It’s surprising that I haven’t used a New Order title to date for a blog post but as my quest for a green belt has been taking up much of my time lately, it seems apt. For those who don’t know, let’s just say I have a few New Order T-shirts on hangers upstairs.
It’s been a potty week. I’m on jury service, which has meant a complete change to my routine. I’m worryingly away from my work desk – a full-on job all the time. However, a bit of civic duty in the courts is not without its plus points, one of which has been hours to kill while I was allotted a case. I’ve read hundreds of pages of a book about the Factory Records chief Tony Wilson and been able to scribble in a pad my kumite (defence and block) moves for grading.
Monday’s hour in the dojo was like a dress rehearsal for the big event yet I still seemed disconcertedly rusty and easily confused to the point where a lot of my thoughts were whether I’d already reached my natural ceiling at yellow belt.
By the time grading day had arrived, my head was taken up with jury service procedures and the unusual situation of getting to know a dozen or so other people (including two substitute jury members) from a crazily disparate set of backgrounds. Wherever possible, I read my karate notes, running through my kumite blocks and counters over and over in my head: x-block, x-neck; spin leg, helicopter neck; pat down, back punch, punch…
Released early from court, I had to log on to the office for a few hours to try and catch up with missed work but at 5.30pm the laptop was slammed shut and the usual grading hyper-nerves started. I’ve seen enough of grading to know that they’ll always bowl you a yorker – throw something at you that you’re not expecting from past belt grading.
With this in mind, at home I made sure I ran through all the katas I know, and thank God I did – later I’d be asked to do heian shodan as well as heian sandan that we’d been meticulously practising. I carefully studied my World-Famous Sandan Bunkai Chart and worked through my kumite moves checklist that had pretty much became a firm fixture in my head. Even so, I felt ridiculously uneasy as I walked to Green Lanes… Green Belt Lanes!
The drills of moves were tough work and I sweated like I was on holiday in Rangoon – a place I have no interest in ever visiting. We punched, kicked and blocked for what seemed like an eternity. “Just get through this section as best you can,” I told myself. It requires supreme concentration to recall the sequence of punches kicks and blocks required, then the turns, all done on the move. Once this was over, I knew a mountain had been climbed – but was it good enough?
Kata heian sandan was performed twice and then the curveball shodan was flung at me, but as I’d gone through this kata a few times at home I managed to keep in control of a bubbling panic. As for kumite – I’d worried about this so much recently that it’d almost become a strong point.
And then sandan bunkai, where we give practical applications for every move in the kata, and I have to say that my World-Famous Sandan Bunkai Chart might just have worked. I knew this pretty much inside out but as we were told later, we have to come at this like our lives depended on it rather than looking like a crochet group flapping bits of material around.
I hadn’t been feeling the green belt quite like the yellow belt. Getting the yellow was still like little school and I was desperate to own it, but green felt like a jump to comprehensive and I was more in awe. I’d had a lot of fun as a yellow belt, topped with the competition in Heathrow where I notched my first fight win, against a brown belt, while also getting an ass-whoopin’ from another brown belt and a black belt. (We won’t spoil the moment by mentioning two x-rays in a month.)
“I’m pleased to say that you have passed,” said the sensei, and that was it – I was a green belt. I’d done it. I wiped the ocean of sweat from my brow on my gi sleeve and went to pick up my certificate. Absolute relief. But there were strict words of advice. Now was the time to become more committed in our moves, to be increasingly robust and start to really mean it on every arms swish and leg thrust.
As for the next kata that we were shown… we’ll never learn that!