Whether you’re training for your colour belt grading or a black belt grading, here are some practical tips to help you prepare your body and settle your mind:
Know exactly what’s required of you: the basics, your grading kata (and all katas prior to your grade), sparring and pattern drills that you’ve been learning in class, and the fundamental principles that govern your style of karate e.g., being ready all the time.
Practice little and often. Two hours a week is not enough to prepare your mind and body for a grading. Put in extra time on your own, or with a group of fellow students. It needn’t always be formal “sweating buckets” training, but simple forms and drills that you can do quickly.
Up your general fitness. HIIT is a great way to boost your anaerobic fitness, so get on with burpees, sprints, hill sprints, squats, split jumps, push-ups, sit ups. Set yourself a target and push yourself to achieve it.
Get your nutrition right. Eat healthy, light food on grading day, giving it time to settle before you walk onto the tatami. Make sure you eat enough carbohydrates (energy source) and fresh fruits and vegetables for a few days leading up to the grading.
Request personal feedback. Prior to the grading, ask your Sensei where you can improve in your karate. Take note of the recurring pointers and instructions you’ve received over the last few months in class and embody them, remembering that our Kimura Shukokai style is dynamic and follows a continuous improvement model.
Hydrate well. Hydration is probably one of the most crucial factors before, during, and after grading as it radically affects concentration and endurance. It is especially important to drink enough fluid in high-intensity exercise, both mental and physical.
Do what the Senseis ask. Observe and listen carefully to the instructions and put in your best effort to do exactly what is required of you. If the Sensei says “punch with downward ellipse” do that. If Sensei says “transfer weight from back foot to front foot” do that, even if last week you were asked to do it the other way around. Forget last week.
Practice Zanchin, the art of visualisation. Sit quietly where you won’t be disturbed and mentally go through your katas, your basics, and even your sparring drills. It’s a great way to settle your mind.
Miss classes coming up to the grading. These are vital training sessions for insights and tips which you can use to your advantage on grading day. Remember too that you’re always being assessed, not just when grading.
Ignore your previous grading scorecards. Revisit them and make sure you’re incorporating your challenge areas into your regular training. Your grading Senseis may be using this scorecard to review your progress on grading day.
Be too shy to film yourself. This is an excellent technique for preparing for your grading. Look at it, critique it, film it again, look at it some more. It’s a great way to sort out those issues you never knew were there. Or rather, you’ve been told were there but never understood what they meant.
Train hard the day before. Don’t tire the body. You’ve done everything you can, now it’s time to rest. Let the body relax, eat good food, and go to bed early, so that you can be fresh and full of energy on the big day.
Arrive late and flustered. Pack your bag the day before and make sure your gi is clean and ironed, badges are sewn on properly, and your safety equipment is in good working order. Have your affiliation book and grading fee ready. Show up early with neat hair, short nails, and clean teeth. You will feel more polished, and your fellow karateka will thank you for it.
Forget to drink. Dehydration decreases concentration levels which leads to clumsiness and mistakes; reduces endurance capacity; increases fatigue and headaches; and delays recovery. Caffeine, energy drinks, and carbonated drinks should be avoided before, during, and after a grading.
Stay stuck in a technique that feels good and worked for you previously, when the Sensei is asking for something different. An important part of the grading is to test your mental flexibility and aptitude for instruction.
Stress. Overcoming nerves, pushing past physical and mental barriers, and developing a winning attitude, are all part of the grading and useful training for life. Keep an open mind, relax and enjoy the process.
A grading is a test of your skills. Preparing for one takes time and patience. View the challenge as an opportunity rather than an obstacle, remembering that if you have been invited to attend the grading, you have the ability to succeed. Go in with confidence and have fun!