I was both excited and anxious as I arrived at Sunderland's City Centre University Halls for the November black belt grading. My sporting routine has been gradually grinding to a halt as I have packed in more and more karate lessons in the run up to the Special Dan Training and Grading session. Each club session is six quid a pop and an hour and a half of (more or less) full-on aerobic effort. High kicking in your fifties is no balm to the elderly, I can tell you. Ain't natural. Thankfully, my running history has provided me with more endurance than the average joe public, and by god, I needed it.
It was a crisp morning. Firstly we had an hour and a half's training with two of the top Karate practitioners in the Country. Then there was a 2 hour wait before the afternoon grading began. I did my best to avoid contact and aimless small talk and speculation by walking to Greggs for a cuppa and then reclining as best I could on a hard chair with my eyes closed in the noisy and crowded sports centre. The air of expectation and mild fear was palpable. It was like being at the dentists or sweating outside the headmasters office in the 70's.
Having written out a cheque for £70, I was incentivised to do as well as possible. A crowd of around 50 candidates trooped into the small hall and I was in the second last group of 4 to go through the syllabus. After 2 hours of waiting and watching others, I prayed to anyone that was listening that I'd manage to keep it all together.
My name was called. I stepped up and I set off to impress, but mainly to try and avoid making stupid mistakes, the same ones that had littered my training. After 15 minutes of full on effort, I finished and went back to my corner. I dropped my sparring mitts and gum shield into my bag and, exhausted, sat hunched with a towel over my head, the sweat dripping off my nose. However, the judges had other ideas and with only the final 3 candidates left, an odd number, I was called back to spar and fight again to make up the numbers. Much joy! I hastily grabbed my gear and lined up again for another bout of sparring. As I tried to summon the energy to fight convincingly for two minutes, I couldn't decide if I was called up again because I was good last time, or because I was marginal and they wanted another look. No matter, it was soon over and I bowed, left the floor and sat down again, spent.
Its not until the very end of the day that if you've convinced the panel, they ask you back up to do another different kata (a pre-determined set of moves). Out of about fifty present, there were only about 15 or 16 asked up. Thankfully I was one of them. There was still room for failure, but the kata suited me and I raced through it. The end was in sight.
The whole class was brought to the front and the individual results and comments delivered. Success and a long tough day, but a memorable one.
I am having the day off today and lying on the settee with the rain outside. Its now time to resurrect my running career, methinks. Where are those trainers?