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!