Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Friendliest Rival

Erica here!

I mentioned in my earlier post that that my first competition will be in October. Even though it's months away, I'm still rather nervous. I think once you get to a certain level it's easy to forget how you felt when you first experience something.

I think it becomes a sort of emotional blur where you remember on the most dramatic and intense periods, which are relieved on a more basic emotional level. You remember the overall feeling of being nervous, or excited, but the details are lost as you come to focus more on present priorities and current goals.

So of course, while I feel tension about the competition, most of the people in the dojo tell me everything will be fine-and I'm sure it will. However, it's always awesome when you can experience an emotion at the same time as someone else. I love being able to share my difficulties and successes with the one other blue belt (she passed to!) who I occasionally practice with. Since she is the only adult that I know of that is around my level, I suppose we could be considered "friendly rivals". I think we really encourage each other because of our shared experience.

At first, she had no intention to enter the competition but then Arakawa Sensei asked her on the basis that if she didn't, I might be the only one competing(because of our lower level) and the fact that I begged her to enter too, for moral support! So eventually she gave in. Yesterday, though, she told me she was only going to do the Kata, NOT the Kumite! So I suppose I'll be going that alone. She had a good laugh at my shocked face though, haha.

Anyhow, since we often talk about our struggles, she took the time to print out a sheets that outlines different points about performing two different Kata that we will probably need to perform: Pinan Nidan, and Pinan Shodan. Plus, she took the time to handwrite all of the furigana for the Kanji on all TWELVE sheets so that I could be sure to read it.

There was so much detail! I was very touched and motivated by her effort!

It's so nice to know that support at Shiramizu is available on so many different levels and even among "rivals".

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Birthday Fun

Erica here!

Recently, Sensei had his 44th birthday!

Arakawa Sensei holding a birthday gift: Flowers from the dojo members!

A large group of people from the dojo celebrated the occasion at an izakaya near Tobu-Dobutsu Koen station. While it's always inspiring to see everyone working so hard to improve their karate or kihon at our training sessions, Sensei's party was a wonderful chance to see everyone outside of their usual "karate-mode". The guys ordered a lot of beer so of course they were bursting with energy throughout the night. Everyone could see they were having a great time. Because I try to stay within a pretty tight budget, I don't go out to eat very often. Therefore, it was nice to splurge a bit and try a bunch of different foods all night. However, there were a lot of fish dishes, and unfortunately, since I have an allergy to seafood, there were so many things I couldn't try!

Eating, talking, drinking and laughing at Sensei's birthday celebration.

The most important thing was that Sensei seemed to enjoy the night. He is usually smiling anyway, but it's always good to see the person of honor having a nice time at their special event. I hope 44 is a great year for him!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Test Time!

Erica Here!

Several Saturdays ago I had my first ever Karate belt test! When I got to the testing site, I immediately realized that it probably would have been beneficial to have asked someone to take me to see one beforehand, or at least read about them on this blog. What was I thinking! I was feeling alright hours before the test, but just before it, I suddenly became terribly nervous. This was because as I was driving to the Satte Dojo (where the test was held) I misunderstood what Arakawa Sensei said about the testing process, and inadvertently psyched myself out. Therefore, I thought it would be nice if for the next intern, (and those of you just wondering), I could present a pretty thorough run-through of the Shiramizu Belt test.

First, the students are informed of the kyu test (pre-black belt) about a month in advance, and the test is conducted in groups. I'm not quite sure how the groups are divided, but I believe my group was for adults who were not black belts, and the junior high school students who were not black belts. As for the adults, there was one white belt (me), one yellow belt, and one brown belt adult. The middle school testers were all green and brown belts.

(Richard here - normally people are grouped together in 3 to 5 people at a time of the same belt rank level, which range from kyu 9 to kyu 1, with 1 being the highest. Black belt tests are done separately by Wadokai associations judges at a different time, normally one or twice a year for the whole prefecture.)

Because the Sensei come in and set up early, the students have an opportunity to practice beforehand and ask any last minute questions. In my case, I practiced my Kata and Kihon for about 30 minutes before the test.

The test is about 2 hours long from start to finish. However, my misunderstanding just before the test led me to think that everyone would be actively doing something for 2 hours, so I started panicking! But luckily, I was mistaken. Instead, the large group is divided into smaller sub-groups of similar ability and each group is then tested for a certain skill for about 10 minutes while everyone else watches. The lowest ranking belts are tested in each area first, which meant myself and the yellow belt started things off as we were tested together. I was nervous about that aspect of the test, because I had never demonstrated any of my Karate in front of a group before, and since I went first, I didn't know what to expect!

Some things to note, all of which I didn't do (or delayed in doing):
When the Sensei call your name, you are supposed to say "Hai".
Just before you start, you should turn to the Sensei and say "Onegaishimasu" doing a slight bow.
You are supposed to do Kiai (battle cry) with each karate move…not just the end of a set of 5, or 10, etc. (editor - this is dependent on the person running the test, sometimes one kiai or no kiai are required.)
When you finish that portion of the testing, you go back to sit down (walking behind others instead of in front), say "Onigashimasu" and do the deep, floor-level bow.

I'm not sure how important these things are for passing or not, but I'm sure proper etiquette factors in somehow.
(editor - the test is about technical ability first and foremost - how well someone bows after they go sit down in normally inconsequential.)

The first portion of the test was Kihon, and it is tested group by group. The Kihon differs depending on the ability of the students. After the Kihon, there was a slight break period (about 10 minutes) where we could practice for the next portion: Kata.

The Kata is also tested in groups. I wasn't sure exactly how it worked, but some people had to perform one Kata, some people had to perform two, and some people could choose the Kata they wanted to demonstrate. People in the same group did not always preform the same Kata. In my case, I did Pinan Nidan while the yellow belt did two other Kata which I am still unfamiliar with.
(editor - everyone pretty much knows what kata relate to which kyu ranks and a month prior it is announced which kata are expected of each level being tested, normally with 2 to 3 kata required, except for complete beginners like Erica who only know one kata).

After Kata, Kumite (sparring) is tested. As a white belt, I didn't do this part, but the more advanced students were paired off and faced each other on opposite sides of the room. Each pair then did a bit of sparring and that was that.

During the test, several Sensei observe in the front of the dojo, and take notes. After everyone has been tested, the Sensei take about 10 or 15 minutes to review their notes and talk with each other and after that, they announce the results to everyone, one by one, and offer some explanation, particularly for the people who didn't pass. It's a surprisingly quick process.

When I went into the test, I didn't know exactly what the Sensei were looking for. Richard told me that at my level, it's basically the fact that you know the basic commands and that you "do them with effort". I'm the kind of person likes a checklist of sorts and a clear line of passing and failure before a test, so that criteria left me unsure about how things would go right until the end. Unfortunately, I didn't really understand much of the explanations given, but I did understand one thing: I passed! That means I am now a blue belt! I was very surprised, but of course, I was happy.
I still don't have my own to wear yet...but soon!

Though I still know I have such a long way to go, I think the best thing about the entire process was knowing I could pass once. That thought gave me more confidence concerning the advancement of my Karate skills and more motivation for the future. I'll definitely need that, because yesterday, Arakawa Sensei told me I had to sign up for my first competition…which will be in October!