As students across Ishin Ryu are currently training hard in preparation for the summer grading, it amazes me to watch the tireless effort to get techniques right and to acknowledge the blood, sweat, and tears that our students display as the grading day edges closer. Quite often doubt begins to creep in and techniques are strangely altered from one week to the next. I recently began training back at my old haunt, Borehamwood Ju Jitsu Club, and it’s fantastic to see the dojo just as strong and busy with keen students as it was when I last trained there back in 2010. I spent the last two years training at Honbu and have to say it was an eye-opener. It’s a fantastic opportunity to train with a small group of students and at least four Sensei on the mat every week so if you ever fancied some extra sessions, the HQ is one of the best places to learn and refine your techniques. Naturally, you would expect any Sensei and senior student that trains at the ‘home’ dojo to have a very strong and capable knowledge of the syllabus. So why do I often hear students question our senior grades when it comes to the understanding of a technique? Firstly, as a senior grade I would encourage all students to asks questions – how on earth are you going to learn and improve in ju-jitsu if you don’t raise questions? But I have to say that when you do ask us and we answer you, please have the respect to believe that what we say is true and correct and comes directly from Honbu – really we don’t make it up as we go along.
A senior grade is defined as a student who has attained the grade of 2nd kyu or Brown Belt or above. Recently, Sebastian Weatherill from Honbu dojo was invited to train with us. He is a very talented Purple Belt and has fitted seamlessly into the ATW methodology. For those of you working on your current kyu, bear in mind that we have accomplished each of those grades and been through the experience of that grading day so tap into our first hand knowledge and the experience we had on the day – it will be the truth and nothing but, because as senior students we make the effort on your behalf to ensure we can help, advise, coach and support you by refining our techniques alongside you in the dojo. As senior students we also attend the Advanced Training Wing (ATW) at Honbu Dojo. It’s a specific coaching day only for senior students personally invited to attend by Soke. It is an opportunity for the senior ranks in Ishin Ryu to discuss, question, refine and polish techniques in the syllabus. If there are any amendments or additions to the syllabus we will hear this first-hand from Soke. It’s a classic example of how this knowledge is filtered on to you. We attend 6 ATWs per year and because Soke was feeling a little under the weather, May’s ATW was hosted by Sensei Trevor Steward. Oddly we started with very few cups of tea. No sooner had we arrived and kitted up, Sensei Trevor headed straight into the dojo to warm us up for 3 solid hours of training. The first part of our coaching day was to complete all the throws in the syllabus. As we executed our four by fours, Sensei Trevor picked up on any throws that needed breaking down and just general polishing.
So here is the first lesson for our lower grades. I am surprised how often I pitch up to you whilst you are training for your next grade to hear you have not gone through your throws. It is understandable that you may want to get to grips with the exciting new techniques for the next grading but throws are very important too. If you are smart you will practice the new throws first and then once proficient execute your new throws and go back and practice all the throws in your previous belt. It will keep you sharp on all your throws and it’s a good bit of quick endurance. Work smartly, don’t take breaks and you will be warmed up and alert to start working on your techniques. Watch the senior grades – when they train on the mat they blast threw all their throws. Sensei Tom Garvin and myself have recently worked to get all our throws down to a 19-minute session – that’s 184 throws between us. I am sure we will get faster as I learn to catch up with Sensei Tom! So if we can achieve that in 19 minutes think about what you can achieve when you have less throws to execute in a 2-hour lesson.
The next part of our coaching day was invested in breaking down White and Yellow belt. As we picked apart ground work, Sensei Dell Shannon showed us a nice little technique to put on the figure four armlock quickly and effectively. Rear strangles were analysed and refined. Both belts were thoroughly scrutinised right down to the last detail. To have the opportunity to do this with our Sensei is brilliant because any uncertainties or misunderstanding of the techniques get discussed and we all go away with the same understanding of how White and Yellow belt should be taught to you. So are you practising your previous belts? If you are intending to grade to Green or above, you may be called in at Orange or even Yellow belt to demonstrate this. When you put on that well deserved new belt, don’t forget the old one. It’s lurking in that cupboard you slung it in, waiting to pop up and test your knowledge at any moment. It’s not just about the belt you are wearing, just as it is with the senior grades – it is always about what has gone before. The aim is to go full circle right through your previous belts back to the one you are learning just as we, as senior grades, have to continuously practise and check our understanding of the syllabus. Our ATW moved swiftly from technical to endurance. Out came the bags and on went the gloves. We were encouraged to land heavy controlled punches to the bag for 1-minute rounds. Then we moved to knee work, to kicks and then mixed it all up.
Now we had a good sweat on, we moved to teamwork on the log led by Sempai Sam Gladdy who is only a week away from attempting his Shodan. Each team showed their strength and endurance as they raised the log above their heads to Sempai Sam’s rather slow count. Then we moved on to toss the log to each team, followed by sit-ups with the log. No rest for us as we went straight into ‘casualty drags’ and ‘the fireman’s carry’ all this in between press-ups. During this exercise, the senior grades showed more than endurance because it’s at this point when you show your mental strength. Every student regardless of fitness, strength and technical ability proved why they are senior grades. No matter what Sensei Trevor threw into the mix, they continued head up, refusing to quit. It may not look great but not giving up is what counts. We continued through the day with some grappling but instead of going hell for leather, we slowed our efforts down to try out ground holds and escapes and to see how we could improve. Sensei Dell Shannon and Harvey Cousins have a keen interest in grappling and very kindly guided some of us through various groundwork techniques and escapes. Finally, in Ishin Ryu style we put our new techniques to the test with the last blast of the day. Thankfully, we ended the day injury free and headed to the Wagon and Horses to fuel up and reflect on the day’s training. Positive vibes all around from the students about how important and enjoyable it is to go through the technical aspects of the syllabus – and a few hints about perhaps going through Orange and Green on the next ATW. So what are you going to work on when you are next in the dojo? If you’re not sure, go and ask a senior student.