Tag Archives: Black Belt Grading

What Really Is Pain, Can We Hide It?

These are mine, these size seven hairy hobbit feet belong to me, even the black and blue, bruised one!

The Black Foot

The Black Foot

Now you’re asking, what the heck? 

One Good Foot at Least

One Good Foot at Least

How did you end up with a foot that colour and shape? Ouch!!!! 

This misshapen mess happen back in August 2009, just two months before I took these battered feet and started a journey into complete and utter darkness and despair, it was a result of the last great thing I achieved before slipping from reality for a while.

The strange thing is, I don’t remember actually doing the damage, not once apparently, but twice, I don’t remember a feeling of pain, not until hours later anyway, the occasion was greater than the pain, the mind was focused elsewhere, I was lost in the moment, a determination for the end goal suppressed everything else.

My karate is obviously something I have discussed on the odd occasion on this blog, although it is not a big part of my recovery, it has built my character, I started training in October 1980, shortly before my seventh birthday, incidentally a month before Victoria was even born, naturally it has formed a large part of who I am, therefore I share a little of my karate history.

I have previously written about passing my black belt at 10 years old, way back in 1984, I then passed my 2nd Dan (2nd degree black belt) in 1987 at 13, then a long wait, the rules of our association are such that you have to be 21 before taking your 3rd Dan grading.

So I waited, during that time my instructor emigrated to Australia in late 1989, he left myself, just 15 and my friend Darren, a little older at 17, in charge of a very successful club, we were young and the challenge was hard at times, but we worked together well, until Darren’s work and family commitments left me in sole charge a few years ago. When I turned 21 I started to prepare for the grading and passed at my first attempt in October 1995.  From there the requirement was to wait a further four years until 4th Dan, at this point I felt no rush, I was still young.

To be honest I lost a little enthusiasm, not for karate or my club, but rather for the association we were in at the time, their emphasis was on a core of clubs close to the senior instructors, with just take and no real give for the rest of us small fry.  I ran my club, attended the odd course, competed in their competitions, but found no encouragement for me, my training or my club, there was an extremely disappointing conversation with one senior instructor which put the nail in the coffin so to speak in terms of my attachment and loyalty to the association, this conversation I will cover at a later date, it shows the shallowness of those we sometimes look up to for leadership.

When the association suffered a split in 2003, I saw my chance to move on, the club met and we agreed to move to the new association that had been formed, I felt a renewed enthusiasm for something new, it wasn’t long before that enthusiasm was rewarded, I finally got recognition.

Within a year of joining this new association, I was invited onto the Squad, I was 30, I had been training almost 26 years, I felt like I had finally made it, I was selected for my first European Championships in 2005, I had never abroad at that point, I had to rush through a passport application, a year later I journeyed to Sydney, Australia, for the World Championships, a fantastic trip, which I still intend to write about one day.

I had just over four years on the squad, but the 300 mile round trip for training almost every weekend for most of the year took its toll, both financially and physically, so at the beginning of 2009 I took the decision to retire.

So upon retirement I began preparation for taking my 4th Dan, my squad instructors had been encouraging me to take it for some time, but I put it off, it was difficult enough for me to concentrate my training for the squad, I had no instructor to return to at my club, no one continuing my training like the other squad members, after the squad sessions finished I was on my own, it was hard, especially since my drinking was on the increase, not a problem or an excuse for numbing the pain at that point, but nonetheless I was drinking more than I should have been.

So August came around and to be honest I hadn’t trained anywhere near what I wanted to, but I decided to go for it, with the attitude that pass or fail, it didn’t matter, I was relaxed and just ready to go, I would accept the result whatever it maybe.

The grading takes the form of three parts, a series of basic combinations, then onto kumite or free fighting, then kata (a set routine of movements).  I completed the basics, a little tight, but I was happy with them, then the kumite.

In our group I would be the second fight up, the first fight between two actual club mates took place and well, the taller of the two a six foot plus Nigeria hit his friend and concussed him, when the other guy was taken to first aid I was called to face the six footer, me just 5ft 4½, oh well, here goes!

I was pleased with my fight, I just took it to him, in fact he didn’t hit me until the last punch if the fight, he caught me a glancing blow on the nose, drawing a little blood, nothing to bad, I was allowed to sit back down, my fights were done for the time being, so I went to the first aid table just to get some tissue for my nose, then I saw it!!!

I looked down to see my ankle twice it’s normal size! 

Where did that come from?

This didn’t look right, but I didn’t remember doing it, I remember throwing a few kicks, but don’t remember and significant impact or pain, I still to this day can’t pinpoint a moment when it happened.

A friend who was watching, whilst awaiting to take his 5th Dan, later told me later he had winced when I threw a kick which hit my opponent with some force on the point of his elbow, he then said he winced even harder when I did it again, a second time my foot collided with his bony elbow a second time at some force, a gluten for punishment or what?

So I looked down to see the swollen mass stuck to my foot, the bruising hadn’t appeared yet, just the swelling, so I asked the first aiders to take a look, immediately their conclusion was it was broken!

