Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sandan: The Brand with the Three Stripes

Last Saturday, my school held its annual year-end grading. This time, I was on the floor grading, too.

I hate grading. Worse than going to the dentist. Worse than doing my taxes. Worse than dealing with my ex. Yes, it's that bad - and if I never had to do it again, I'd be totally fine with that.

But since yondan Training Partner Ed tossed my name in the hat, I was added to the candidate's list. Groovy.

My training - in an actual dojo - has been a sporadic mess due to my looks-like-retail-but-it-ain't work schedule. When grading was first mentioned, I thought it was a joke.

Right after my hair exploded...
Then came a request for a karate bio, which had to be submitted via email and include previous grading dates, rank earned and ranking instructor. After that was approved, a 50-question test was emailed to me. It was designed to be research-based (in that you were supposed to look stuff up) but it was hard. I mean REALLY hard.

In academia, the one adage always heard is this: knowing the format of the test is half the battle. I had no idea what the format of the test would be at all. Training Partner Ed worked with me - as he has for every grading since sankyu - on self-defense and kata bunkai and the like. Bunkai was a bit tricky because some of the last katas I've learned are straight Goju-Ryu, not USA Goju, which made some movements and angles different. We ironed out the wrinkles for about three weeks before the grading, but my brain was fried.

On grading day, the format was pretty similar to almost every other grading - cup-emptying warmup --> kata ---> bunkai, but the bunkai was a bit different; they had each of the four black-belt candidates (two for sandan, one for nidan and one for shodan) do a kata of his/her choice and extrapolate three techniques from the kata and demonstrate the bunkai with ukes. J, the other sandman candidate, chose Superempi as his kata (one I'm still learning) and really did the daggone thing. I chose Shisochin, but had six techniques to demonstrate. Two friends/fellow karateka, Peg and Allyson, stepped in to assist, but the seniors quickly chose the big fellas with the HUGE hands to uke for me (do the grabs and chokes).

Still not done with me, one of the first senseis I ever worked with - one who gave me hell as a white/green/purple belt and who is also a godan in small-circle jujitsu - announced that he wanted to see more "ju" techniques as opposed to the "go" techniques I'd shown. He walked up to me, grabbed my gi collar and told me he wasn't going to let go unless I made him. He checked to make sure I was able to breathe OK then told me to begin when I was ready. I used a wrist manipulation/lock he'd shown me many years ago on him and - surprise, surprise! - I was able to peel his steel-trap hands off my gi, lock his elbow and take him to the ground. He was an amazing teacher, so I knew it would work, but I was still surprised it did if that makes sense...

Thinking I was in the clear, Hanshi McGrath  announced that he wanted to see one more technique: an escape from a rear choke. Ironically, one of my students who is in the corrections academy was going over rear chokehold escapes the night before with Training Partner Ed, who is a retired corrections officer. The two escapes they'd worked on were fresh in my head and had I thought about asking Ed if he was wearing a cup, I would have gone with the second one (a slap ---> grab of the gonads before spinning around with said gonads still in hand, LOL). Instead, I went back to "go" and ended up on the floor with Ed, who just didn't stop once I got his hands off my neck. I'm talking leg locks and all that. It was actually kind of funny once Hanshi said "yame!" but while he was trying to flip/trap me, I kept thinking "What the heck is he doing?"

Tameshiwari was next. Ed called my breaks - ax kick through two boards followed by a haito. Here's what he got:

My son, Squirrel, was there to take pictures and video, which was greatly appreciated. Most every sensei I ever trained under was there as well, and it felt really good to see my students do their thing and actually leave the dojo with all my teeth, LOL. That and the amazing baked chicken wings someone made for the Holiday Party that followed were the day's top highlights. Yummy :-D

The best part? No grading talk for four whole years at the very least!!