There are few things that embody Matthew 22:14 – “Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen” – like a Jiu Jitsu grading. The prog rock band Man went even further by adapting the line to “Many are called, but few get up,” and on Saturday 13th the Isle of Lewis those most ardent of students attempt their next belt.
The doors to the first Isle of Lewis Ju Jitsu Club opened at the end of September 2014, and in that time the students have been utterly transformed. Where once they were barely able to do five press-ups or sit-ups, today they can knock out forty of each, repeated several times over a four-hour intense examination. Where once there was uncertainty and stumbling, on this day they held themselves proudly. The distance that they have come can be measured in light years.
A grading is an opportunity for candidates to achieve the next belt or rank, and there are eight in total. We are not a club who grades students every few months – far from it. We have no interest in filling our dojo with senior grades, but are more concerned with producing quality over quantity. As a result, students are graded once or twice a year, and they are expected to produce nothing less than their best. The threshold for passing is 90%, and the examination is as mental as it is physical.
On Saturday 13th August, four students from Lionel, and two from Stornoway put themselves forward to be tested. Local students Eilidh Ferguson, Charley Gilroy, Katherine Matheson, and Lewis O’Connor were joined by their brethren from Stornoway – Jason Mcdonnell and John. Taking pride in one’s own appearance is an important tenet of our school, and all of the candidates arrived in shirt and ties.
At 1pm, the grading began with a fifteen minute written examination. White belts tested their knowledge of the club history, the philosophy of the school, as well as their understanding of the Japanese language that they have learned to date. The yellow belt candidates were tested on their understanding of nutrition, and the philosophical concepts of The Seven Virtues of Bushido –a code of honour that a martial artist lives by.
Immediately after this, the physical examination began with a gentle warm up, followed by breakfalls – the art of falling over without getting hurt. Physical conditioning is at the core of what we do, building both strong bodies and minds. White belt candidates are expected to execute thirty press-ups, sit-ups, squats, burpees and leg raises without stopping, and they will have to repeat these three times during the course of the three-hour physical exam. Yellow belt candidates are expected to do forty of each.
Whilst all of this may sound tough, bear in mind that they candidates have been working towards this for at least a year, with some students training four times a week – this gives you some idea of the commitment and dedication that each pupil has towards their jiu-jitsu. They rarely miss a class, and always give 100% when on the mat.
With the first hour of the grading out of the way, it was time for a sixty-second water break before moving onto groundwork. White belts have their syllabus to follow, but yellow belt candidates are expected to repeat the former in order to demonstrate that they have retained their skills, and built upon them with the yellow belt system. These techniques focus on developing confidence and body co-ordination by taking larger and stronger opponents to the ground and submitting them. These techniques are highly effective when dealing with a single attacker, and each candidate showed how they could move around a grounded opponent without letting them up and still execute multiple submissions from various positions.
After the second round of fitness, the students transitioned to their strikes – jabs and cross punches were followed by front and turning kicks, as well as elbows and knees. Limbs moved in a fine blur and the students loudly acknowledged every command before letting loose with a volley of shots.
With the second hour of the grading coming to an end, it was time for another round of physical conditioning, before moving straight on to sparring. Here the candidates are expected to demonstrate their knowledge of multiple locks and holds in a live combat scenario. There are multiple rounds over an hour long period, including both stand up and ground-based techniques.
With the final minutes ticking away, it was time for The Mill –a single sixty-second round where the candidate must punch as hard as they can, as fast as they can, on our resident bag, Big Bertha. It is harder than it sounds, and the whole dojo gets behind the student to call them on and encourage them. At this point, all the students had been going for nearly four hours, and with most running only on fumes it took great fortitude of spirit for each of them to steel themselves for one final blast out.
With the mill over, the candidates stepped off for a well-earned water break, and I looked at their scores to determine whether they had passed.
As the candidates returned to the mat and lined up, I could tell that they were nervous. They had gone at it hard and heavy for over four hours. It was time to see how far they had come.
I am both happy and proud to report that every Lionel candidate passed and earned their yellow belts. Jason Mcdonnell was passed to white belt, and John Morrison double graded white-yellow. The grading was hard fought and well won, with buckets of spirit and camaraderie with students not only doing themselves proud but also looking after each other as well. Straight after the grading all the students, together with the wider martial art family, retired to Borve House for a well-earned dinner and it was great to see them still buzzing and discussing just what they had been through and achieved.
Massive congratulations to all! You have successfully taken your first step in your martial art career – onwards to Orange Belt!