So as the others fought and the grading continued, I sat with my bust foot wrapped in ice!  A paramedic turned up to check out George who had been concussed, he was to be taken to hospital just for a check up, the paramedic was asked to look at my foot, immediately he said it looked broken and I should go too!

But I still had part of my grading to do, I hadn’t finished yet, I can’t go!!!

Then Sensei Adel came over, he was on the grading panel that had just judged my basics and kumite, the two Senior Japanese instructors where almost done with everyone else’s kata grading, they would soon be waiting for me, could I continue or not? The first aiders did their job, they said no, so he turned to me!

At that point adrenalin was still in control, there was no pain, just a swollen mess, so I asked a question I shouldn’t really have asked of him at this point.

I asked if it was worth me continuing?

He shouldn’t really of answered, but we had a great relationship, we had roomed together on that trip to Australia, so he looked around to make sure no one was listening and simply said yes.  That was it for me I had passed the first two parts, including the kumite, which isn’t my strong point and all that was left was kata, which was my speciality, so my answer was simple, let’s do it, I’m ready to continue!

So I was almost immediately called up for kata, first my kata of choice, that went okay, the foot held.  Then kata of the examiners choice, oh joy, they’ve chosen one with a jump, a jump that will land with all my weight directly on my ballooning foot!

In actuality the jump went fine, it was a few moves later, when I simply had to stand up on that foot, that I wobbled, but other than that, I was pleased given the circumstances.

After deliberation between the examiners panel, the results were announced, to my relief I had passed, at the point there was still no pain, the adrenaline, the moment, the thrill, the nerves, all these feelings had blotted out any pain, the foot looked immensely painful, friends looked and quickly looked away in discomfort, but I still couldn’t feel it!!

Over the coming hours, as the excitement wore off the pain began to conquer all the other feelings, I then had to endure a 3 hours drive home, foot wrapped in ice, sat in the back of an incredibly small car, trying to stay comfortable!

The first aiders only let me continue on the agreement I would get it checked out at hospital the next day, when I returned home, but I didn’t actually bother, I was still high on success and I didn’t fancy a long wait in our hospital here in Newark, so I just got on with everything.

Over the next few days the bruising came out, the swelling increased and I wore so incredibly loose shoes and got on with my day to day life.

A friend of mine, a former nurse, took a look at my foot a few days latter, he said the bruising showed it was broken in two places, one at the front of the ankle, probably a chipped bone and the other a bone in the right of the foot, which explained the two kicks my friend spoke of, which I just don’t remember.

I guess at times our pain can be masked by our other feelings, we can suppress pain, both physical and emotional, it almost always hits us afterwards, sometimes when we think we’re gone far enough to be free from it.

Actually I think I’m experiencing this at the moment, my tiredness and physical exhaustion is kind of masking the emotional pain I should be feeling for my Nanna, I haven’t dealt with that yet, I haven’t had the uncontrollable tears yet, I’ve had tears, but not to the point where I just let go, lose control for a moment.

That time will come, I’ve felt the emotion come close to the surface over the last few days, but other feelings and circumstances are suppressing it, but I’m sure it will come.

For now, I continue to rest, a few more days off, then back to the grind stone again!

I’d rather forget and not slow down
Than gather regret for the things I can’t change now
If I become what I can’t accept
Resurrect the saint from within the wretch
Pour over me and wash my hands of it
Cause I could spend my life just trying to sift through
 What I could’ve done better but what good do what ifs do
 Oh oh
 Oh oh
 There’s something I should tell you now
(Forget And Not Slow Down by Relient K)

The One Year Old Black Belt!

28 years ago today the 10 year old me set off on a journey with a friend, which would see me return a different person.

On that cold November morning in 1984’s Britain, I started out on a journey at around 5.30am in the morning, not with my parents, they would not be making this journey, this would be the first of my karate gradings that my Dad had not been present at. I would start the journey with a parent of one my club mates, firstly a lift from my home to Lincoln, to meet a friend from our Lincoln club, his sister would be driving us today all the way up to Gateshead near Newcastle. Lincoln isn’t that far from my home, half an hour or so to the centre of Lincoln, where we meet Simon, having met up with Simon we then proceed to walk to his sister’s house, not that far away, then we start the drive up to Newcastle and our destination of Gateshead.

For a ten year old travelling with two adults, one I barely know the other I don’t, it was a long journey, 150 odd miles around 3 hours, the only thing I seem to remember of the journey was that Simon’s sister must have loved the band Queen, that was all we listened to, but I guess it could have been worst, I kind of like Queen.

We arrive early, which is always good after a long journey in a small car and it was a very small car, even for someone my size. The training beforehand is taken by the Chief Instructor of the Japan Karate Association Europe, the world renowned Enoeda Sensei, I had only trained with him once before, that was when I was about 8 years old and a lowly yellow belt, he was a very imposing character, especially for a 10 year old alone, Simon obviously lined up with the adults, I was on my own with the other kids, who unlike me all seemed to have friends to train alongside of.

