Road to black belt: Stamina

Road to black belt: Stamina

Hi I’m Tanya. I’m currently a 1st Kyu (brown with 2 white stripes) and I’m hoping to grade for first Dan in June. There are 6 of us at Senshi Karate who are also hoping to grade to Shodan (First Dan).

Sensei Frank suggested I write a blog about the journey to becoming a first Dan and the preparation that Dan grading requires. I thought it was a great idea: firstly, to demystify the process, and secondly, to inspire those of you who are steadily climbing the kyu grades and looking to reach your black belt in the not-too-distant future.

So, first things first… what is a Dan grading?

The first Dan grading is very similar to a Kyu grading and is split into 4 sections:

  1. Kihon – combinations of techniques that you do across the dojo to an imaginary opponent
  2. Kata – your grading kata plus the examiners choice of previous kata
  3. Jiyu ippon kumite (pronounced ‘Joo ipp-on’). This is semi-free sparring with announced attacks to your opponent.
  4. Jiyu kumite (pronounced ‘Joo’). Approximately 3 minutes of free sparring with an opponent. Virtually any technique, any timing, any combination. And don’t forget they’re attacking you back!

In this post I want to concentrate on something which we all need but becomes more important the further up the karate ladder you get… stamina.


Karate is primarily an anaerobic sport – small bursts of intense energy, speed and power – rather than sustained effort (like jogging or cycling). You need a generally good level of fitness but having good stamina is going to see you across the finishing line. The grading follows the order above. This means Jiyu kumite (free-sparring) – by far the hardest part mentally and physically – is left to last.

But here’s the thing. As you’re putting maximum effort into your grading, you will steadily become more and more fatigued as you go along. The grading is designed to test your mettle as well as your karate. As you begin to tire, your muscles become slower, your energy levels start to dip, your concentration starts to lose focus… and BANG! you’ve just dropped your guard and been hit. We can’t let that happen! The 3 minutes of free sparring at the end of your grading, once you’re already fatigued, will honestly feel like a lifetime. Stamina, the ability to stay stronger for longer, will be your best friend and secret weapon in those 3 minutes.

So, what can you do to build stamina?

Well the obvious place to start is in your karate lessons. Train as though you are grading. Never just go through the motions but PUSH YOURSELF in every lesson. The only way to build karate stamina is to work HARD in every session so that over time it has a cumulative effect and your body becomes accustomed to the physical exertion. For me, I find lots of little mental games to play with myself to make sure I’m pushing myself constantly – Can I kick faster than the person next to me? Can I do this kata in a deeper stance? Can I make more distance in my punches? It doesn’t really matter what the ‘games’ are; I’m in a competition with myself to improve and it keeps me focused on trying as hard as I can during each lesson.

But the key thing is not letting up or quitting when you get tired… and you WILL get tired. Keep at it! Keep going! Stamina is not an overnight fix but takes weeks and months to see the benefit. Progress takes time but it DOES make a difference. And it might be the difference between pass and fail.

That’s why I’m concentrating on stamina NOW for my grading which is still 4 months away. Because when I’m in the last few moments of my free-sparring kumite in June, I want to make sure I have enough in the tank to see me to the end of the fight and to get my black belt.

Follow my journey

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