Yesterday we gathered students from all three of the different schools in the county currently training under our Kwan’s banner and got together for a big training session. It was the first steps toward the European championships being held this spring, and it was to give us a chance to have a look at what categories we might want to compete in. It was an early start for a Sunday morning, I’d normally be tucked up snoozing at 7.30, but instead I was in the kitchen ironing my dobok and making some sandwiches. It was absolutely perishingly cold too, there was ice outside and just after we got to the dojang in Falmouth it started pouring with snow. Conversely the dojang was really warm inside thanks to the central heating, a blessing which soon turned into a curse once we started exercising, it wasn’t long before I was dryer than a <insert dubious metaphor here> and gasping (although having a cold didn’t help my cause any).
The day was a great success, we all mixed and worked with people we wouldn’t normally train with or speak to, and everyone got on well. Everyone got a taste of competition style performing, being marked and feeling what it was like to perform in front of a crowd of people, and I think it was a bit of an eye-opener for some. While the first half of the day was entirely forms-based, the afternoon saw the stark contrast of sparring. After some tough strength-building exercises things got moving and everyone got to feel what it was like to throw, and more importantly take a punch or kick. We organised a mini-tournament towards the end of the day and stood out (as seniors) to referee and take charge of the teams. It was really encouraging to see how into it everyone was getting, so much so that the fighters couldn’t hear us screaming ‘stop!!’ when we wanted to award points. Seeing and talking to some of the junior students afterwards, for many of whom this was their first taste of proper sparring, it was a real flashback to my own first tastes of it. Everyone was buzzing and grinning and saying they wanted to get back in and go again, which is always a good sign. Sure, there are going to be some bumps and bruises today, and at least one black eye, but that’s all part of it. Six-and-a-half hours after we started and a few of us trundled down to the local pub for a quick pint and a natter.
Actually it would be remiss of me to not mention the other thing that happened before the end of the session while I’m at it. Everyone was asked to sit, and then I was told to stand, walk to the front and turn to face everyone. In all of the excitement of the day I forgot that I was due to have my black (blue) belt presented to me. Sadly I’ve seen enough of these presentations to not know what was coming next, the legendary ‘Chilli powder test’. Lots of martial arts clubs like to take their newly promoted students down a peg or two to make sure ego doesn’t get the better of them, for some it’s a run down the line as the rest whip them with their belts as they go, for us it’s the chilli powder test. ‘Chilli powder’ is a bit of a misnomer, as times and tastes have changed, so just plain chilli powder doesn’t cut it any more. No, today our instructor likes to mix things up with his own concoctions, and it wasn’t until after that I found out what was in mine. A spoonful of the ‘stuff’ was pushed into my mouth and then I was told to do twenty good pushups in front of the assembled mass without swallowing any or spitting any out, with everyone counting them out for me (and don’t think I didn’t notice those of you who tried to reset the count partway through!). I took my trusty old red belt off and had my new one tied around me, and then made a hasty retreat to the kitchen to rinse my mouth out! It turns out that my own personal blend of heat was a mixture of chillies, chilli sauce, rehydrated chillies that you’re not supposed to touch with bare hands(!), a tub of wasabi paste and to top it off, a sachet of the sauce from a Bombay Bad Boy pot noodle. Nice.
I’m enormously proud of what I’ve achieved, and it was made all that more special by having it presented to me in front of the rest of the students. It still hasn’t sunk in yet really, maybe once it does I’ll have more to post, but I think I’m going to be kept pretty busy in the meantime now. Here’s what my 1st Dan certificate looks like (it feels good writing that).