Martial Arts Blogs A Journey to Shodan: My Shodan Grading.

Monday, February 27, 2012

My Shodan Grading.

When I left my house I admit I was nervous, but as soon as I walked in the door and bowed into the Dojo, my nerves seemed to disappear. It felt like any other night; the space looked the same, smelled the same, felt the same and I managed to push aside any feelings of anxiety I'd been suffering from during the preceding weeks. I looked at the clock and reasoned with myself that in two hours, this would all be over, I just needed to get myself through it in the best way I know how. I knew my Basics, I knew my Kata and my Bunkai was prepared. I knew I would make mistakes and was at peace with that.

At 7pm myself, my three Sensei’s and Sempai lined up and I bowed us all in – and then it began. Basics lasted about 25 minutes and thankfully I was allowed to omit my back kicks due to my lingering groin injury. I was so concerned about the injury (or making it worse that night) that I completely forgot about the kick combination I would be expected to do, which had a back kick in it – and when I was called to do the combination I froze... I hadn't thought of what I would replace that kick with, so on a whim I threw a set of four kicks together and went with it. Not the shining moment of the evening, but I was allowed to move on, so perhaps it wasn't all bad.

Next came Kata. I was asked to start with Heian Shodan and continue through Tekki Shodan. I had to start each one at a new 90 degree angle, so I was really happy that I had practiced all of my Kata facing different directions. It certainly came in handy and I didn’t blank out or become disoriented due to the change of direction. One of my biggest concerns about the test was that I would draw a blank in a Kata I had done hundreds of times. I’m happy to report that didn’t happen.

For a change of pace, the Katas were stopped and out came the boards. I was told to break boards however I chose, so I started with a Gyaku Zuki. Now, we never practice breaking boards – ever – and my feeling is that without being properly taught how to break boards, it is an injury waiting to happen, and case in point I was in the hospital on Sunday getting my still-swollen hand X-Rayed for a possible fracture.
However, this being my Shodan grading I didn’t want to object in front of a crowd so I broke four boards, one by punch, two by hammer fist and one with a side-kick. My right hand has certainly seen better days.

Then it came time to spar. I was expecting to spar with a fellow student, however one of my Sensei’s stood up and put his gear on. He definitely got the best of me, but I did manage to get in a few good kicks and punches to the head and body which felt fantastic. By the time it was over I was relieved and out of breath, so I removed my gear very slowly in order to catch my breath in preparation for what was to come next.

My pre-shodan and Shodan Katas were next, still facing different directions. Again, I’m happy for the practice because this second set of Kata didn’t disorient me either. Mixed in amongst the Kata were my Bunkai – which I admit could have gone a bit better. I did draw a few blanks but I won’t beat myself up over that, I was simply asked to start again and each time I was able to recover and get through it.

My cardio was decent as well - but I took the time to breathe between sets which I'm sure helped. I was so worried after last Sunday's pre-test that I think I really slowed down and paced myself - I didn't want to be gasping for air through the whole test.

As expected it did seem to go by fast and at some points I was thinking - "wow, I'm done that Kata already...I barely remember doing it!" I just really hope I didn't rush things and miss the details, I practiced so hard for this and the point is to 'show what you know', not rush through it.

After my last Kata was complete, I thought the test was over, but I was asked to perform one final Kata of my choice for the audience and to make it the best I'd ever done. I chose Empi – my favourite. I felt like I really rocked that one out, knowing that I was only moments away from receiving my black belt. I finished, kneeled down and closed my eyes.

Then came the moment where I stood up and accepted my certificate, and next my belt. Only the belt was being presented to me in a beautiful leather case - which I'd never seen happen with other students receiving their Shodan. As my Sensei was removing it from the case he told me that this was a gift from my husband, and he presented me with a Satin black belt with an embroidered Shotokan label. It is beautiful! Certainly an unexpected surprise.

I was SO relaxed come Saturday I couldn't stop smiling. I actually spent a day NOT thinking about February 24, the list of grading requirements, breaking boards, sparring, my cardio, kata, bunkai, combinations, basics....

What's next? Well, I'll give my hand another few days rest and then I'll be back at it - it's time to learn a new Kata.


  1. Sounds like a pretty tough grading! You clearly put on a good performance - congratulations again...

  2. Congratulations again! You did it - and should be very happy with/proud of your performance! Heal fast :-)

  3. Thanks Sue and Felicia - I appreciate your support and kind words now, and over the past few years as I have been blogging about my experiences. It is a great relief to have successfully passed the test - it still hasn't sunk in yet.
    My hand is slowly on the mend - no fracture thankfully! It is a very colourful array of browns and yellows at the moment, but I look forward to my first class as a Shodan tomorrow night...and I won't be punching anything!

  4. It's great you were able to recall that much of the test. A lot of times it can become a big blur :-)

    I hope your injuries heal up. If you ever find yourself in the position of being a Sensei and conducting tests, don't do breaking unless the students have been trained in it for years.

    1. Thanks Matt - I am really glad I managed to capture as much as possible in this Blog following my grading. With time the details have faded, but now I can read my post and recall everything!

      I completely agree about the boards. I would never ask anyone to break boards - my knuckle still isn't right almost five months later! I've seen it now at a number of Shodan Gradings and every time someone injures themselves to some degree. Proper training is required and at our Dojo, that simply doesn't happen.