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No, I didn’t fail it last night. I’ve made it to 1st kyu (brown belt), and now the black belt is within my grasps. It seems like only yesterday that Ryan and I were complete beginners, and now we’re preparing for the big one. I could be going for the instructor certificate also between now and then.

There were a few surprises on the night. The first was I could counter every attack almost flawlessly, but try as I might, I couldn’t pull off the techniques I wanted, the techniques I’ve been drilling every session the last several months. Everything was happening so fast that I was falling back on whatever came naturally.
Also, because I was almost wasted halfway through the previous grading, I was determined to stay relaxed throughout, and consequently things went much easier than what I was mentally prepared for.
Several junior grades were awarded their orange belts, and another a blue belt. I was really impressed with the smoothness and precision of their movements. There comes a certain kind of pride in seeing junior grades perform well and achieve the next level.

The following are my comments on the grading syllabus.

Part 1A: Ki Tests
Nothing new here, and there were just three tests. I’ve never seen anyone fail at this stage.

Part 1B: Techiques
We did all the 6th form techniques, and around ten other randomly selected. We couldn’t have spent more than ten minutes on this.

Part 2A: Bokken Kata
Definitely the easiest part of the grading. You could actually use this as an opportunity to recover before the two-man attack.

Part 2B: Jo Kata
This one requires several months’ practice, as there are 25 steps to memorise. Each movement is an attack or a defence, and they must appear that way to the examiners. I bollixed up a couple of steps towards the end, but correct handling is more important.

Part 3A: Defences Against the Knife
Five defences against the knife must be demonstrated. The easy option is to focus on 6th form attacks, but for the purposes of self-defence, you’d want at least three 7th-form techniques here. I had a system for memorising them, and I drilled them over the months leading up to the grading:

  • 2x Defences against 6th form: Sankyo and Gokyo techniques against a cutting and stabbing attack respectively. Be wary of the temptation to repeat Gokyo when under pressure.
  • 3x Defences against 7th form stab. One Kote-gaeshi and the other Shiho-nage. These attacks and defences are, I think, the easiest to learn, drill and execute against the most likely knife attacks. Lastly, there’s a riskier defence against a 7th form stab, and this entails blocking and trapping the opponents arm.

It’s a good idea to spend a few sessions experimenting to see what techniques you could make from each entry.

Part 3B: Defences Against the Jo
Same as above. Decide which techniques you’re going to use and drill them every week. Whatever you do, it should end with a projection or throw from the end of the weapon.

Part 3C: Defences Against the Bokken
Two defences must be demonstrated against the bokken. The entry is easy, as you simply turn to avoid the downward cut, as the attacker comes forward, then draw him in whichever direction. If you counter with the left hand, you’d get a Kote-gaeshi, and if blocking with the right hand, you’d draw into a Shiho-nage. Simple.

Part 4: Two-Man Attack
Two attackers running at you for 1 minute. This is officially a free-form demonstration, but the examiners are looking for variety, perhaps some level of improvisation and not being reliant on physical strength.

Part 5: Suwari-Waza
Eight techniques are to be performed from the kneeling position. This is incredibly easy, since there are ~60 techniques to choose from.