with the lower grades and not be hard on them, push them, but not use them as canon fodder, he was keen on that.  One thing he wouldn’t stand for is anyone laughing at other students, he would get the different grades up to do their kata in groups, if one of them went wrong and any other student sat down laughed at them, he would get them up straight away, he would sit everyone down and make the student who laughed do their kata, whilst encouraging everyone else to laugh at them.  I was a victim of this once, I never did it again, I guess if I did that now, I would be pulled over the coals for it, but back in the early 1980’s it wasn’t so frowned upon, as I said once you had got caught, you never did it again and as higher grades, we sort of began to police and school the other students, make sure none of them fell foul of the rules and made the same mistakes as we had done.

In May 1983 I took part in my first National Championships, I was only just a brown belt and for the first time came up in a category with black belts, we didn’t have a junior black belt in the club at that point, that wouldn’t happen until later that year, I think the youngest black belt in the club at that point was about fifteen and he had quit training a year or so before.  I think Alan fudged the entry forms somewhat, to be fair it was common practice among all the Club Instructors to be liberal with ages on entry forms, the minimum age for fighting was 10 years, I was nine and not ten until seven months later, but I was entered in the fighting.  I wasn’t sure what to expect at this level and when I was called up for the first round against a black belt, I decided to just get stuck in.  I’m not sure either of us had much technique, more just youthful exuberance, somehow I won that fight, against a black belt, I was over the moon and my Dad who was watching was too.  I lost my second fight against another black belt, but that didn’t matter, I had beaten a black belt and that was my medal, together with the bruises and black eye I collected along the way.  I remember that competition well, the fighting especially, it was at Crystal Palace and we were on one of the mats on the balcony, which was a first because usually the kids were downstairs in one of the tiny gyms, there would be hundreds of kids squashed into these small rooms.  I think the kata was downstairs, I don’t remember anything about that really other than I lost in the first round, my one victory in the fighting was enough to make my day.

There was still a matter of two gradings to pass before attempting my black belt, thankfully I got through those okay, I don’t think I blitzed them, but I did enough to pass.  By this time I was training five times a week, every week, three times at my home club in Newark and twice at our sister club in Lincoln, it was hard training, but good, always good.

My first attempt at Black Belt came in April 1984, it was up in York and my first time training at one of these courses, never mind attempting to grade.  I remember training at Lincoln the night before and everything was a mess.  I couldn’t remember half the katas I needed, not that I didn’t know them, any other night I wouldn’t have had a problem, maybe it was nerves or apprehension for the next day, but I couldn’t get them right, half way through one of them I remember just having a complete memory blank, I just didn’t know what came next, to this day, I’ve never again had that problem, but that Friday night, I was lost.

The next day was the black belt grading in York, it wasn’t at some grand leisure centre, it was in the sports hall at Imphal Barracks, Fulford in York.  It was basic to say the least, just one large hall, small changing rooms and no refreshment facilities.  Hundreds of people came to train and over a hundred were there to take their grading, so it was a little cramped.

Five people from my club were grading that day, including me, I don’t remember much about the training and very little from my grading.  I do remember the free fighting, I really enjoyed that, the lad I fought went on to become National Champion a couple of years later, but that day I gave as good as I got.  Unfortunately though I failed everything but the fighting, the gradings are split into three parts, basics, kata and fighting, the basics pretty much count for most of the grading, if you fail that, you fail everything.  To pass you have to pass all three, if you fail kata or kumite, you still fail, but next time you only have to retake those elements, fail the basics you retake everything, fail two out of three, you retake everything also.

So I had failed and therefore had to redo the whole grading again.  In truth, I was just ten years old, still pretty young, but also it’s a requirement that there is a minimum of six months between passing the last brown belt and attempting black belt, I was a couple of weeks short of that, my instructor put me and another couple of students in regardless of this requirement, he later stated you would have to be exceptional to pass if you fell foul of this rule.

Three out of the five of us passed that day, Stuart an adult member of our Lincoln club, Darren who was a couple of years older than me and always been a couple of grades ahead, he had already failed once, but passed on this occasion, then there was Trudy, she had come through in the same group as me, but she was good, very good.

It was a bit of knock back to fail, it’s hard when good friends have passed, you want to be happy for them, but at the same time, your world has fell apart.  After that I stopped doing the extra training sessions at Lincoln for a while, I guess it knocked my enthusiasm somewhat, I trained hard when I trained, I just didn’t train as much.

In hindsight, that was wrong, looking back if I wasn’t good enough to pass when I was training five times a week, how was I going to be good enough to pass if I was only doing three.  Well the proof came just three months after that grading.

My second attempt came at Lincoln in July 1984, in truth the training didn’t go that well, the instructor picked me up on a number of things and it seemed to blow my confidence.  The outcome was the same as before, I failed the kata and basics, but passed the fighting.  I think I actually did better the first time around, I can’t put my finger on what went wrong, I simply was nowhere near good enough, now I had to wait another three months before I could try again, one thing was for sure, it was back to training five times a week.

BEST OF YOU by FOO FIGHTERS
I’ve got another confession to make
I’m your fool
Everyone’s got their chains to break
Holdin’ you

Were you born to resist or be abused?
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?

Are you gone and onto someone new?
I needed somewhere to hang my head
Without your noose
You gave me something that I didn’t have
But had no use
I was too weak to give in
Too strong to lose
My heart is under arrest again
But I break loose
My head is giving me life or death
But I can’t choose
I swear I’ll never give in
I refuse

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Has someone taken your faith?
Its real, the pain you feel
You trust, you must
Confess
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Oh…

Oh…Oh…Oh…Oh…

Has someone taken your faith?
Its real, the pain you feel
The life, the love you’d die to heal
The hope that starts the broken hearts
You trust, you must
Confess

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?

I’ve got another confession my friend
I’m no fool
I’m getting tired of starting again
Somewhere new

Were you born to resist or be abused?
I swear I’ll never give in
I refuse

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Has someone taken your faith?
Its real, the pain you feel
You trust, you must
Confess
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Oh…

1 thought on “Karate And Me – Part 3 – Journey To Black Belt

  1. thenewnewguy

    I really enjoy your writings about the journey to black belt. I find them very honest and refreshing, and uplifting as well as you document your long road through shyness and insecurity. I hope you’ll continue to write about it. I have a young son who is in Tae Kwon Do, and it has been wonderful for him. Like your teacher, his is tough but fair and always encouraging. It’s wonderful to see my son work hard and gain some confidence.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.