Into the deep end.

by Ryan Gregory, February 19th, 2012

Today was my first exposure to the brown and black belt class. It was an atypical class, though, because it was largely focused on training in preparation for an upcoming trip to Okinawa that many of the senior belts from our dojo and other nearby dojos are taking in about a week. Sensei was kind enough to invite me to observe the class to get a sense of what the advanced classes are like.

When I arrived, I had expected to just watch, but then I was also invited to put on the gi and join the class. I’ll admit, I was a little nervous because there are many drills and techniques that are new to me in Meibukan, because I am still rusty (though, in my humble opinion, much better than I was a month ago), and because I was not sure I could keep up physically.

One thing I have come to recognize is the importance not only of having a good Sensei, but also of having good senior belts in a dojo. Not just because they are a good gauge of the quality of the training (you wouldn’t want to train in a place where the senior students were sloppy and lazy, would you?), but also because they can make the difference in how well you progress. Whether in sparring drills or in helping with specifics of kata, senior belts are a great resource. Fortunately, our dojo has a large group of them, and from what I have seen they are exceptional both in technical abilities and in their generosity in working with less experienced students.

So, even though I felt like I was probably in over my head, I settled in pretty quickly and had a great class. This is what it used to feel like when I wore a brown belt. That said, a group of black belts working on some drils next to the group I was in showed how much harder the training can get. There was a time when I would have been up for that kind of thing (I am no stranger to hard hits and being thrown around), but right now I am still getting comfortable with some of the basics. Again, help from experienced students made it possible for me to take part in most of the drills today, even when they were new to me. I can’t say the same for the three new kata (to me) that we did as a group today. My mind is swirling from all the new information, but I intend to work on each of these kata now that I have been shown them officially in class.

I also had to perform a kata in front of the class today. I’ve done that sort of thing many times, of course, either in gradings or demonstrations or when helping with junior belt classes. That was a long time ago, however, and although I was fine with being put on the spot, I knew it was going to be a mediocre performance at best since I am still working out a lot of kinks. Also, I suspect that it didn’t help that it was Sanchin — a very slow kata in which there are many fine details that can be performed incorrectly and in which mistakes are very easy to spot. That’s one reason why it’s such an important kata in Goju ryu. In any case, I managed to do a very rusty version of it and received some helpful comments. I always take suggestions seriously, and even small constructive criticisms add up to help improve one’s kata performance.

All in all, it felt great to be part of an advanced class again. I still have a lot of work to do, but I was pleased that I was able to keep up as well as I did. As long as you don’t drown, being thrown into the deep end is a pretty effective way to motivate improvements in swimming skills.

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