WEEKS 14-19: Do Not Badly Score Me Oh My Grading

WEEKS 14-19: Do Not Badly Score Me Oh My Grading


This week brought record temperatures to the UK, with the mercury rising to an unprecedented 40°C. The last time it was that swelteringly hot, pteradons soared the sky. It was absolutely awful. In those sort of conditions, the last thing you want to do is practice your katas kihon and heian shodan. But practice them I did. All week. In the living room, in the kitchen and even at the local tennis court. In oven conditions.

And I watched an amazing 1980s video clip of a Japanese fella who looked like Monkey Magic tearing through his shodan moves. It’s mesmerising footage, two minutes and 23 seconds of performance art. I must have watched it 50 times. The sheer execution of his blocks, punches and stances is utterly engaging.

By grading day I was a bag of nerves – not so much a bag as one of those big holdalls you get at Ikea. I worked at home that day, said my farewells to colleagues at 5.30pm on Teams and shoved the dining room furniture to one side. Time for some last-minute practice. Kihon I know, so I mostly performed shodans in my run-throughs. Half an hour in I realised I’d got my knife blocks at the end of the routine ass about tip – the wrong way round. From 6pm-6.30pm I drilled the amended routine into my daft head.

At 6.30pm I needed a shower and thought it might quicken my reflexes later. A good idea. After that, it was into my gi, only to have forgotten how to tie my belt. I had to get back on YouTube to remember how to fasten it! I don’t walk to the dojo in full kit. I lack the confidence. I had my white karate trousers on and a Salford Lads Club T-shirt; I was still roasting hot. I walked to the Green Lanes church hall using my favoured ‘good luck long route’ which takes in the shop fronts, kebab houses and bars of London N21. I slipped the karate coat on when I arrived. I was hot as hell.

The dojo was different this week. There was a table at the front for the use of officialdom. We lined up – and an hour and a half of karate sheepdog trials began. What was interesting was that the hours spent going through moves for the past 13 weeks seemed to slot into place. It was like a jigsaw, the pieces miraculously fitting one by one. And there’s no substitute for hard work. Practice paid on this night.

Even so, I remained a bit of a cock-up artist, losing momentum, forgetting to shout kiai!, not quite getting the gist of the tasks I was being asked to perform. Again, quicker to train a monkey. I glanced down the line of my fellow trainees, all schoolchildren, all alert and on edge, all wanting to move up to the orange belt and showing the judges their well-practised shapes with their own inimitable styles. I felt like I was 12 too – and there was a team spirit evident. Our brown belt hissed to me to take my back off the wall when we were seated. We could be marked down for it. I spun round and spread the message down the line. Teamwork. I liked that.

And so we were asked to line up. I knew I’d not done enough to move up. I was convinced of it. There was applause as the orange belts were presented. And then… Lee Gale, congratulations – an orange belt. But unbeknownst to us, we’d also been graded for the red belt above! We’d passed that! But it was a close call – more practice was required! So I’m now a red belt at karate. A red belt! Mrs Gale had had a demanding day at work, but had come up smelling of roses and my achievement in karate meant that our kitchen was a happy place that night. Which wine did I drink? Red of course! Be seeing you!