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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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As a beginner to the art, you may probably have several reservations and anxieties about what your future in the art will hold. One such worry may be your first grading examination. Be aware that grading examinations are not necessarily compulsory, for if you simply enjoy the training, but don’t feel the need to progress in grade, then there is nothing wrong with that.

However, grading examinations, and the period of time between each grading examination can act as an excellent way of marking your progression. So if you do choose to go through with grading examinations, this page is dedicated to clearing up any misconceptions that you may have.

A grading examination is simply a test of your developed skill. The examiner is not out on a mission to make you fail, if anything, you will find that the examiner is in fact very eager to pass you! This is very important for you to keep in mind. No one is out there to get you, and no one wants you to fail.

For your first examination, depending on association, there may be a time requirement that you must experience in order to entitle you to train. Good advice would be to devote adequate time to your training before your first grading to ensure you’re totally ready. Any senior instructor will tell you that the early stages of your training are the most important, for it is at this stage where your fundamentals are built, giving you a strong basis for you to develop upon.

Now, on the day of your grading, you’re not going to a mystical cave where you will be thrown into the pits of hell if you fail. You are going to a training hall, where there are probably dozens of people who all feel the same way, all in the same boat. Everyone is feeling the excruciating nerves that you will, so just take calm in the knowledge that you’re not alone.

During your early gradings, depending on your association, you will probably find yourself standing behind one figure that will lead you through the grading. Be aware to keep in mind that he or she has already been through the experiences that you are living, so remember that he/she will empathise with your nervousness.

You will be graded on a variety of things during the examination, but nothing that you will not have already covered a million times in your class training. There are no surprises, because as already mentioned, the examiner doesn’t want to fail you.

You will be tested on kihon, kumite (Gohon kumite – 5 step), and kata. You may also be tested on your ability to fight freestyle and may be encouraged to do a little fitness training. Just remember that throughout all aspects of your karate, if you make a mistake, just keep going and ignore your error.

Quite common, particularly for beginners, is for the nervous newcomer to experience a ‘mind-blank’. If you forget what you are doing, don’t worry, take a second and just re-gather yourself. The examiner will understand this kind of thing, and he has probably seen this happen to a million other students.

Another thing that is quite common in many associations is if there are a lot students taking their examination, then grades may be broken down to several instructors, therefore, you may find that you are simply being graded alongside others of the same grade as you. This will undoubtedly ease your mind, since you won’t feel compared to students who are more advanced than you.

It is quite normal for the examination instructions to be provided in Japanese. For example, if the examiner wants you to do the stepping punch, he won’t refer to it as such; he may call it ‘oi-tsuki’. This may make it very difficult for you to follow, and will undoubtedly nerve you more. But, if you mishear something or you don’t fully understand, just stay calm and just listen carefully, the examiner may repeat himself. If not, either ask politely for the examiner to repeat himself, or keep a keen eye on your peers, although don’t allow this to destroy your concentration.

In kihon (basic training), the best advice is to keep your concentration. Remember your fundamentals, and just work as hard as possible. The instructor will count in Japanese (refer to the terminology page), so just be sure to keep up with the count. Most important piece of advice is to just to concentrate on your count and just commit yourself to doing the best you can. (See the kihon page for further information)

In Kumite, remember the rules of etiquette. Bow to your opponent, showing utmost respect. Keep focused on the opponent, and don’t fear getting hit, or hitting your opponent. When you get hit, don’t flinch, keep your posture and take it with confidence. When hitting the opponent after you have blocked their attack, kiai with confidence and power. Again, if you mess up, just ignore the mistake, and just show the examiner that you are determined to get it right. It will be this attitude that will make you successful.

There have been many cases, where even the most technically proficient karate have failed because they don’t have the correct attitude. If you show a real commitment and determination to succeed, then you may find that this outweighs the mistakes you have made.

When performing kata, shout the name with a proud tone, and remember where the kiais are. Perform the kata with power and confidence and again, if you make an error just keep the correct attitude and your mistakes may be forgiven.

Once the grading is completed, you may be called around, where the announcements are made of your pass or fail. Please note that many associations actually issue temporary grades to those who don’t fully make the mark. Keep calm and bare in mind that a grading is just a day. If you are not successful, just be sure that you are next time. This shouldn’t be taken to mean that trying your hardest on the day isn’t important. It is, but you must keep a little perspective.

Provided that you train hard, you are committed and you show willingness to correct mistakes, and be as good as you can be, then who can deny you what you deserve. You will usually find that those who fail are those who are either blasé or those who don’t commit to being the best that they can be.