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Martin’s Japan Trip 2008 – Part 4 >> Grading Day

I’ve been a bit slow keeping up with my journal as the days have been very full.  I am currently sitting at Fukuoka ariport waiting for my plane.  My last update was very late on Friday night, or perhaps better described as very earlly Saturday morning, so I’d like to rewind a few days back to Saturday… grading day.

After missing breakfast at the hotel on Friday due to morning training it was nice to have a bit of a sleep in until 6.30am.  Breakfast was a good simple Japanese style buffet breakfast.  I still can’t belive that the hotel provides this kind of breakfast included in the price of just 4990JPY.  Although with the AU$ falling in value so much that works out to be about AU$75, rather than AU$50 that it would have been just 2 months ago.

After breakfast, the growing number of foreigners staying at the Super Hotel jumped into the procession of taxis to the sohonbu dojo.  Everyone started arriving around 8am, which gave us a good bit of time for final grading preparations, as gradings were officially set to start at 9am.  As we got closer and closer to the start time, the dojo was nearly full of grading candidates, 18 people grading in total.  Due to the large number of people grading and the small amount of time, everyone had much less to do for teaching licences than is the normal practice, but that meant it was even more important to do a good performance.

As warm up time drew to a close, the testing panel entered the dojo.  If my memory serves me correctly, the panel consisted of Soke Sensei, Kugizaki Sensei (9th Dan, Kyoshi), Oyama Sensei (8th Dan, Kyoshi), Imamura Sensei (8th Dan, Kyoshi) and Nakashima Sensei (8th Dan, Kyoshi).  Tanaka Sensei (6th Dan, Renshi) was also present in an organisational capacity, but not actually part of the testing panel, at least I don’t think he was.  For those who don’t know who they are, more information about the kyoshi can be found at the sohonbu website.

By the time we got started, I was really nervous.  Normally I don’t get so nervous with things like this, but this time was an exception.  To say the least it was a little intimidating to have to get up in front of Soke Sensei and the Kyoshi on testing panel, with all eyes looking at your every move.

The gradings started with the teaching titles from most junior to most senior, followed by dan ranks from most junior to most senior.  For those candidated grading for both titles and dan ranks that meant they had to get up twice.  After the testing panel entered the dojo, everyone was sent out of the dojo and we were called in one by one.

First to test was Adam McDonald from Lithgow dojo, testing for Jun-Shidoin (assistant instructor).  Followed by Justin Rybie from Canada, who was challening for Shidoin, and then everyone who was challenging for Shihan, 6 people in total, including Mark Snow Sensei and myself from Australia, Hirose Sensei and Mark Waterfield Sensei who both train at the Sohonbu dojo in Japan, and finally Mitchell German and Milton Bourque from Canada.

Because there were so many people grading for shihan, our grading started in pairs, first up was the Japanese duo, then the Aussies, then the Canadians.  For the first part of the grading, we were asked to perform Sanshiryu in pairs as a compulsory kata, which is also the 4th dan grading kata.  Following that one of the pair was sent out of the room and the other would be asked to perform another kata of our choice.  After performing the free choice kata, the first candidate would be sent out and the other candidate would perform their free choice kata.  Then both were asked to come back in and perform the bo kata, Sukugawa no Kon.

When Mark Snow Sensei and I were up, Sanshiryu went well.  I was nervous before I started, but once I got up and got started I started to settle pretty well except for my breathing.  Mark Sensei was first up for his free kata, as I left the dojo, I let out a bit of a sigh of relief.  I must have looked as nervous as I felt as even Noonan Sensei commented with surprise saying that he had never seen me nervous like this before.  When Mark Sensei came out a little while later I went in to perform my free choice kata, I chose bassai.  I had  been given a few pointers from Soke Sensei on Thursday, which I think I managed to work with and did what felt like a good performance.

Then Sakugawa no Kon.  Both Mark Sensei and myself came into the dojo and positioned ourselves so that we had adequate room as Sakugawa no Kon uses quite a bit of space and the Sohonbu dojo is not really that big, only about 8m from front to back and testing panel were using the first 1.5m seated behind a long low table taking notes.  The funny thing was, that Tanaka Sensei asked us both to move back a few steps, he must have thought we were going to run into the Kyoshi.  Of course we stepped back but we both knew that it was going to make the space a little tight as there is one section of the kata in particular where you step back in shiko dachi striking kirikaeshi to the knee.  Throughout the kata I had to adjust the size of my step little by little because I knew if I didn’t I would definitely run out of space, and I had a stack of tournament mats right behind me for the kakedameshi.  In the end I think I got it just about right, as the tip of my bo ended up about 5-10cm from the stack of mats.  Mark Sensei didn’t adjust, instead, he made use of the open sliding door behind him, ending up half out of the dojo.

