Ogwen 2016 was a very special one for me. Even more special than my first one in 2011 where I was confirmed at the same grade (3rd kyu) after a 22 year break away from training with the Higashi family – an emotional high point, for sure! This was the year in which I was hoping to take my Dan grading! Eeek!
Saturday evening was spent in the bar catching up with old friends, making new ones, talking over past Ogwens, and looking forward to whatever 2016 would bring us. This year, Luton had two “virgins” in their midst – Connor and Sam. Both of whom seemed quite nervous, but also excited, at the thought of what lay in store for them at 7.30am the next day… Bless their little cotton socks!
Sunday morning dawned (a little too early, but nonetheless much anticipated!) and was rather damp. After a rather stretchy and joint crunching warm up with Michael Clancy we started on the sharing of tactics and techniques rather than the traditional Ogwen “battlefield” session, with the emphasis more on what we could take back to our clubs instead of just 45 minutes of fighting – which would have been enjoyable, but the knowledge sharing was just as much fun! Knowing that I was “in the frame” for consideration to take my dan grading this year made for an interesting time on the battlefield, as I made my way to the senior end of the lines to spar with the various much respected senior dan grades.
After breakfast, it was off to the car park dojo for our first gi session of the day/week and, of course, it did not disappoint, with Sensei Spanton on top form stretching our brains and educating our bodies. With a whoosh the first session was over followed by lunch and then straight into the second session for much more mind-bending.
Before heading off to Ogwen this year, checking the weather forecast showed that we would most likely be in for a very wet week. However, after a damp first day the weather improved constantly throughout the week resulting in a very welcome pleasant last day.
The remaining battlefield sessions of the week saw Steve Gibbs, Steve Bell, Jon Dunn and John Hurley variously warming us up on the battlefield, and teaching us more new and interesting techniques to take home. Day two also happened to be my birthday, and at the end of the early morning session I was very subtly manoeuvred into the middle of a circle of representatives from each club and then unceremoniously set upon to be given the bumps (and a few lumps!) to commemorate the event! Luckily a dunking in the river did not happen – I am not well known for my swimming ability and the loss of a student due to drowning would have put a bit of a downer on the day!
Day four saw the customary Ogwen “Virgin” Dunking and this year’s will be remembered for a long time… Our very own Samantha, who had been fairly quiet all week, broke her silence in spectacular fashion when her body hit the freezing cold water. It was at this point that we decided upon her dojo nickname – “Kinhell!”
The remaining dojo sessions flew past and then it was time for the customary “last blast” of maximum effort and spirit to cap off the week’s most excellent training. And that was it. Ogwen 2016 was done and dusted. Nothing left to do now but watch someone take their dan grading…
It was a strange feeling for me all week – knowing that I was being scrutinised for a decision on whether or not I would be allowed to grade for my shodan. I have in the past suffered a great deal with “performance anxiety”, but I think spending 24 hours a day keeping busy, totally immersed in the karate world, surrounded by friends, fellow students and respected mentors helped enormously to keep the anxiety in check and to boost my confidence.
The grading experience was awesome! I was nervous, of course, but also excited. I knew that a number of people had confidence in my abilities otherwise I wouldn’t be grading at all – this, again, helped to settle my nerves a bit. All I had to do was keep it together long enough to show that this confidence was not misplaced. It certainly is no exaggeration when people tell you how physically demanding the Ogwen dan grading is, for sure! Having worked hard all week, this was the culmination of years of training and nothing less than 100% maximum effort will get you through. You dig deep. After a number of times up and down the dojo doing basics and then kata (let’s not talk about my unscripted off-piste instant kata change – how did I manage to transition from pinan sandan into higashi sho? Twice??? At least I managed to recover and do it properly on my 3rd attempt!), I was then put up against three separate opponents for the kumite part of my grading. Exhaustion is creeping in at this point, but you find reserves of energy that you never knew you had. Just when you think the body is going to fail – a fresh burst of energy is triggered by your friends and fellow students cheering you on. The arms were lead weights but sheer willpower kept bringing them back up again. And then the inevitable happened… after the sparring was done it was time for just one more kata to test my mettle. “Higashi sho!” calls out Sensei Spanton and, or so I’m told as I don’t remember much of anything of that last kata, I managed to get through it without too much drama. Or rather, just the right amount of drama to show that I could still do it at the point of total mental and physical collapse!
And then it was over.
Time to take on board some much needed water and then inspect my feet. Not bad. Only one toe shredded! I think there was a lot of sweaty hugging and handshakes, as well. Not entirely sure – it was a bit blurry at this point! I hobbled back to the caravan and soaked my feet in hot water and Captain Morgan’s Original Spiced Rum. No, really. I didn’t have any surgical spirit, so Captain Morgan it was! Nothing but the best for my feet! 😀
The evening rolled around and we all gathered in the club house. Silence broke out as Sensei stood up to make the awards and announcements. Our own Connor and Sam from Luton were both promoted to 8th kyu! Yay! There was an unexpected promotion to 1st kyu for Jess Leach from Maldon who had impressed the seniors during the week. Not only that, but Jess was awarded Student of the Course, as well!
And then… drum roll… “And I’m sure he’ll be very pleased with this… Simon Mills is promoted to shodan!”
Well, needless to say I WAS very pleased with this. I think it was several days before I stopped grinning
I know I’ve said this before in different places, but there’s an awful lot of people who have helped and encouraged me along the way. I thank you all for helping me to be a better karateka and a better person.
Right, now that I’ve got my black belt it’s time to start REALLY learning!