Hi I’m Tanya. I’m currently a 1st Kyu (brown with 2 white stripes) and I’m hoping to grade for first Dan (Shodan) in June, alongside 5 others from Senshi Karate. I’m writing a blog about my journey to Shodan. I’ve previously written about the importance of stamina and overcoming fear.
Since starting this blog I’ve been soul-searching to answer the question: “What separates a 1st kyu from 1st Dan?” Greater experience, a deeper understanding of the martial art among many things, for sure. But there is one element I think is markedly different the higher up the grades you go: control.
So what am I doing to bring more control into my karate?
Control is many things. It’s about timing, accuracy and spatial awareness (or “zanshin” in Japanese). All are needed so your punch lands at the right spot, at the right time, with just enough force. The higher the grade, the greater the level of control is expected. For a dan grade, you are expected to place your attacks with a high level of accuracy.
So what’s the difference between passing and failing a Dan grading? Probably a couple of centimetres. Because that’s the difference between hitting and falling short. My short-coming in kumite is precisely that… coming up short. My main focus between now and the grading is to aim to hit.
Between now and June I’m pushing myself to consistently make contact when sparring. That DOESN’T mean pummelling them into the ground – it means controlling where you place your punches and kicks so they make just enough contact. We want to be in the Goldilocks zone – not too far away, not halfway through their body, but just right. It takes practice but you’ll only get better through repetition.
Control isn’t always about technique
I’d like to tell you a story about a 16-year old girl attending a masterclass by a visiting Sensei. This was no ordinary Sensei though. He was the legendary instructor Terry O’Neill, a 6th Dan at that time! He had been national kumite champion 20 years earlier, taught Arnold Schwarzenegger how to fight in the movies, and everything about him was INCREDIBLY intimidating. He had a fearsome reputation.
After the warm up came the familiar call… “PARTNER UP!” This girl looked around for someone of a similar build or gender… no one. Everyone close by had paired up, those further afield were finding each other and then the sinking feeling hit… she was the odd one out, of the 50+ people in attendance. “WHO DOESN’T HAVE A PARTNER?” shouted Sensei Terry, and after establishing it was only the girl, he announced “Okay, you’re with me.”
Utter panic set in. She was absolutely beside herself on the inside, but desperately trying to show calm on the outside. The girl became chief patsy for the demonstrations. Everything had to be done with 110% effort. He would only move if you were about to punch through him and out the other side. And Terry O’Neill was not taking prisoners – he gave back as good as he got. With perfect control of course!
No surprises about the punchline here… that girl was me.
Control of your situation is important too
So what has that got to do with control? Control of your situation is a big element of karate. The art of control is that you are projecting confidence despite any inner turmoil. To use the classic swan analogy, you are calm on the outside but paddling furiously underneath. For the Dan grading, I’m working hard on projecting confidence. If I’m out of my depth, I’m not going to show it!
Mistake? What mistake?
The last element of control I’m working on is to avoid drawing attention to my mistakes. We ALL make mistakes in gradings. No one is a machine, or expected to be one. BUT I am an absolute sucker for pulling a face when I go wrong and my gurning only serves to highlight my error. It shows the grading panel and my kumite opponent that I’ve just mucked up. For Shodan, we need a game face. A poker face. Not Jim Carrey’s face. Although it sounds a simple fix – control your face – I find it really tricky. It’s a work in progress.
Because when I step up to the grading panel in June, I want to be sure I’m in control of myself from head to toe. I might be paddling furiously on the inside, but THEY’RE not going to see that – I’m all swan on the outside!!
Follow my journey and read more…
- Road to black belt: Part 1 – Stamina
- Road to black belt: Part 2 – Fear
- Road to black belt: Part 3 – Control
- Road to black belt: Part 4 – Doubts & nerves
- Road to black belt: Part 5 – Mental prep
2 thoughts on “Road to black belt: Part 3 – Control”