I am a Nidan

It feels strange, I now wear the black of the shadows I was dreaming of facing all those years ago as low grade.

I wear the black blackbelt of someone who has been focused on their goal, and not let it be just a dream.

I wear the black gi of a warrior that faced 30 men, a long line of shadows, facing down fear to prove to myself that I am a warrior, I do belong. To overcome doubts and demons.

I always had this little niggle, that people thought I was just a brawler, or not smart enough. It’s all in my own head. Most of my life, I have let my demons take over me.

They led me to self destruction, in many different ways. Karate was different, it was the first place I belonged. No matter how much I tried for my dad, I was not the rugby type, I was an outsider an observer.

Karate was the first place that I met people like me, forged friendships through the fiery pit that sparring can be. It is where I found love, where I didn’t know I deserve it. It was the first place that I realised I could actually be good at something.

From my first lesson I knew karate, the style of Goju ryu, specifically the hard path of the DKK association that it was for me. It is the first place I faced fear, and no matter how many times I have fallen, I keep fighting, improving inch by inch.

This fear and doubt that has affected me most of my life, has been like a catalyst in my way of life that is karate. I know I have to practice more than most to get things right, so I trained harder at home. I became obsessed with its history. Hanging with mates, we would drink and feel like we have discovered new ways (well new to us, but ancient like the katas) and we would play and find our understanding evolved.

People knew from a low grade that I would get this far, I didn’t believe them. I was always scared.

I reached shodan, a grade I deserved but felt like I could of done better. Don’t get me wrong, I did my best.

When I asked for advice for attempting the 30 man kumite, people said I’m tough, withstand twenty fights, brawl the next ten or vice versa. This got to me, I knew deep down I was a better fighter than this. This was the first time I believed in myself.

I trained with two men, one small but so exceptionally technical, a counter striker. I knew if I could get a fraction as good as he is then I am on the right path to where I want to be. The next man is like a juggernaut, powerul bigger, but a really smart fighter that people underestimate. He pushed me to new levels, where I had to change my style to last thirty fights, to become the smart fighter I knew I was somewhere deep inside.

We had our fight club, I would go through highs and lows, and the boot camp people that followed were so supportive, they got behind me like a big family seeing me fight through it all. My love was one of them, she saw my spirit my laughter even in the darkest moments and saw me through my journey.

Our shihan’s lessons seemed to be focused on me (thats how we all think), and his advice though simple made the biggest difference in the darkest moments. I based a lot of the way I wanted to fight on him and his way of fighting.

We had the big tournament with our London club, I won the grappling and got tons of advice on how to improve for the next three months. Simple advice, but ones I took to heart, their approach helped me to evolve into the calm warrior I became on that sunny day.

Every fight I always have great fear, every grading I always thought I would fail. This time, I knew it was my time. I knew I trained like a professional, I knew I dedicated my life to this one moment. I didn’t drink alcohol for nine months, no snacks except for ice cream on a Sunday. I trained twice a day, I didn’t do as much cardio as others, my cardio was based on fighting and sparring fitness and toughness.

I think the difference between some is that they jusy want to survive the nidan grading, for others it was a test. For me it was my chance to prove I was the best. Not out of ego, there will always be a better fighter. It was to prove I was the best, the best fighter I could become, to slay my demons and prove I am a black gi, I do belong.

My future girlfriend dragged her family to see my fight, she was meant to be at a family reunion. She didn’t want to let me down.

My dad was 88 years old, I was 29. I wanted to prove to him, and show although I couldn’t become a professional rugby player like he wanted, I would for at least this moment become a professional fighter. Proved to him and myself that I can earn something beyond what I thought I could. I wanted to make proud.

Apparently mine was one of the best performances that many had ever seen. I am still struggling to digesting this, me how can I do this? Was it really me. 

10 months later I am only just starting to accept this, I did achieve the impossible. But it will mean nothing, if I don’t keep training, if I don’t keep pushing my boundaries. I know I can be better than I was.

This is my way of life, I am a blackbelt, I wear the black gi of those who have faced the black dragon. I am part of this brotherhood, this cult.

It is in my blood, I can the scars of my marital journey like a proud warrior.

Karate has shown me that a man can reach his dreams, if you stay humble and have iron will then anything is possible.

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