After us, the Canadian duo were up to do the same kind of thing, then the Japenese and Aussie Shihan candidates were asked back in to perform a set of self defence techniques, either Henshuho or Nage no Kata.  We all chose to do Nage no Kata, which is a set of 15 different throwing techniques.  I was Mark Sensei’s partner and he got to perform first.  Back on the Sunshine Coast, we train on tournament mats, but for the grading Nage no Kata was performed on wooden floor, so our breakfalling technique had to be spot on.  There were a few times when I hit the floor pretty hard, but that’s the nature of the game.  When it was my turn, I got started and thought I was doing pretty well, but about half way through, the Kyoshi suggested that I should be finishing off my partner after throwing, I was just focusing on the throw.  Of course that made me a bit more nervous, so on one of the next techniques that nervous energy came out as a punch to Mark Sensei’s ribs after I had thrown him to the floor.  Of course I didn’t mean to make contact as hard as I did, but after a few very deep breaths he got up and we continued.  It was not the best Nage no Kata that I have ever done, but in the  end it was OK.

Once we had our part done, it was interesting to sit back and watch the various reactions of people as stepped into and out of the dojo with their turn to perform.

Surpisingly, the last person finished about 12:15, to be honest I thought it would have taken longer than that even with the condensed format.  Then everyone was asked to re-enter the dojo while the grading panel went into the tatami room to discuss what they had seen.  While this was going on, everyone who graded got together for some photos. I didn’t take any, but when I get a hold of some I’ll post them.

Around 12:30, they came out, everyone lined up and they announced the results.  All Australians who had stepped up to grade had passed, including me, so it was a very good result for Australian Chito-Ryu.

  • Adam McDonald Sensei graded Jun-Shidoin
  • Shane Ker Sensei graded to 3rd Dan
  • Mark Snow Sensei and I graded to Shihan
  • Mike Noonan Sensei graded to Renshi and 6th Dan

All around nearly everyone graded to new levels, there were just a few exceptions with candidates that required a bit more work.

Following the grading we had about an hour break in which time we went across the main road from the sohonbu for lunch at the local Ajisen Ramen resturant, which also happened to be one of the sponsors for the Kakedameshi tournament.

Following lunch, there was an ICKF international meeting.  This is the first one that I have attended, as it was for many of the people who were there.  It was quite a formal meeting in that everyone was dressed in official uniform in a large meeting room.  While it’s perhaps not appropriate to discuss the content of the meeting in detail in this medium, a very large part of the meeting was devoted to getting to know everyone in order to start building stronger relationships between countries.

Here are a few photos from the meeting , courtesy of Inazuka Sensei.

R-L:  Fraser Clarke Sensei & Christina Clarke Sensei (Scotland), myself and Mike Noonan Sensei (Australia).
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Towards the end of the meeting, Soke Sensei shared some old 8mm video footage of O Sensei, which also featured quite a bit of Kugizaki Sensei and also Inazuka Sensei, taken about 50 years ago.  In recent years, there have been many old foreign instructors who have claimed to be experts in Chito-Ryu because they have trained with O Sensei, and perhaps feel that they know better than the current Soke.  While it may have been true that they did train with O Sensei, Kugizaki Sensei made it very clear that Soke Sensei is THE authority on Chito-Ryu and has clearly followed in his father’s direction capturing the essence of Chito-Ryu unlike anyone else has been able to do.  Kugizaki Sensei also made it clear that he felt he had authority to speak on this topic, due to the fact that as a young man, he had left his position in the Japanese Self Defence Force to live near the Sohonbu and trained every morning and night with O Sensei for the next 10 years.

This was the first time that I had seen any of this video footage and there is said to be loads more that was made especially for Soke Sensei so that he could continue to study and capture the essence of O Sensei’s technique even after he had passed away.  We were also told that some parts of this footage will be made publicly available in the near future, which I personally am very excited about, as there is very little footage around of O Sensei that is publicly available.

The meeting went over-time and eventually finished about 5:30pm.  From there we caught a taxi back to the hotel got changed quickly into some more comforatble clothes and most of the foreign deligates got together for dinner at a great Japanese style resturant.  Dinner was great, company was great, and most had a relatively early night, as there were a couple of us who were ented in the Kakedameshi the next day.  I got back to the hotel about 10pm, but still had a few things to do:  washing, onsen while I was waiting for washing, mould my new mouthguard and pack my bag ready for the next day.

Here are a few photos from the dinner:

Christina and Fraser Clark (Scotland)
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Heyton Tze and Emily Wong (Hong Kong)
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L-R: Milton Bourque, Mitchell German and John Show (Canada)
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L-R: Milton Bourque, Mitchell German, John Show and Soke Sensei
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Following this I caught up with Sandra and the kids via skype.  Even though it had only been a few days I was missing them all so much!  So much for an early night, I ended up getting to bed about 1.30am…