Monday, November 07, 2005


My Blackbelt Grading

I took my aikido blackbelt test on Saturday (5 November 2005) and passed! Two days later and I still have an enormous grin plastered across my face. This grading was, I suppose, the first major examination I've had since I sat my first degree back in '92 (my Ph.D. viva in '98 was nerve wracking, but in that situation I was the expert in the room). I've always enjoyed exams; I get butterflies, but I still usually manage to have fun. My blackbelt test was a bit different in that I was performing in front of the entire dojo and a scary Sensei.

I was convinced I'd fluffed it up. Everything was going really well: I reckon I was doing solid, spirited, precise technique, with virtually no corrections from the auxiliary examiners on my mat, until it came to kokyu nage, when my mind went completely blank and I froze up. It was a total nightmare: Sensei was going off at me, everybody was
waiting for me to do something, and I couldn't think of a single thing. I started thinking through everything I knew, picked the one thing I couldn't think of the name for, and it turned out to be right. Thank God. (Kokyu nage is the kind of "miscellanous" bin of aikido technique.) The nightmare continued. The next technique Sensei asked for - and he was still focussing on me - was tsuki tenchi nage (tsuki = straight punch, tenchi nage = Heaven-and-Earth throw), something which all the senpai I'd asked assured me didn't exist. So while everyone else on the mats was looking confused, I was the one getting the grilling. In the end I made something up and it must have been mildly convincing because I got away with it! In the break between gradings, everybody, including the instructors, were all trying out tsuki tenchi nage to try and work out what on Earth it might be... I'll have to ask Sensei what the answer is. The second set of candidates were a bit luckier: they had an identical test except no tsuki tenchi nage, lucky buggers. Anyway, after a second disaster I was sure I'd failed, so I just relaxed and tried to have fun. I was so frazzled that doing the high falls, which usually scare the bejeesus out of me, were a breeze. In fact, I think that was the most fun part of my test.

Richard said the look of surprise on my face when Sensei told me I'd passed was priceless.

Anyway, now that I'm a blackbelt I get to wear the hakama: the enormous baggy black aikido pants. Excellent!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Claire, Jill, Fergus, Rulande, and more aikido


Friday I met up after work for drinks with Claire, who I haven't seen in over a decade. Claire is an old friend of Sarah, who I was going out with in Cambridge over ten years ago. I received an e-mail from Sarah out of the blue mentioning that Claire was working for six months in Melbourne, didn't know anyone yet, and could I take her out and get some drink into her. Which I did. I caught up with Claire at the Trust, an excellent city pub on Flinders Lane. Amazingly we recognised one another immediately! Anyway, we drank many drinks, ate some high quality Chinese food at Ants on the Tree in Chinatown, failed to get into Loop (apparently full to capacity), managed to get a few martinis in at the neighbouring bar (whose name I have never learned), and basically had a complete hoot. Much fun.


The next day I got up late and hungover and made a total horlicks of taking a short-cut to Hawthorne East where
Ammy and her mum Jill live. I arrived an hour late, which meant Ammy (a punctuality Nazi) was furious with me for at least ten minutes. God, I love a woman who forgives easily and I am going to marry her. Which, essentially, was the reason I was at Jill's place: Ammy had insisted that the Right Thing to Do was to ask for her mum's blessing before buying rings and proposing and that sort of thing. So I did and Jill (who had advanced notice) make a good attempt at looking surprised and then welcomed me into the family. The bottle of vintage Domaine Chandon I'd brought with me may also have helped. Jill is very like my mum in many respects and five minutes later she was making weakly veiled suggestions that I do something about my hair...

Fergus and Rulande

Fergus and Rulande are back in Melbourne for a couple of weeks and Ammy and I had them around to my place on Saturday night for dinner. In the end I cleaned and Ammy cooked: a kind of chilli con carne soup which turned out excellently. Much booze was consumed and a good night had by all. Marriage definitely suits F + R. Hopefully we'll get drunk with them again e're they fly back to Oregon.


I've been training like crazy the last couple of months what with my black belt test coming on 5 November. The scariest thing by any reach has been learning high-falls. High-falls are necessary when someone is really going for it and is about to take off your head or your arm during a throw. When that happens you don't have time for a break-fall, which is where you fall underneath the attack. Past a certain level, you have to take high-falls instead, which involve doing a somersault in mid-air over the stressed joint (so this usually happens somewhere between waist and shoulder height) and hitting the mat with a spectacular thump on the other side. Eventually most people learn to do this with grace and style, but (a) I'm a rank beginner at these falls and (b) they scare the willies out of me. The trick is to be moving slightly ahead of the person throwing you, be very relaxed, jump high, stay connected with nage (the thrower), and not look down. Anyway, I did some pre-class training on Friday with Stewart, who is a seven foot giant with a black belt. I took high falls from him out of all the techniques I need for my black belt, they didn't hurt, and I was having a whale of a time (love those endorphins...). So Friday and Saturday I was feeling pretty good about my aikido.

Then on Sunday I went and trained in the park with Lucy and Elli and Dhao (who are also going for black belt) as has become our custom. Training went well until Richard, Lucy's fiancee, all round excellent chap, and superb nidan (second degree black belt), came over to test my high falls. Now Richard always does technique in a very effective, tight, correct fashion, which is actually much harder and scarier to fall out of in my humble opinion. Richard differs on this, but I think he sometimes forgets quite how much distance there is between a first and second degree black belt. Either way, after a fair deal of advice and correction I started thinking about the bloody high falls rather than just doing them, which for me is a fatal mistake. I ended up with sore joints and bruises and a severely battered ego. Grrrr!

But all is not lost. I trained a bit more on Monday evening with Neela and did passable high falls out of shiho nage and juuji garame, two of the scary throws. So I am resolved to avoid further advice from Richard on the topic (Rich has been so much help in training it's not true, but he just makes me more scared of the forward high falls when he tries to help there), just keep practicing, and hope not to need an ambulance on the big day!

Jiu waza (dealing with multiple attackers) is definitely improving. Got some very helpful sneaky-fix-up advice from James, another tops nidan.