Yesterday, after 3 years of training, I graded for shodan or first black belt in Aikido at the Aikido Yoshinkan Southside Dojo. It is great to have achieved a milestone such as this. I know there is still so much to learn but this belt will most likely be the most memorable. When I think back over the last three years of training and the other gradings, I realise how far I have travelled on this journey. My first lesson was enough to turn any sensible person completely of training ever again. I rocked up to a brand new dojo after seeing a demonstration about a week before. Being a web developer, I had lived a pretty sedentary life over the previous years and new it was time for a change.
I was the first and only student back then and after the warm up Sensei started to teach me how to roll. Many moons had passed since I had done anything like roll and after a couple I was really in a bad way. The room didn't stop spinning for 3 days. I was suffering badly from motion sickness. Like I said, any sensible person would have said thanks very much, that's all folks. I decided to stick it out for a number of reasons, mainly I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. As I was the only student giving up on after the first day would have been very disappointing to Sensei and his plans to have a world class dojo.
So I stuck to it and watched others come and go. I still remember how nervous and confused I was specially in the early gradings. Standing up after a technique and not knowing if I should be in migi or hidari kamai ( left or right stance ) and being totally lost with the Japanese names for techniques. As time went by I started to remember what stance to take and although it seemed to take forever, remember the Japanese names. Each grading got more difficult in what you were expected to know, and yet somehow more comfortable or relaxed.
Then came the big one, shodan. I had been sick for the week before the grading, missed the last training because I wanted to try and give my body a couple of days to recover before hand. My main concerns were would my nose run, or would I cough up my chest and would I have enough energy to get through the grading. I wasn't worried about the techniques I had to know and there is a lot to know. We have 3 set techniques, ones which we know we have to do, 4 randomly chosen out of over 100 other techniques, then a jiyu waza( continuous throwing set ) that we know and another random set of about 6 to 8 throws.
So I took a couple of day cold tablets to keep my nose from running and off I went. There were four of us doing the shodan grading Tai my uke, Henry and Paul. I was secretly hoping to not have to be uke for any of the other gradings that day but asked to uke for Alister in his 9 kyu or first grading, well at least that was a short easy one. By the end of that grading I was gasping for breath and soaked in sweat. Then there was a couple of other gradings before Tai and I were called up. Lukily for me I was first so I could get it over before I ran out of steam. Honestly I think it was on of my best gradings as far as remembering things, maybe the cold tablet helped. Half way through all I could think of, and it is surprising I had time to think, was how dry my mouth was, I felt like I had been in the Sahara for a week without water. My lungs were burning trying to take in oxygen. Then mine was over and I had to face Tai. Luckily Tai did really well and didn't prolong my agony by having to repeat any techniques. The two jiyu waza's are continuous like I mentioned before and you just keep doing throws until Sensei calls a halt. Sensei wasn't in as much of a hurry as I was to finish, so it seemed like the jiyu waza's were going to keep going and going. Then it was over, Tai and I could finally bow to each other, then Sensei, and sit at on the edge of the mat with the others. I don't remember much of Paul and Henry's grading I was too busy trying to take in oxygen.
Well done Tai, Paul and Henry, and thanks Sensei for building a world class dojo.