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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Wilderness training

I went training with my mate, over the fields and far away. It was a really good karate workout, first we did sanchin, first normal then extremely tensed, then relaxed, then normal but a focus of tension then relaxation.

Straight away we went into three punch drill, three kick drill, three strike drill and rotated through until we did 6 punch drill, six kick drill and six strike drill. Then light sparring focusing on using sanchin principles.

We discovered a bar for pullups and inverted rows and I taught him the correct form, and how to change it for explosiveness or endurance or muscle building.

After this we worked on San Dan gi 1 and 2, drilling this in. After this we did sparring again focusing on our guards.

Then I showed him some Kakie with some games me Adam and mike had created from it, only touched upon Kakie and sparred a bit more with a focus on reading our opponents movements.

We finished off with inverted rows for him and pullups for me. It was a very fun session, we got drill some advanced stuff we don’t do enough in the dojo and sparred inbetween to bring it’s relevance to the fight. It was also the first time in a long time I taught a karate session, I have things to work on but I think the tempo was very go-ju.

We are hoping to do this extra training once a week depending on our work schedules but already I have new ideas how this can help us both grow and develop into more well rounded martial artists.

The passion still burns

All the way up to my shodan I knew I couldn’t cope with the level of mental intensity I had towards karate, I needed it to survive and thrive through my grading. I had ideas of having a break from karate, either completely from martial arts or training in another style briefly (the style and club are my home I could never leave it) just work on areas I’m weak on and to have a break.

I did not expect that my passion and enjoyment (not the intensity) was higher than before, I was playing with kata or weapons or combos everyday, I made sure I did something everyday and covered all the kata I knew.

Now at the moment I have decided to set a minimum a day even when I’m busy or stressed. So one day I’ll at least do tensho/sanchin with sanseru or shisochin a minimum of three times that day, or five times but a maximum of ten times. If I want to make it more of an exercise I’ll add 10 burpees or 5 Solomon burpees per set.

The next day I’ll do Sanzhan, sanzhan kicking (kicking from that stance) and abs a minimum of three times and no more than ten times that day.

I’ll try to do quickflame and other kata at least once a week, and condition once a week until I’m more use to it (I’m not going to rush into it, I’m not in China).

I use tensho for I think it’s a great way to train your guard, sanchin for chi like power, sanseru for power and kicking, shisochin for defence ( at least that’s how it’s affecting my style aggressive defence) sanzhan for power and being subtle with strikes.

I’ll stick with my normal strength training as well, and am doing sprinting at least once a week.

Enter the Shodan

It is official I am now a Shodan, words cannot describe how I feel, it was an amazing weekend of training one that I especially never want to forget. Five and half years it took me, and after failing in many things I have achieved one of my life long goals (the other training in China). For the last few months I have felt depleted it didn’t matter what I did I was lethargic but I kept training as hard as I could.

However this weekend my energy levels returned and I put in as much to the training over the weekend as I could, at several points my mind couldn’t cope with the sheer volume of the information, needing to keep what I needed for the grading. I went through sheer dread and fear (why am I here, I don’t like pain) to confidence that I had trained hard and that I could do it (which never happens to me before a grading, there is always doubt). On the Sunday I got to fight in the Nidan 30 man Kumite which was a huge honour. You want to give them your absolute best but you don’t want to injure yourself for your own grading.

When the time came at lunch time getting ready for my grading I had to become focused on one thought, people around me were wondering where my constant sense of humour at disappeared to. Big Chris (he was going for 2nd kyu) asked me if I was grading because I looked so calm, I found it completely ironic as I was controlling these waves of emotions all around me (ones that had drained my batteries for the last few months).

Both sides of my thoughts completely intensified during the grading, more than I had ever known before, but we were going for Shodan, I really appreciated the Nidan’s helping us out during the grading, whether it was to push us harder or cheer us on to how we control our breathing. (As I started to pant and not breathe deeply which made a huge difference everytime I needed to recover and explode with energy.

