The last 18 months of quarterly gradings have followed a trend of ever increasing numbers as our group continues to grow and more people are ready to challenge their next rank. At the grading on Sunday 9th March, the numbers were once again high and this time a larger venue was used. The main comment from Sensei Chris Denwood was that even though improvements always need to be made, the overall standard is steadily improving month after month.
The grading was split into a morning and afternoon sessions with those grading up to 8th Kyu (yellow belts) taking up the earlier session. There were plenty of first time graders challenging provisional or full 9th Kyu red belts. Josh Hernden was one of those as his mum, Dorothy, watched for the first time: I asked her for her thoughts:
I wasn't sure what to expect when I took my son to his first grading. As a typical 15 year old, Josh is very non committal and 'chilled' about most things although I did observe some serious practice in the days before.
The afternoon session for those grading to 7th Kyu (orange belt) and above once again brought with it a tense atmosphere, expected as the challenge becomes more demanding with increasing rank. These gradings tend to be dominated by the performances of kata and the partner work (blocks, bunkai, pad-work and sparring). From my own experience I know how demanding the
partner work is and there is always an increased air of energy and expectation when this part of the grading begins.
Unlike the solo work such as kihon and kata, which can be trained at home, practice time for partner work is much more at a premium! It also requires each pair to work well with each other and a key skill in karate is being able to 'read' your partner and adjusting your movements accordingly. This is even more difficult if a partner is allocated to you on the grading day, or a senior grade (Sempai) is asked to step in to assist.
Helping out at a grading can be a huge responsibility for the sempai and from my own experience on Sunday, it can be every bit as adrenaline inducing! It's a good reminder to sempai how important it is to maintain all aspects of karate to the standard expected of their rank and not to just focus on the relatively small number of new techniques, combinations or kata required for their own level.
In this respect, I think that fellow 5th Kyu Kelvin McDonald deserves a mention for stepping in to help out at very short notice to partner some kohai during the morning session, in addition to those he'd already planned to help in the afternoon session. I'd recommend that all sempai should help out at a grading now and then - It really does focus the mind and help to further embed earlier training.
Congratulations to all who graded on Sunday and especially to Luke Watson, who came away with a first class pass, an award reserved only for exceptional performances!
The photo above has captured a very special moment just after the senior grading on Tuesday 25th February when our chief instructor, Sensei Chris Denwood, was presented with his 5th Dan Award by his longest serving student and lifelong friend, Peter Sempie. The presentation was a complete surprise to all the members and spectators present, not to mention a total bolt from the blue for Chris.
A couple of our senior members, most notably Terry Ross, along with help from Peter, had secretly approached our governing body, The Federation of English Karate Organisations (F.E.K.O), to present a formal case for their executive committee to consider awarding a 5th Dan rank to Chris.
In our style of karate, grades up to 3rd Dan are awarded based on technical examination in front of a panel against a set syllabus. Senior ranks of 4th Dan and above are honorary grades, which are awarded in recognition of achievements, ongoing personal development and contribution of skill, knowledge, loyalty and experience in Karate for the betterment of others at local, national and international levels. These senior ranks are subject to the judgement of seniors, peers and national governing bodies.
Terry (himself a 4th Dan teacher at his Lancaster Kentai Karate club and now a rapidly ascending student at our E.S.K.K dojo), spoke for us all at when he put forward his letter to F.E.K.O:
"Chris has dedicated his life to his own personal study and growth in traditional karate. His skills in the art are very impressive and on this fact alone, I beleive he is worthy of 5th Dan. However, that is only a small portion of what Chris is all about. He has a deep passion to understand the traditional side of karate and to pass on this knowledge as an inspirational teacher, renowned author and producer of quality instructional DVD's. His body of work for such a young man once again warrants a grade promotion in my honest opinion. Chris' passion, knowledge and his thoughtful approach to our beloved art is comparable to that of many esteemed Sensei with whom I have trained under for many years. Chris was also inducted into the Martial Arts Combat Hall of Fame in 2011, which again shows how well his commitment to the betterment of karate has been received by others and tells of their opinion of Chris too."
Terry didn't need to mention the sterling work Chris has undertaken within his own local community to promote the benefits of martial arts, representing traditional karate at international expos for many years, travelling to Okinawa in order to seek tuition at the very birthplace of our art and indeed, his commitment to the growth and development of E.S.K.K Martial Arts and Fitness, recently giving up a twenty year career in engineering to pursue the study of karate full-time.
To many of us, Chris is a great friend. To all of our members, he is an inspiration and a fantastic role model. His award of 5th Dan is a fitting reflection of all his hard work, dedication and the support he gives to all of us who are privileged to be his students.
Chris is just about the most humble person I know and is incredibly modest about his achievements. He does not seek accolades - only personal growth for himself and his students. It is therefore also very fitting that the most senior of his students have helped make such recognition a reality. I hope you all will join them and me in saying...
Congratulations Sensei - we are all very proud of you!