Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chiba Dan test

Photo taken from

Carl here,

Let me start with an apology to the readers, we don't have any cool pictures of the Dan grading because although we took the camera with us, we somehow forgot to take the camera battery!

A few weeks ago I made the somewhat innocent mistake of asking Arakawa Sensei what a new poster on the dojo wall said. He told me that it was an upcoming Dan Test in Chiba, as I was walking away he asked ’Carl, you trying?’ As I’m sure I’ve explained before, that translates into English as ‘Carl you are trying?’. So, that’s how I found myself lining up with maybe 20 other Dan grade candidates at the Shiramizu dojo, ready to take part in a ‘Pre-Dan Test’ for my Nidan (2nd Dan).

Shiramizu Pre-Dan Test
This pre-Dan test is a quality control for maintaining the very high standard of the Shiramizu black belts. Arakawa Sensei only lets the very best try for the next belt!

All candidates had to perform two Kata and then some free-fighting. I wasn’t concerned about the kumite, I know I can hold my own with most fighters; the Kata though, was a different matter!

I performed Chinto & Wanshu. I say ‘performed’; it was really an attempt at fumbling through the various movements. If I had performed them on my own, they would have probably been passable; however I had to follow all Shiramizu high school kids who are all great at kata. Anyway, the Shiramizu instructors were feeling particularly charitable and so Okayed me to try for Nidan.

Amy was also allowed to try for Nidan, despite only being a Shodan for 8 or 9 months. However, it was decided that her kata wasn’t strong enough yet by Shiramizu standards.

Chiba Dan Test
The Dan test was being held on Sunday 15th March near Disney Land Tokyo in Chiba, this is only maybe a 90 minute car ride from Sugito so we had a late start (10am-ish!) to get to the venue for the 12 o’clock start time. There were 13 students from Shiramizu attempting the next belt. Those of us who were travelling from the dojo lined up as we would at the start of class and bowed in, Uehara* Sensei wished us all luck, and asked us to try our best.

*Arakawa Sensei was teaching at a Wadokai Training Camp that he’d helped organise in Satte City during the same weekend as this Dan Test. So he couldn't be at the Dan Grading.

Photo taken from the blog of Arakawa Sensei

We had a few minutes to get changed, stretch off and register, and then everyone lined up. The hall was far too small for the 150+ people training. We were packed wall to wall. One of the instructors put us through a few basics. Then we were given 10 minutes to practise our Kihon Kumite drills and kata. We lined up once more for a standing bow and then the test began. 128 people were taking various tests from 1st Dan through to 5th Dan.

Photo taken from the blog of Arakawa Sensei

I was a little concerned that we would be tested 5 people at a time, in front of a grading panel of 10 high ranking Japanese Sensei! I was also aware that this test was going to take hours!

All grades went through the same program, with a few differences or additions as you go up the grades, everyone performed the same Ido-Kihon followed by two kata and then sat down. Once everyone had performed part 1 the day was getting late, the examiners decided to split the test in two 5 examiners for Shodan candidates and 5 for everyone else.

Photo taken from the blog of Arakawa Sensei

We were then marshalled into pairs to perform our chosen Kihon Kumite followed by free fighting. I was paired up with Lawrence, who was trying for Sandan. We’d only managed to train together a few times with Lawrence training at Shiramizu on Saturdays and I went to his high school (Seiritsu) in Akabane to train on a couple of mornings before I went to work in Nerima. Despite this, we had Kihon Kumite number 4 & 5 looking good.

Despite fumbling the take down on ‘number 5’ a little and planting a solid round house kick on Lawrence’ face during the free fighting, we got through the test unscathed.

We had a short wait to find out if we passed or failed, all but two people from Shiramizu passed including myself and Lawrence. I was a little disappointed with my performance, especially my kata, I actually wanted to give up my Dan grade and start again as a beginner! I’ve worked hard to ‘fix’ my kata over the last 9 months in Japan, but it’s still not where it needs to be. There’s nothing to be done but get back to training…

Oh, I can also honestly say that the test made me feel the most nervous I’ve ever felt in my life!

During the next Shiramizu adult class, the instructors were shaking my hand congratulating me and Uehara Sensei, who speaks great English, said that I’d done well. I denied it and said I’d performed terribly, he laughed and said ‘yes, but other people were more terrible!’. It made me laugh so I thought I’d share it with the blog readers!

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