Shodan Journey

By: Zeke Ezra – IOGKF Australia

It seems like while ago that I graded for my 1st Kyu.  It was April 2009 some four and a half years since I commenced Karate in October 2003 having never previously done any martial arts.  Nor had I done any exercise other than gardening for around 30 years.  I was nudging fifty eight years of age when I started Karate and have recently written an article about age being no barrier to Karate.  In it I stated categorically that it had helped me achieve the fitness levels and strength that I feared I would not have to ensure the lifestyle I wished to pursue as I approached retirement from the work force.

When I graded for 1st Kyu I was a sixty two and a half year old who had worked hard to get there.  While I had enjoyed the process and learnt a lot about some aspects of Karate going the next step to Shodan was always problematic.  I had already cut back work to about three days a week and while I still worked in Canberra where the Club exists I lived the rest of the time in the Southern Highlands of NSW.  This meant additional training with others on the weekends was not an easy option. Also I had other interests that I had waited for a while to enjoy.  I had reached a hiatus with my training and felt that I could now just maintain my fitness and training at a steady level that did not need to include the pressure of grading any further.  I attended training fairly regularly but as they say there is no such thing as standing still.  You are either going forward or backwards.  I definitely was not doing the former so early in 2010 I decided to have a talk to Sensei Joe (Roses) my instructor who had always encouraged and motivated me without any pressure being applied.

Sensei told me that I could be proud of what I had achieved but Karate had so much more to offer.  If I was going to spend the time to continue training I should keep researching and learning at the same time as part of that process.  He felt it would provide the additional motivation which did not in itself mean I should aim to grade to Shodan but would at least make me feel that I was moving forward once again.  He was forthright and told me that I was not ready to grade yet and that when he felt I was, he would at least let me know.  The rest was up to me.

I felt this was good advice and started to approach the class sessions differently.  With instructors like Sensei Joe and Sensei Ari (Takkinen) alternating the training each week and with my mind on understanding rather than just training it seemed more enjoyable.  With all their years of experience they had never stopped researching to find more efficient ways of using our bodies and minds to become better at our craft.  Boy did I have a long way to go and so much to learn.  This was how I was going to maintain my motivation to continue and it soon became apparent to me that my journey from 1st Kyu to Shodan had already begun.

Around the middle of the year Sensei Joe, true to his word, quietly told me that grading was a possibility by the end of the year.  One draw back was my lack of ability to train on weekends with senior instructors as I lived a four hour round trip away from Canberra.  He then suggested that as I was only a two hour round trip away from Goulburn that I should approach Sensei D J Lambert to see if he would assist me.  Sensei Lambert was not just willing but totally accommodating to fit me in at my convenience.  Friday mornings on my way from Canberra via Goulburn, Saturday mornings at his regular class and then a one on one session after class and any other time I wished to train.  Kata, bunkai and more with Sensei Lambert was supplementing my now regular attendance at training in Canberra.

The November regional Seminar in Goulburn was identified as my grading venue by Sensei Joe.  I was now well into reading the History of Karate by Sensei Higoanna for a second time and the various DVD’s I had accumulated were getting a lot of playing time rather than shelf time.  I was now just over a month away from the day and I was building both physically and mentally.  I had come a long way in this time and only something unforeseen was going to slow me down or stop me grading.  My harder than usual training had put a strain on my left shoulder which would now regularly get sore but physiotherapy and other such remedies were sufficient to allow me to handle this.

Then just four weeks from the Seminar date I developed a sore throat and came down with a flu virus.  I was not concerned as I immediately sought medical help and the antibiotics prescribed I felt sure would clear this up in a week as they had always done.  I still attended training but took it a bit easy.  At the end of the third week and on my third dose of antibiotics I was still affected.  It seemed that continuing to train was also hindering my recovery and yet stopping now might effect my fitness at a time I needed to peak.  The grading was now just a week away.  The funny thing was I was not overly concerned.  I had done the physical part of the training and now needed to focus on the mind and spirit.  So much of this was being brought home to me in the reading I had been doing.  After all November 21 was merely one day in the journey that had so far taken six years.  It was a journey that I had been enjoying as much for the physical conditioning as for the better understanding and appreciation of Karate I was developing in more recent times.

On the 21 November I was ready.  The day was energetic and full.  My grading had already commenced some months ago and was culminating in what the afternoon had in store.  I held nothing back that day and felt exhausted but exhilarated when grading ended.  I was congratulated on achieving my Shodan level.  To most non practioners the words “black belt” seems to have a credibility in martial arts as if it is the end of the journey.  For me it had already become apparent the real journey was just beginning.  Achieving my Shodan merely gave me the right to continue the journey but with a different focus.  Like an apprentice who gets his full license it does not make you any more experienced or skillful the next day.  It is recognition though that you have done what has been deemed necessary to gain the respect and confidence in your discipline.  I had already learned that “standing still” was not a real option either.  I am not putting any timeframes on it but will be waiting for that quiet word from Sensei Joe once again.  In the meantime I intend to enjoy myself and my Karate in the process. 

Finally my sincere thanks go to Sensei Joe Roses, Sensei Ari Takkinen and last but not least to Sensei D J Lambert.  They along with many of the black belts in my class have encouraged, motivated and assisted me to date and I look forward with enthusiasm to the years ahead.