On Wednesday, July 20th, 2016, I tested for Nidan, along with another Nidan candidate, two Shodan candidates, and several brown belt candidates. The testing panel consisted of:
John Dominguez, MD, Shodan
Jim Mitchell, Shodan
Richard Poage, Renshi, Godan
Michael Newland, Renshi, Rokudan
Jeff Allred, Renshi, Rokudan
Eddie Bethea, Kyoshi, Hachidan
The Shodan candidates had to complete a written exam, which Sensei had me monitor to ensure there was no cheating. Of course, no one expected these two students to cheat, anyway. They are both very talented, dedicated karateka, and we have been thrilled to see them learn and grow over the years that they have been with us. That said, they can be pretty goofy, but who says karateka have to be serious all the time? The written test is a mixture of questions that have definite answers, and questions that can be answered in a variety of ways, provided you can justify your answers. I didn’t look over all of their answers, since I wasn’t on the testing panel, but the ones I saw as they were working looked pretty good.
As usual, the physical testing process began with a workout. While some dojo have standard exercises and sets/reps to be completed as part of testing, we do not. This means that the testing workout can be just about any collection of exercises done for sets, reps, or time, and it won’t be consistent from test to test. When I tested for Shodan, the workout was mostly using hojo undo equipment. This time, it was all aerobic/calisthenic exercises done in a circuit. There were jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, squat kicks, punches while standing in Naihanchi-dachi, jogging, side-shuffling, and possibly others that have become a blur in my memory. This left everyone dripping with sweat, and with arms and legs that felt like burning Jell-O. I, personally, also got to enjoy calf muscle cramps from this point forward during the test.
Following the workout, we began going through the curriculum, starting with kata. In the Shorinkan, which is the organization our dojo belongs to, there are a total of 19 kata, but the organization does not require its members to learn them in a particular order, or by particular ranks, as long as they are all learned by Godan. In our dojo, we are required to be able to perform all of the kata for our Shodan test, so that our time as yudansha can be spent refining and studying the kata, rather than memorizing their movements. This means that there were four of us who had to demonstrate all 19 kata in the system, back-to-back, during this test–two Nidan candidates and two Shodan candidates. We started with everyone working through Chibana Chosin’s three Kihon Kata, then Nakazato Shugoro’s Fukyu no Kata, before getting into older material, working through all three Naihanchi, all five Pinan, both Passai, both Kusanku, Chinto, Gojushiho, and finally Gorin–the kata that Nakazato Shugoro created to demonstrated for the Olympics. Everyone started off together, but as we reached kata that some of the testees didn’t know, they were able to sit out for a bit. We were also then periodically called up to demonstrate kata again, individually, or in smaller groups, for the panel to evaluate. Bunkai was also spot-checked throughout the test–not just within the kata section. There was even a point when the Shodan candidates were asked to demonstrate applications for kata that they knew outside of the Shorinkan curriculum. Brent had to demonstrate applications for Seiyunchin, while Rachel had to demonstrate applications for Hakutsuru.
In addition to kata, the Shorinkan has a number of yakusoku kumite (promise sparring) drills, which are prearranged partner drills that work a combination of basics and self defense techniques. When I started, we had 7 of these, which were created by Nakazato Shugoro. Since then, his son, Nakazato Minoru, has taken over the Shorinkan, and he has added 21 more yakusoku kumite. Additionally, my Sensei’s Sensei, Eddie Bethea, has developed basic yakusoku kumite drills for all three Naihanchi and all three Pinan kata. This leaves our dojo with a whopping total of 36 of these drills! Thankfully, we were not required to know all of them, just yet. Brown belts had to be able to demonstrate 4 of either the original set, or of Nakazato Minoru’s first set. Shodans had to be able to demonstrate all 7 of either the original set, or Nakazato Minoru’s first set. Nidans had to be able to demonstrate all 7 of both the original set and Nakazato Minoru’s first set. It can be quite confusing to keep straight, but we were able to sort it all out!
Our dojo curriculum also includes an array of 43 techniques, some of which come from our kata, and some of which come from the system that Tiffany Richards (my Sensei’s girlfriend and co-owner of the dojo) practices, which tend to resemble techniques from Chinese arts and American kenpo. Typically, we have to demonstrate these solo, as if they were kata, as well as with a partner. In the interest of time, I believe, we went straight to working them with partners. These techniques include a variety of strikes, locks, chokes, and throws, and have to be demonstrated against punches, kicks, pushes, grabs, chokes, headlocks, and more.
The techniques that we have to know tend to lead into more freestyle self defense practice. In the test, this was done by assigning two attackers to a testee, and having them defend random, rapid-fire attacks from those attackers. This is exhausting for both the defender and the attackers, and even though everyone is being controlled enough to prevent injury, things can sometimes get rough. Above, you can see a couple clips of our Shodan candidates participating in this. By this point in the test, everyone was already worn out and techniques were getting sloppy, so that made dealing with rapid-fire, random attacks even more difficult. Admittedly, it also made attacking more difficult.
Our tests generally end with jiyu kumite (free sparring), once everyone has completely run out of energy and ideas. Things continue to get sloppy, and mistakes are made, but the real point is to push everyone past what they thought their limit was. We have certainly had people break and fail at this point, but everyone made it through during this test, which is great! Personally, I had to pace myself and resist engaging in grappling too often, since that would have left me too exhausted to move. In the end, I was able to spar everyone who was testing, and spar at or a little above their level the entire time.
After sparring, the panel went into the office to discuss everyone’s performance, review the Shodan candidates’ written exams, and sign certificates for those who passed. This took them a bit longer than I am used to it taking, and when they came back out, they called up both Shodan candidates. The panel decided that each of them was to demonstrate applications for every sequence of movements in an advanced kata, before any promotions would be granted. Brent was assigned Chinto, while Rachel was assigned Gojushiho. At this point in their training, they have been shown some applications for each kata, but they had not necessarily been shown applications for every sequence, and so they had to figure them out on the spot. While they didn’t always come up with applications I would have used, they did pretty well.
In the end, despite some near-breakdowns, everyone who tested was able to pass! This test was made extra special by the presence of Eddie Bethea, Kyoshi, Hachidan, who is our Sensei’s instructor. He traveled out to the blazing desert to judge at the Karate World Championships, and was able to come out a day early to preside over our test. It’s always wonderful to see and learn from him, and to test under him was a great honor! To mark the promotions, everyone was granted a dojo certificate of rank, signed by everyone on the testing panel. Some of us also received Shorinkan certificates from Okinawa. Below, you can see both of the certificates that I received: