Wow. To use the Spider-man approved epithet, that was an absolute Mother Hubbard of an afternoon. In comparison to previous gradings where I’ve had to just turn up, maybe do a little bit of fitness stuff, show off the techniques/forms/kata required for relevant grade and once at a high enough level, maybe spar a little bit, all done and dusted in 45 minutes, an hour tops, this was a three hour plus beasting along with the actual karate elements. Then sparring. For my first belt. Somehow this is much more in line with what I’ve always felt a grading should be – a test of character as much as technique and knowledge. This perhaps speaks to a further reason for my lack of satisfaction with the gradings I’ve done in the past even if I didn’t know what it was at the time – I hadn’t been fully tested. There was no real challenge. Goju does things much, much differently.
One of the things I love about Goju is that everything has a purpose. It’s an incredibly mindful system. Whereas in previous systems I’ve studied, students were separated by sash/belt, in Goju, as sensei says ‘we grade as a club’. We grade together. We see what is coming our way. We. There is a an emphasis on the first person plural rather than the first person singular. There are, for me at least, multiple effects of this – gradings act as social glue. They give profound respect for the higher grades. The beasting given the folk going for green belt (a step only midway up the kyu ladder) was ferocious. Seeing what will come to me in time is terrifying and inspiring. The foreknowledge is important. Fear is a strong motivator, knowing what you have to overcome. Most importantly, though I think the whole experience was as much about the people, not the grading. The man or woman to our left and right.
I think this demonstrates the inclusive ethos that permeates the club, the great atmosphere, the supportiveness and the high proportion of black belts (generally more than a third in the classes I go to) to lower grades. Despite all that, this seems to be a style that people either love and really stick with, or run a mile from pretty rapidly. In retrospect there’s a lot of things I feel I didn’t do well enough (for my own satisfaction if nothing else), but Sensei, the belt and certificate say otherwise. My fitness wasn’t helped by the fact I probably should have eaten considerably more before starting.
The notion of perfectibility is a large part of martial arts, even if absolute perfection is ultimately unattainable, it’s good to have goals, targets, another step up a ladder whose top extends the second you get another rung up. I’m learning again how to learn this stuff, and I feel apprehensive, excited and full, currently of a metric fuck-ton (technical term, honest) of endorphins which is why this might be slightly more overblown than normal.
Astonishingly I didn’t go straight to sleep seconds after my head hitting the pillow, and managed about five hours before waking (surprisingly enough a full half hour before the customary time MiniMog comes in and jumps on my head to get my attention), one calf is extremely stiff, there are sundry aches and pains, yet all I can think about is whether or not it’s sensible to train tonight, eager to learn more.
Post-script – Massive, massive thanks to the Sensei and his Sempai for organising the grading and his confidence in us, and to my fellow gradees (is that a word?) for being there. We did it.