Otto wrote a nice and helpful article slash overly long column about passing his godan exam and I felt like I wanted to write a response of some sort.
Otto’s article came out about a week before I was going to attend my own grading event at Helsinki Autumn Seminar. So all the helpful advice came a bit too late for me. But maybe it’s safe to state that sandan isn’t quite exactly godan, so I didn’t feel so necessary to dwell in kendo and the spirit of budo so deeply –not yet at sandan level at least.
A year before being ”ripe” for sandan I couldn’t care less about grading, though partially due to other things in my life. So maybe, about a month or two before the event it hit me that I could start going to practices more often and try to do my very best, not just the usual.
A week before the grading event I had injured my right thigh, and my left knee was playing tricks on me once again. (In the grading ji-geiko I also fell to the floor and hurt my bum which was ironically hilarious.)
I also had huge issues with kata as I started practicing kodachi kata way too late - just a month or two before the grading. I usually like to be thorough and master the things I set my mind to accomplish. But due to different things in my life I couldn’t make it to all the kata practices at Ki-Ken-Tai-Icchi I had promised myself I would attend. (Once I overslept. Yes, this can happen.)
So a day before the grading event I was nervous and not at all confident about my future performance – a new feeling I hadn’t experienced while doing my nidan. In the national team group we did shiai quite a lot and I was afraid that the “ippon over the form” which is peculiar to shiai would worsen my performance.
The day of the gradings the best thing ever happened. We did a variation of kubun-keiko in the national team group and it really took all the juice out of me. I probably was one of the slowest, and the last kubun-keiko went quite silently for me. But I liked it and it was exactly what I needed to relax my muscles. After the practice I almost felt happy. “When you don’t set your goals too high you may pass them,” I though and stayed grateful for not quitting in the middle of practice.
The grading event itself went well for me. I knew my “opponents” beforehand and was ready to face them. I thought I had some good men strikes and was quite confident I would be approved for kata which was the part that scared me the most.
During kata I was very nervous. I had silently wished that I could be shidachi as I was afraid of a total meltdown and that I would forget all the kamae. But these wishes didn’t come true. Nevertheless, it went well in the end. My kata probably wasn't excellent but it was enough and I’m so totally fine with that. I’m not a perfectionist.
But why I wanted to write about my experiences in the first place is that the biggest help I got for my preparations for sandan was the help of my peers. With peers I mean people higher and lower in dan-level than me.
As my biggest issue was insecurity it felt good to do ji-geiko with people of my own level and higher. I was very grateful to have concrete feedback from those ji-geiko. Otto’s points are very important but honestly speaking the best support I got didn’t come from the senseis this time. Even though on Saturday the senseis were very helpful and gave me very good and couraging advice I felt like I already had built up my confidence to be ready for grading. Senseis advice boosted the feelings I already had.
I think I’ve been quite blessed to have found such a wonderful sport in which I also have some very good friends. I’d like to thank Jukka in particular who was so helpful as to do kata with me on his own spare time. Also, Otto himself, as always, was very helpful among many others from my own club and Ki-Ken-Tai-Icchi. Thank you all so much!
A week before the grading event one sensei at Ki-Ken-Tai-Icchi gave me an advice I wish I could have followed more thoroughly. He adviced me to do ji-geiko with people that make me happy and confident in kendo.
For the next three years I’m going to do just that. And with that, to hell with yondan!