It is often said that the only time you should ever look back is to see how far you have come, and an Ishin Ryu grading is a perfect time to do that. The doors to the Lionel Ju Jitsu Club opened at the end of September 2014, and in that time the students have come on in leaps and bounds. Where once they were barely able to do five press-ups or sit-ups, today they can knock out thirty of each. Where once there was a lack of confidence and a mumbling to their shoes, today they hold their heads up high. The distance that they have come can be measured in light years.
A grading is an opportunity to gain 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 11th July, five students put themselves forward for the arduous examination of their White Belt – Eilidh Ferguson, Daniel Macdonald, Morgan Macsween, Katherine Matheson, and Lewis O’Connor. They were assisted by Stuart Macleod and James Harley, who has travelled up from the Stornoway Dojo to help out. Taking pride in ones own presentation is an important tenet of our school, and all of the candidates arrived in their school uniform. Shirts were pressed and shoes were polished to a high shine.
At 9.30, the grading began with a twenty minute written examination. Here we 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.
Immediately after this, they all changed into their dogis, and the physical examination began. We started with the Ishin Ryu barefoot run – this is a method of running together as a unit whilst maintaining spacing and not leaving anyone behind. It is great for building both camaraderie and leadership skills. Directly after this they began their warm up.
An Ishin Ryu warm up typically takes half an hour as we aim to warm up not only all areas but also build up the student’s endurance. Physical conditioning is of the essential precepts of our art, building fortitude of both body and mind. 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.
Following on from this, the candidates attempted the infamous Bleep Test – this is a running exercise where the candidate must cover a 20 metre stretch before the alarm sounds for the next lap. The time allowed gets progressively shorter and thus they must continually increase their pace. Whilst all of this may sound arduous, bear in mind that they candidates have been building towards this for nearly 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 ju jitsu. They rarely miss a class, and always give 100% when on the mat.
At white belt, the expected standard for the Bleep Test is level five, and having successfully completed this the candidates moved on to their breakfalls. Ju Jitsu uses strikes to close the distance in order to execute a throw and submission, and a breakfall allows the student being thrown to land without being hurt. The standard on the day was excellent, and the students literally threw themselves into their falls.
With the first hour of the grading out of the way, it was time for a sixty-second water break before moving onto basic strikes – jabs, reverse punches, uppercuts and hooks were followed by front and turning kicks, knees and elbows, before moving on to combination strikes. Limbs moved in a fine blur and the students loudly acknowledged every command before letting loose with a volley of shots.
The students then transitioned to their throws – basic hip throws, followed immediately by hip throws with multiple strikes. The former teaches the fundamentals of our style – closing the distance, taking the balance, and transitioning, whereas the latter translates the theory into application as the candidates defend against a hook punch with a block followed by a throw to neutralise the attacker.
Each belt within Ishin Ryu Ju Jitsu has an associated weapon. In White Belt it is the Kubaton: a small, neoprene, keychain weapon that has been pioneered by the Japanese Riot Police since the 1960’s. All of the students showed fantastic use of the strikes and an excellent knowledge of distances to their opponent.
In ju jitsu, we never strike with a closed fist to the head. The reason for this is the risk of breaking our palm or wrist, and so we strike with the heel of the palm. At white belt there are five alternating strikes to the kata, all defending from a hook punch, and the attackers showed excellent fortitude by really throwing the punch in, only to have it blocked and a flurry of counter strikes and locks unleashed.
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 the ground work. Here the candidates are expected to demonstrate their knowledge of multiple locks and holds on the ground. 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.
As the morning drew to a close, it was time for some demonstrations of chokes and strangles as an extension of their ground work before moving on to sparring. At this level, sparring is about putting what you have learned together and not necessarily about winning. There is no striking allowed at White Belt, but rather the candidates must close the distance to execute a throw or submission. Points are awarded not for how many times the candidate wins, but how many times they can pick themselves back up, and still maintain composure.
With the final minutes ticking away, it was time for The Mill – at White Belt this is a single sixty second round where the candidate must punch as hard as they can, as fast as they can, onto a strike shield. 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 three 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 strike shield away, there was just time left for a final round of fitness testing before 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 three hours, and many times I had to tell them to repeat their techniques until they got them right. It was time to see how far they had come.
I am both happy and proud to report that every candidate passed and earned their white belts. 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 The Decca for a well-earned lunch and it was great to see them still buzzing and discussing just what they had been through and achieved.
A massive congratulations to all! You have successfully taken your first step in your martial art career – onwards to Yellow Belt!
Ishin Ryu Ju Jitsu is held at Sporsnis every Monday & Wednesday from 7-9pm
LIONEL DOJO GRADING REPORT
My name is Katherine Matheson and I am 11 years old. I have been studying the art of Ishin Ryu Ju Jitsu for one year.
Our white belt grading was on the 11thof July 2015 and was held at Spòrs Nis. We had to be at the dojo for 9:00am just to have a talk through what we were going to be doing and to set out our kits. At 9:30am we started the grading with a sit down exam which took us approximately 20 minutes to complete. The exam was about the history, etiquette and the basic knowledge of Ishin Ryu Ju Jitsu. Once we were all finished we headed off to get changed into our dogis .
We started the physical part of the grading by opening up the dojo and then we moved onto our basic fitness which consisted of 30 x Press-ups, 30 x Sit ups, 30 x Leg raises, 30 x Burpees, bleep test and 4 x Basic hip throws. After that we moved onto the Basic Strikes, Combination Strikes, and then on to the Break Falls. After that we had a 60 second water break. We all bowed onto the mat and resumed the lesson and moved onto the Kubaton (kata of strikes) which is my personal favourite. Then there followed the General Techniques, Groundwork and Strangles & Chokes from the Mount. At the end of the session we did some Ground Grappling. After we had all gone against each other, we moved on to some Stand up Sparring which is compulsory for over 16’s and voluntary for under 16’s. As we are all under 16 in the school it was voluntary for us, but we all chose to do it. Then we had one more thing to do – find out if we passed – and we all did! We were all very pleased with ourselves and went to the Decca for a celebration lunch which was very nice. The homemade chocolate brownies were fantastic and just what I needed. I was very pleased with how the day went and now I know what I need to work on in the future.
I am really glad that I took part in the grading. Ju Jitsu really helps me to keep fit and active. At the end of the day I was really tired but had a great feeling of achievement! Thank you Sensei!