The Journey to Black Belt

People have a variety of different reasons for starting Shotokan Karate, to get fit, learn self defence or gain confidence and discipline but whatever the reason one thing is for sure- its HARD work.

I am pleased that Anthony who is currently getting ready to take his Black Belt has taken time out to give us his thoughts and insights:-


3 weeks of Karate Training at Ruach Karate

Tuesday 27th August
My black belt grading is less than 100 days away.
I’ve been a 1st kyu for over eight months. I’ve decided it’s time to kick my training into top gear and go for my shodan in December.
Today, Sensei Russell took charge of training at Cocks Moors Woods Leisure Centre. As usual, he did a non-nonsense, high-speed session with something for every grade. By the end of it, I had taken part in 5 sparring fights (three of which were with black belts) and performed lots of kata (including Kanku Dai.) The sweat was running off me!

Friday 30th August
Tonight’s session was a technical lesson from Sensei Mark. He demonstrated lots of the more detailed side of Karate. Then, right at the end, we blasted through kata Bassai Dai. Splendid!

Saturday 31st August
Martha and I went along to Sensei Tony’s afternoon Karate session at the Village Hotel in Shirley. We did some pad work before the lesson started and I managed to work up quite a sweat. The lesson consisted of 5-step sparring for the lower grades. Martha and I were encouraged to continue our own training by concentrating on ju ippon kumite.
I’m not yet sure what is expected of us in the grading. We went through the defences against the usual 6 attacks – oi zuki jodan and chudan and then the kicks. Sensei Ronnie has shown us several different counter attacks against kizami-zuki and gyaku zuki so we practised those too.
We were certainly working hard with both of us taking some hits and the sweat running off my head. My gi had to be washed as soon as I got home!

Sunday 1st September

I headed off to the advanced class at the Tudor Grange dojo. My legs felt heavy so I made sure I gave them a good stretch before the lesson started.
Sensei Ronnie Christopher set the bar high today. He wanted the best from everyone and he really let them know about it. He demanded that we were aggressive, gave each technique 100% and that we were switched on and sharp at all times.
It wasn’t a lesson that left you feeling good about your Karate. It was the kind of lesson that makes you think about how you could improve. Sensei let us know that, as brown belts, our fitness isn’t what it should be. He said we weren’t aggressive enough, he said we need to think about and develop our combinations.
Some people may have come away from that session feeling bad about themselves. I came away wanting to put things right.
My black belt grading is exactly 3 months away. I can’t remember feeling more determined to succeed in anything.

Tuesday 3rd September
Martha and I went off to the dojo. Sensei Russell was in charge again but this time he was instructing the brown belt students. We had a great session! Sensei Russell had us alternating between kata and kumite without any time to rest in between. I performed 7 different kata and must have sparred with at least 5 different opponents. By the end of the session, the sweat was running down my face. Once again, I’ve been made very aware of my lack of fitness…

Friday 6th September
Tonight’s dojo session was top class. We spent a good deal of the first part of the lesson doing a proper stretch.
The rest of the lesson was team kata practice. I was working with 1st kyu Sean and black belt Jason. We tried hard to stay synchronised in Kanku Dai but we couldn’t manage it. It was good to go through the kata several times and to ask Sensei about some of the detail.
After the lesson, I had a chat with Sensei Jason and discovered that he used to train with Sensei Paul Hexley – my first instructor from nearly 20 years ago!

Saturday 7th September
Martha and I were in a for a bit of a shock this afternoon: We presented our modules to Sensei in the hope that he would be able to sign off some of the elements in it. He thoroughly tested us on our basics including a kicking sequence. I tried to move as fast as I could with the correct form while staying relaxed. We had some extremely useful feedback from Sensei but he couldn’t sign our modules. We’re not ready. He told us that we’d be able to tell when we were ready for black belt.
It was a struggle to stay positive on the way home. Martha took it particularly hard. Maybe the 1st of December is too soon to grade?

Tuesday 10th September
This evening’s Karate session was great – plenty of kihon, kata and kumite.  I practised Kanku Dai at least three times with some of the youngsters at the club – they are lightning fast and soon had me gasping for breath! I was rather sweaty by the time the session had ended. Must get fitter.
I went home feeling better about my karate but with no feedback tonight (there are a lot of students to get round) I don’t know how well I was doing. I’m still considering postponing my grading until the spring but I’d still really like to try to get up to standard by December.

Friday 13th September
Sensei Gary was running the session and the pacing was perfect: we started with very relaxed, slow stretching and the pace gradually built and built into a frantic techniques lesson involving dozens and dozens of kicks and combinations. The sweat was running off me! However, a couple of the chaps I was training with commented on how fit I seem to be at the moment. Maybe all the training is starting to pay off after all?

Saturday 14th September
This afternoon’s Karate session covered basics and the very beginnings of kumite for the young lower grades. Once again, Sensei Gary managed to give the new students a gentle introduction, encourage the orange to purple belts, and really put the pressure on the brown and black belts. All at the same time!
At the end of the session, Martha filmed me performing Kanku Dai.
With Sensei’s input, it gave me a clear idea of all the things I’ve got to work on:

  • I’m performing the kata too quickly.
  • I need to finish each technique.
  • My punches aren’t jodan or chudan but somewhere in between.
  • I’m not bringing my arm back far enough during manji uke
  • I seem to be bending forward for many of the techniques.
  • The jumping kick at the end wasn’t actually a kick – just a bit of a jump forward.


Sunday 15th September

Martha and I attended the 8am squad training session. We were two of only six students who turned up. I guess the early start puts off a lot of people.
Sensei Gary had us stretching and then running. He left us running for a long time and some of the young people looked rather flustered by the end of it. Then we went over the very basics of kata; in fact, we went over the very basics of Karate:  the position of the feet and where the weight should be when we move.
Kumite was next. We did a lot of shadow boxing and focused on the way we move during sparring. Martha found that her belt was coming loose rather a lot (which is an old trick for when you need a rest!)
When we got on to actual sparring I had to dig deep to stay on my toes, I was really very tired. Unfortunately, there were no other adult males at training so I had to concentrate on control when partnered with the youngsters.
By the end of the session, the sweat was running down my face and back. And it was only 9am! What a way to start the day.

This afternoon’s extended Karate session was a great mix of kumite partner work, hitting pads and kata. For me, pad work is always the highlight of any session!  Sensei Ronnie was in a jovial mood and had plenty of Karate stories to tell. After two hours, I went home thoroughly worn out and happy.

Thank you so much Anthony for your blog and I can’t wait for the next instalment, I have every confidence that you will put in 110% effort in preparing for your Black Belt and i’m so pleased to be part of the Journey. OSU!

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