Enoeda Sensei

Enoeda Sensei

The first of two stand out moments of the day happened during the training session, we practiced a set of moves that saw us all turn in different directions, basically defences against a couple of attackers, then we were to find two other people to practice these moves with. Well as I said, I was alone, I didn’t have my club mates with me and all the other kids partnered up together I was alone, the lone kid in a class of hundreds of others, the only kid or adult without partners, I was bricking it.

The instructions and demonstrations were given, we went back to our partners to practice, except me, I just carried on doing the routine on my own, then I caught sight of Enoeda Sensei approaching, he stopped and stood watching me, alone. I was waiting for the telling off, why didn’t I have a partner, I wanted the floor to swallow me, on a day when I am supposed to impress, I couldn’t get past my natural shyness and find at least one partner. I finished my routine and looked directly at Enoeda Sensei, I got the surprise of my life, on his face was a smile, a big one, then he lifted one hand and gave me a thumbs up! This is the feared Enoeda, the man they call Tora (Japanese for Tiger), a man feared for his ferocity, he was smiling at me giving me a thumbs up, I wasn’t in trouble, I was doing well, I must have been to get this kind of response from a legend in Karate circles. The rest of the class I cannot remember, but I remember feeling lifted by such a response from a man I feared, the very man that would decide if I passed or failed had given me the thumbs up, I was now on fire.

When we brown belts had finished our session, the black belts moved into the hall and we had a few welcome hours rest before the grading, time to fill out our grading forms and register. I had failed twice before under a different instructor, so I had copies of my previous forms with me, but as a 10 years olds writing is spidery at best, even without the added pressure of this day, Simon filled out my form based on my old ones and we registered.

As all black belts grading do in the UK, the juniors were up first, in order of height, smallest first, in groups of six, so I was in the first couple of groups, my name was called, I jumped up to the line and took my place. Then the second stand out moment happened, I was called from the line to the table, this never happens unless there is a problem, I am back to bricking it now!

I approached Enoeda Sensei, he asks me two simple questions in his heavy Japanese accent, firstly;

Enoeda: When was your last grading?

Me: November last year Sensei, one year ago.

Enoeda: When were you born?

Me: 6th December 1973, Sensei.

He then points to my grading form, I glance down, oh no I really am in for it now, but then with the biggest, booming laugh I have ever heard, he loudly pronounces across the large sports hall:

“It says here you are one year old!!!”

Well it turns out that although Simon had copied my forms, he had mixed up the date of my last grading with my date of birth, so I last graded in 1973 and was born in 1983, I was one year old! The mistake was quickly rectified and with a laugh I was sent back to the line to take my grading.

We are the heirs to every throne
We wander far from what we’ve known
We wait for love to call us home
We are the heirs
We wander far
We wait for love
We wait for more
(The Fight by The Rocket Summer)

For the second time that day I faced the worst, the wrath of one of the most revered karate instructors in the world, but for the second time I was greeted with a smile and a response I never expected, as I walked back to the line I was once again relaxed, I was ready to perform for the man that had removed my nerves twice already that day, I couldn’t fail now, it felt like that for that day I was Enoeda’s favourite student.

My grading went well, I was glad I was up early, as the adults began to take their grading, Simon included, the other half of the hall came to life with the sounds of 1980’s keep fit music as an aerobics class started, not the best thing to take a grading to, or maybe it was, I guess their rhythm could have improved!

I passed my grading that day, after all that how could I fail, twice I had reason to be berated, twice I was lifted, I was over the moon and at ten years old, at that time one of the youngest black belts in the country.

I rang home, trying to explain to my Dad that I had passed, it was hard to talk over the tears of joy, after experiencing the tears of pain twice before, now I was crying in joy, I had done it! Unfortunately Simon hadn’t passed, but he never let his disappointment show, in the true spirit of karate he was so over the moon that I had passed, he hid his own disappointment and celebrated with me, a true gent. I’ve not seen Simon for over twenty years now, I often wonder what happened to him over the years, I hope someday I will get the chance to thank him for all he did for me that special day.

Most karate clubs still wouldn’t take kids in the early 80’s, our club started taking kids at 7 years old and as it took around 3½ to 4 years to obtain a black belt, 10 was pretty much the youngest around. Now days most clubs take 4/5 year old beginners, so it is common to see 8 year old black belts, but not then.

So just the day before I had made the local paper, although anonymously, due to my firework accident, this next week I became a bit of a minor celebrity locally, a handful of local papers reported my grading and photo shoots were happening all over, one in our living room and another memorably saw me performing various moves, bare footed in a puddle laden school yard, as some of my friends looked on, as the press usually do they picked the worst of the pictures to publish, one paper even nicknamed me the “mighty atom”!

At that point in my life, that was my greatest day, it still ranks up there as one of my best days, but the birth of my kids and some of the fantastic days I have had in last few months have eclipsed it, but it remains a day etched in my memory, even 28 years later I recall those two moments so clearly, memories of a great man, that although he passed away nearly 10 years ago, I will treasure and never let die!