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!