When we formed the association in 2015 one of the first tasks we undertook was to define, design and introduce our own syllabus. We did this for many reasons, not least to ensure we did not suffer hubris or encourage complacency. In developing our own format, we conceived a formula that could develop and benchmark our students against criteria and skillset that we deem important and appropriate. Most importantly it allows for fitting self-expression and provides the opportunity to challenge both an individual’s physicality and karate intellect.
At our most recent course and grading we had someone attempting Shodan (black-belt) who had exclusively begun his training with us (the AKA). For us this was a first and was an interesting reality to ponder. Stood in-front of the panel would be an individual whose talent, habits and unique attributes could solely be linked to us! It is fair to say that the panel shared some nerves and anticipation with Will Newman on Saturday.
The day began in the normal fashion with the team setting up the dojo and foyer to welcome the students. As our association grows and evolves we have noticed a greater amount of families training. To avoid child-care issues and multiple drop-off and pick-up times we trialled a new format with the Kyu grade course taking place at the same time as the Black and Brown belt training. For this month’s course keri-waza (kicking techniques) was the chosen subject matter. Sensei’s Wiliams and Williams focused on Mawashi-geri with the Senior grades while Sensei’s Powell and Galloway worked on a range of waza in drill format against multiple opponents.
Typically, Saturday was the hottest day of the year so far, so we were really pleased that so many of the wider membership supported the course. You are all an inspiration, especially Lee Love whose awesome beard must had increased his own body heat by at least twenty percent. The atmosphere was buzzing with a great mix of hard training, sweat and a few giggles along the way.
The Kyu grading demonstrated the range of our membership with many adults attempting their first ever grading. As instructors it is very humbling for us to see people of all ages adopting the beginner’s attitude and stepping into the unknown. Effort levels were high and amongst all the grades there were only a couple of wobbles, but as ever spirit levels were through the roof. Students from our dojo’s in East Sussex interacted brilliantly with the Hampshire based clubs and it is great to see our karate community continue to grow and the friendships strengthen.
After the kyu grading several brown belts stepped up to the mark. Interestingly most of them had not graded for at least a year. This demonstrates sincere maturity and self-reflection on their part. The consequence was that without exception everyone demonstrated significant progress from their last grading. The whole Clay family from the Petersfield dojo were in the mix and Kath who normally dislikes kumite fought like never-before, especially considering that her opponent Jess (the Cheong) is becoming a force on the kumite circuit.
The panel then split to deliver helpful feedback to the graders and Will was subsequently invited back into the dojo to warm up with his assistant for the day Chris Arnold.
A black-belt grading should be a mix of personal challenge and the opportunity to demonstrate one’s own development, progress and maturity. When preparing we expect the students to focus on their weaknesses and strengths and put the appropriate amount of work-in to peak both physically and mentally on grading day. Will had focused on his grading-date with laser like focus imposing an alcohol ban on himself for seven months which when combined with his obsessive training had resulted in a near two stone weight loss and shredded appearance. (The perfect roundness of his head is just down to good genetics).
The grading panel were very impressed by Will’s performance. Especially apparent was his detailed understanding of Jion his choice kata and its possible applications. Chris was probably less impressed by his black eye but the kumite exchanges were spirited, well timed and also well matched.
Well done Will you have made us all very proud and set your personal bar very high. We look forward to seeing you develop and no doubt help others on their way also. If your development and ability represent the credentials of our syllabus then I think we all should enjoy that first celebratory drink in your honour.