Road to black belt: Part 4 – Doubts & nerves

Road to black belt: Part 4 – Doubts & nerves

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.  In previous months I have written about the importance of stamina, overcoming fear, and control.

I wondered what topic to cover this month on my journey but then it has revealed itself over the last week… my old friends, doubt and nerves.

I am questioning whether I’m ready to grade but speaking with my fellow karateka, we’re all feeling much the same. We’ll never be 100% ready but that’s the joy with karate: a Dan grade is only a milestone on a lifelong journey.

Crisis of confidence

The grading is around 5 weeks away and all of a sudden I’ve lost the ability to do the basics. I’m twitchy. I’m mixing up bits of kata. In short, I’m having a crisis of confidence at the worst possible time. But I am trying to remember that going for black belt is a marathon and a wobble from time to time is totally normal and expected.

As anyone that has run a marathon or long-distance race will know, the deadline of the day plus all the nerves will throw you off. You can do a long run in training no problem, but trying to do the same long run under race conditions and it all feels weird. Your race strategy goes out the window, you start off too fast, you need an emergency wee every 10 minutes… you get the picture. That’s why the most important part of a marathon is the training that you did over the last 6 months. NOT the training you did the week beforehand.

Training for black belt feels like marathon training in many ways. The idea is that over the course of several months, you ramp up your training to work harder, stronger, smarter. You’re building stamina, you’re pushing your technique and ironing out any poor form. You highlight your weaknesses and work on them. Much like marathon training, you need to build and build until a couple of weeks before the big day, when you reach your peak. And then ease off the effort in the final 2 weeks so you can walk into the grading dojo rested, refreshed and on fire.

But now is not that time… there are 5 weeks to go and it’s still pedal to the metal and time to apply myself.

So how can I go about pushing myself in these last few weeks?

I’m splitting this into two categories: mental and physical.

Physically this is more straightforward – keep building stamina. I’m putting maximum effort into warm-ups, kata, kumite and kihon. I keep challenging myself to go faster, stronger, with more intensity. Plus I’m adding some extra-curricular fitness of cycling and strength training as my wrist is much improved. I’m cycling as many short journeys as I can to get my aerobic fitness up and it’s low-impact on the joints.

I’m also trying my very best not to become injured in these last few weeks. Because an injury sustained now runs the risk of not healing in time. That means taking the time to stretch properly and not going full pelt in kumite.

And train, train, train! Turning up to all the classes as well as any extra courses. There is absolutely no substitute for regular training. Plus we have the Performance Course with Senseis Rob and Jamie in May to keep the pressure on.

Mentally I’m finding these last few weeks more of a challenge. I found in Saturday’s class that I’d lost the ability to do the ushiro geri (back kick) combination. I started off badly and got into a downward spiral where every combination got worse and worse. It isn’t a problem I normally have – physically there was no reason I couldn’t it. It was all in my head. During kumite practice on Wednesday, I really lost confidence and doubted myself. So I need to take the mental pressure off a bit and relax. That doesn’t mean coasting. It means acknowledging I’m in the midst of a wobble and give myself a bit of headspace.

Because going for black belt is a marathon, not a sprint – and a marathon approach might just get me over the line on June 10th.

Follow my journey and read more…

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