I  recall seeing my best friend completing his grading for shodan-ho and I was happy for him but had to focus on my task, the fighting was hear this was our time, my time. I was so much happier with my sparring this year compared to last year, I stuck to range fighting with the girls able to use a bit of tensho for entry (I got complimented by one Nidan for showing control, still pushing them and giving them my best, which of course is ironic because a Sandan told me now I need to work on my control more but that was aimed at weapons defence when I was confronted with being attacked by a Jo which surprised me and I just reacted by instinct. It’s all Go and Ju I have so much to work on!) I faced aussie mike (although he is a  kiwi) a big guy and I was able to go toe to toe with him, able to blast my knees in before he could, it was the first time I could see someone chambering up for strikes and I was able to get in there faster) some other fights are a bit of a blur but I was really happy that the kickers did kick me in the head, apparently it was because I kept rushing into them), I used some flying knees, I got fight the guy who trained me which was a huge honour. Then I got to fight the final guy, It was nearly Andy from Bristol but it was Simon from London. I was smiling inside these two I consider some of the best karate fighters I had ever seen and if I could fight half as well as them I would be proud. So I gave it all with Simon, I’m pretty sure I surprised him with a flying knee (which I use so I can get into close range) and we were fighting close quarters, the London Shihan  Mulholland kept breaking us up, my thoughts were Ah he is amazing at long range I want to be inside his range! It is strange from long range I feel less powerful, that a lot of my energy dissipates, where as in close quarters I am charged up, one strike gives power to another as Goran Powell put it dynamic tension during his  lesson (I’m using Sanchin baby!!!). I made it, I felt like I had a huge smile on my face, I faced an opponent I consider the crème of a karateka. Then it was the board break, everyone was choosing punches, I recall asking Shihan for tetsui but he shook his head, I had to face another fear and punch the board, I showed him my fist for my intended strike and he nodded. When one person breaks and kia’s then the next one would kia and break going down the row of 9 of us going for blackbelt. It must have been a surreal sight, I couldn’t believe that I did it even feel the board. Then we finished off and it was huge jubilation, when I went for Shodan-ho I felt like I barely made the last three fights, but this time I felt like I could of gone for three more fights, my energy levels were crazy. We did it, I did it I am so proud to be a part of this club, this association. We celebrated well, I even got made to walk across the campfire which I have never had any intention of doing so, curtsey of mike it was surely a weekend of doing things I thought that I would never be able to do.

It was an emotional roller coaster ride, before during and after my grading, some of my friends keep saying so your going to go for Nidan in three years’ time, my response is that I earned this belt and its up to me to prove each day why I earned it and that is to improve me as a karateka I I truly feel like a beginner again, there is so much to tidy upon polish up, learn, adapt its finally time to take my responsibilities.

Mwhahahaha!

Mwhahahaha!

Without the empty hand, leaves an empty heart

After Summer School, I felt really empty a big event had just come and gone in my life, and I really missed the feeling of having fun with my friends, training and gaining my Shodan-ho. After the dust had settled and I was back in normality of everyday life I felt an emptiness inside, the same emptiness that I felt when I had to leave the Kung Fu School in China, it became my home, I made some great friends there, my personal martial art had improved so much and I had to leave it. The same of when I had to leave China, emptiness and the loss of a great experience and a profound part of my life.

 

I found it strange that I felt like this after Dkk Summer School 2013, it is by far my favourite summer school, but I have been to several now before and after China. For me it is because of two things, I spent a year training for this, even though through illness and injury I wasn’t at the condition that I desired to be, I trained a year for this, with the martial art that I love, and through this some friendships that I have in karate have become much closer  through training for this goal and socialising more together. This helped me feel so much more relaxed and at home at summer school that we could laugh through all the rough parts and enjoy the fun parts, we helped each other drank together and have bled for each other. We had to prove ourselves in front of the london lot that we are a good club during the Nidan’s 30 man kumite  line up.

 

Actually seeing it in this light no wonder I can draw comparisons to my experience in China, bonded over training, over drinking in celebrations in the beautiful countryside.  So when I decided to take 2 and 1/2 weeks break from my training that I felt slightly depressed, after excess drinking and thinking of having fun, I just really missed training for a goal, training with my mates, doing karate.

 

One of my mates left to go back to his home country in Germany to finish his masters, he will sorely be missed, his energy and excitement that he brought to the club, his sense of humour, will be something the club will miss.

 

 

I returned to karate last thursday and even though I had a break where I swan once or twice a week but that was it, how fit I was when I returned, actually I felt fitter than I have in a long time. This goes to show that I can’t train in high intensity all the time, I want to train for a whole year for my next grade, not train hard every two months and need a month off.

