Black Belt Grading

Today was Black Belt Grading day – a purported 6 hours of mental and physical exhaustion. And they weren’t wrong!

We arrived at Gloucester University Oxtalls Campus far too early (about 1 hour early) – and as the time grew nearer the nerves were kicking in for most of us. As we lined up for our drills, it looked like we were in for a long day with 8 lines of people (meaning doing everything 8 times as we rotated the lines – as you get nearer the front, you need to show off your skills and determination more and more).

First up was the warm-up – everything at twice the pace we do in training and out of breath in 5-10 minutes. Then onto drills – repeatedly doing moves that we’ve learned, in combinations (some combos we’re familiar with, and some were new and designed to confuse the best of us). As we get to the end of the first drill 10 people are called out to go to the back of the room – they’re being assessed individually while the rest of us continue our drills. The calling of names continues in blocks of 10 (with me in Group C – person number 9), until everyone has been assessed. Time is a bit of a blur, but I think this went on for about 2 hours.

Next up, pad work – groups of four, one person holding focus pads, while the other 3 do the combos that are being shouted out by the instructors. Pad work is much more intense than the drill work, and we’re already quite knackered. Every minute or two we swap the person on the pads.

Now my memory of what came next is not quite so good – it was one of two things, so I’ll explain what two things we did next, but the order may be wrong 🙂

Next up we’re jogging and walking round the hall, and when a number is shouted out we do burpee jumps (squat down, touch the floor, jump up in the air while extending your arms upwards) – sounds easy, but try going from 1 to 20 and then back down to 1 (in case you’re wondering that’s 400 of them!).

Next up, in groups of two, practising defence moves until you are called up in your pairs to demonstrate to the Master. As me and my partner are practising our defences, followed up by an offensive move (ridge hand, knee or kick to the stomach or a punch to the ribs), and landing a few sore ones too, one of the Instructors sees how much effort we’re putting in and how much we’re enjoying it, and he decides to give us a preview of some stuff that’s coming up next year – instead, or as an alternative to take-downs, the use of strangulation and pressure points. When I say a preview, I mean a demonstration – to say I yelped with pain is no understatement. Bizarrely I’m looking forward to this next year 😉
Anyway, just before we’re getting called up, they switch my partner to someone from another school who looks confused and not sure what moves to do. We literally get about 1 minute to practise, and we seem to do okay with me taking the lead. As we’re called up, he’s asking the Master questions about what to do, which is met with almost silence. We crack on and get through the exercise with no problems.

By this point I’d guess that we’re about 3½-4 hours in – next up there’s more pad work, and I’m about to faint. We’ve had no real breaks yet, and taken on no food. Just the odd 20-30 seconds to grab a drink and get back into line. I start on the pad work, and then have to leave the room to get some air – 2 minutes later I come bounding back into the hall and we’re off again. At some point an old injury gets the better of me – I damaged my Rectus Femoris about 2½ years ago, and it’s never been right since; the injury flairs up near the hip, basically tendon damage. So I switch legs on the roundhouse kicks and carry on. I also grab a bite of a banana to see if this will curb my feelings of being faint – it seems to do the trick eventually.

Next up is “the challenge” – we’re doing roundhouse kicks left leg to the instructors count; we don’t know how far they’re going to go. We get to 100, but it’s not over yet. Another 100 on the right leg, then another 100 on the left. I can’t lift my left leg any more, the injury is preventing me from doing it. So I switch and do the right leg instead. Then another 100 on the right leg. We’re done! – But then again we’re not. Another 100 front kicks alternating legs – except I can’t alternate, so I front kick with the right leg. Switch stance, another 100. Then another 100. We think we’re on the last  100 when they get to 90 and stop. We’re told we’re coasting and that we’re going to start again and put some effort into it. We do another 100 kicks. How many is that? Not sure but somewhere over the 800 mark.

Next up are more drills, more combos interspersed with switches in direction and press-ups. We also do a few press-up drills – keep doing press-ups until they say you can stop. As we’re doing the drills, parents and visitors arrive to see the last part of the grading (they haven’t been allowed to attend as it can be quite disturbing to see some of the younger ones going through the pain barrier). Just to see us off, we do a final round of burpee jumps – that’s another 400!

We do a final few rounds of drills and then we’re done. Seriously, that’s it – they play some music, not sure what it is, but some words about being the greatest. They read out one of the essays which is a bit of a tearjerker. I rub my eyes because getting through this day is a major achievement. It’s all over, and I dash to my bag to get a drink and to finish off that banana, but not before disappearing my face under my towel for a few minutes to reflect and have a bit of a sob – it’s not the pain, but more the emotion of what we’ve just been through and achieved; and probably partly in relief.

We’ll find out on Sunday if we actually passed, but I’d be seriously disappointed if I didn’t pass after I made it through the whole day. I never coasted at the beginning like some did, and that’s why I was in pain at the end. I put as much effort as I could all day – anything less is cheating yourself, and you’d never believe you deserved that Black Belt. Our school put in an amazing amount of effort and we supported each other throughout. Well done to everyone!

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