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.

Sacrifice in the name of karate

Blood and pain and turmoil,
What will you do to achieve what you desire,
What are you willing to sacrifice to climb ontop of that mountain,
Doubts surround your thoughts
They will win if you don’t give every single fibre of your being into it,
Pain is now,
Pain will be a lifetime if you don’t put your soul and body on the line,
Pain is temporary,
When you fight for your goal,
When you are willing to sacrifice yourself,
All those hours running or swimming,
All those pressups and lifts,
All those times you practiced drilling what you need,
The diet you forced on yourself,
Extra time training,
The time is arising,
No more excuses,
If you want it bad enough then nothing will get in your way,
Fear and doubt will corrupt you of you let it,
But if you use it as the fuel to stand up against yourself and those who doubt you,
Push your body and mind to the max,
Never back down,
Fight, fight, fight,
What are you willing to sacrifice?

Anticipation friend or foe for the soul

Can you feel it?

A sense of energy coursing through the air,

The finger tips are tingling,

You bounce around with excitement,

Your mind is abuzz with the thoughts of destiny and time to prove one self,

At times it leaves you feeling drained,

Your mind constantly thinking of this one moment,

Depletes the batteries,

You feel weary,

Can you go on?

But as it draws closer the anticipation builds and builds,

Engulfing your being,

The question is will this drain you,

Unable to fight on,

Or become the drum roll for the beast,

That is tearing at the bars wanting to be free,

As it ferociously tackles life with its bare hands,

Driving you on towards destiny.

Back to the wall

Inch by inch the pain worsens,
Madness seeps into the soul,
Breath by breath is taken away,
It is harder to focus,
Leaking away like raindrops from the clouds,
Humour arises at the most peculiar of times,
It is a different form of madness,
One that you control to fight the pain the fear,
But that wave of pain and fear slowly break down the walls of thyself,
Beaten down to a pulp,
A storm brews from within,
Like a switch goes off in thy head,
Pain and fear are no longer weaknesses but form into a strength,
Driving you into an energised frenzy,
The spirit is alive,
No longer cowering,
No longer laughing with madness,
The spirt is in defiance of the pain,
It calls forth a challenge,
The shackles that we wear every day slowly break,
Defiance is in thy nature,
The greatest source of human resolve.

State of mind

My state of mind has changed to a large thanks to karate. Before I was obsessed with karate, I was really obsessed about rugby,only my dad knows this but I wanted to become a professional rugby player. I’m not saying I was good enough or anything, I’m just saying that I had the right drive and passion, and if I had the skill I would of tried to become the best I could of. But without the right skill, or the right chances when I realised I would never be good enough, I lost alot of interest in rugby. Also I use to think that I was indestructible, I am very strong for my size of 5ft 11in and 13 1/2 stone but I use to try and play like I was a 6ft 5in 18 stone bloke. Then I had an ankle injury, nothing too serious but it made me realise how vulnerable I was, combine this with the fact that I lost the passion for rugby, I turned my back on playing the game, I couldn’t get over the fear factor. I tried to comeback a few times, but I lost my confidence.

Training in jujitsu and other martial arts lessened the fear of it, I didn’t mind being thrown so much, even with going to China and most of my time in Goju Ryu this fear that I developed when I was 18 stayed with me. Even though I had gained alot of skill from karate, I wasn’t confident enough with myself in sparring in China, and when I got my tooth broken at a karate grading of my own (plus the fact I went through a really really dark period in my life) when I returned to karate after 4 months (this was a year prior to china) my fear had magnitude  and I would flinch, it took me along time to stop flinching, but people tend to think I don’t fear injury, that I just rush into it, they could be further from the truth. It is a combination of my fiery passionate side, plus a my fathers words to me which work in all contact sports or martial arts “The harder you hit, the less damage you will receive, the more gentler you hit, the harder your opponent will hit you and your body will take more of blow”.

So that is how I generally fight, a mixture of passion and fear, hence my poem about the tranquillity of Kumite which can be applied to any sport. The best fights in the dojo I have had is when I have had this Zen feeling and I feel like that I have transcended above my passion and fear, I just let my body react and have this really calm and spiritual feeling, which I have normally only got from Qigong or a few times with yoga.

I have noticed my state of mind change recently, well since I broke my ribs (I suppose I technically broke them twice or thrice in a week because i didn’t care about the pain at the time) normally when I have a bad injury I would have the fear factor inside of me about if i went back to karate after it’s healed  about getting re-injured that is apart of being human. But I’am just getting more and more frustrated that I have to spend so much time away from the dojo and I try to keep training around but really through the injury which keeps making it worse.

The other night I actually collapsed, first time in my life, no I wasn’t drinking, apparently the doc said it was a fluke, a combination of my body trying to heal itself, me catching a chill, and after I had been sleeping I had lowered my blood pressure and after going to the toilet and I had lowered my volume so much that all these factors were too much, even for a very healthy and fit 25 year old. Collapsing and going into slight shock was a weird experience, but I didn’t have any major fear, I was just thinking well this is going to set me back even more in my goals. And listening to the Doc and my mother (who use to be a nurse in charge for the neurosurgery department) I am going to take it much more steady then I have been. My plan for the next month of so is to cycle in the gym alot, do leg exercises, stance work, slow kata and some conditioning on my arms and maybe grippers.

Why am I like this now, this obsession if you will. Goju Ryu was the art that I had been searching for all my life when I wanted to try martial arts, its fills I can’t explain a void that most other martial arts don’t seem to fill to me. Not that i think it is perfect, I still have want to try many other martial arts! I love the history of them and how they have evolved, I should of done a degree on them!

Going for Shodan Ho to me is a step to going for Shodan (1st blackbelt), and I started training for it since I finished my last grading. I have messed up way to much in my life, and I want to achieve something that I have been passionate about for 4+ years, to me it is the ultimate redemption for some of my mistakes, a baptism under fire if you will. I won’t go travelling or get any tattoos until I have achieved it. In the past I took my time with gradings, with the fear of knowing each further grading gets worse, and that the fights get much harder and more brutal, and the fear is still there, but it is giving me a drive that I need at this period in my life. Don’t get me wrong I still want to try lots of different things like disco roller skating and tough mudder, but I have stopped trying many things at once, and focusing what I need to do not to achieve a belt, but to become the man I always thought I should be rather than the one I am now.

I now have goals, and I am bloody determined to achieve them. I will no longer be weak, I will be forged into an iron will of steel.