 

Karate is my home, I still have my ambitions to train and travel around the world, but this art, this club, this spirit will always be where I belong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feel depressed, try and attempt a few handstands!

I have been feeling like a zombie recently, work drains your essence and it only allows you to have enough energy to focus on one or two hobbies outside of work. I know i shouldn’t get depressed, I am healthy and with my family but all the things I want to do and try, all the social stuff that always seems to be out of my grasp. I want to be a writer and write stories, but i don’t even have the mental energy to do that, lead alone read books and novels which helps to increase not only your imagination but also your vocabulary.

With my karate grading coming up I have stopped taking alcohol ( I only drink once or twice a week) which normally takes the edge off things, I didn’t even realise that I needed it, which means it is a good time to stop drinking for a while.

Injuries have made it harder to train, and i do love strength training and karate training, but i need to let my imagination be unleashed, people have always tried to insult me by saying that i am a dreamer, but to me that is a compliment. The greatest aspect of my personality is my dream or child like qualities or mindset. Even though that I am now 26, even 17 year olds think that I can act more childish then they are at times.

This may seem like a random detour, and it is the way i think, i just to one thing to another which have a small connection  but i could  never do handstands. Even when I tried out Capoeira for a while, I struggled with it, and when I started barstarzz like training, I couldn’t do it, and I didn’t try, I knew that even though i was getting stronger i couldn’t do it.

Then this week I was early for karate training, and I decided to have fun trying them with a big blue crash mat. It took the fear that I have with them (I have very heavy feet, so i tend to crash hard) and for 1/2 an hour I was just having child like fun practicing and failing them, I was surprised on how good a cardio workout it was, and how could my shoulders felt, but i was just having child like fun in pushing my boundaries, my limits.

I wanted to do it prior to yesterdays session, but Judo had booked the room and we ended up in the dance studio. I didn’t trust myself well enough in there to try it out. Today i felt even worse, once I get in a black mood, it is very hard for me to overcome it, its my day off and i can’t even write!

Then before during and afterwards, i decided to have fun and to play with handstands. I kept playing and the more i did it the better i got, some were up for a few seconds, I accidentally walked a few feet on my hands, I even did two mini partial handstand pressups before collapse  It made feel really really good. I wasn’t needing the big blue crash mat, the more i was practicing the better i got. I had to rest every so often because my shoulders got tired.

I never thought about doing handstands could be like some form of meditation to make me feel alive again. I was playing the tune deshi bassa (batman the dark knight rises, rise up), it get gave me such a lift, it was a great workout but i didn’t attend it to be one I just needed to have some child like fun and push my limits.

Grading, a journey towards.

Well practicing skipping and doing my own drills is starting to pay off I believe (cross fingers or touch wood, depending on what you believe) my pad work was much better in the session, my arms were much quicker and looser which may be due to the fact that i did less sanchin this week and have focused more on cardio (8 weeks and 1 day till the grading).

So after thursday’s session i felt really good, and on saturdays double session they asked for requests and i asked for three punch drill which lead into conditioning. The Daniel from china would of relished at the prospect, but my conditioning has gone, and it will be a 2 month journey of hell to get it back, Sempai’s punches seemed to go through me, and his thigh kick which he put NO effort into it, no strength speed or power, just dropped his body weight sanchin style and it nearly made me drop. But he did tell after all the pain in how the raised and dropped his kick at an angle, and his grounded leg completely relaxes which combines the full body drop onto the thigh, his girlfriend also a Sempai did not like him teaching me this trick.

Then we did some sparring, and I have noticed that when I fight south paw, I am much longer ranged then when I spar in the orthodox stance, which is much more close quarters and in your face, old school brawler Daniel if you will. Whereas when i am in south paw I seemed to switch personality, using techniques i acquired in china, and learning to fight longer range since last year at summer school when i was outmatched by a guy going for the same grade as me who could keep me at bay and kick me willy nilly in the face. Most of the other people I faced that day I could dominate to a certain extent, but not him. It was one of the few times where I just smiled at how awesome and easy he looked to kick my ass. I later found out that he previously did taekwondo and is a personal trainer, which spurred me on my year long journey to develop the kicking aspect of the way i fight, which has lead me to be longer range.

The jounery never ends, there is always something to improve on, I just need to keep focused.