Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wishing Chris Good Luck for His Shodan Exam

This Saturday, my assistant instructor Chris Olson is testing for his Shodan (1st degree black belt) in his other style of Jiu-jitsu, Shorinji Kan. He is flying all the way to Peterborough, Ontario for the privilege of being repeatedly attacked by a group of Shorinji Kan black belt toughs.

Getting the opportunity to test for Shodan is a milestone for Chris, who has been training for 9 years. No matter what the outcome of the grading, he is an excellent martial artist and teacher and everyone here at West Coast Jiu-jitsu is proud of his accomplishments.

Good luck, Chris! Break some legs! ;)


Chris Olson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Olson said...

I appreciate the support. However, breaking legs would be considered a loss of control.... breaking Sensei Yorkie's nose on the other hand would be considered good sport.

Stu Cooke said...

Hahaha. Breaking Stu's nose, also good sport!

Chris Olson said...

Well then...

Anonymous said...

Good luck, I too am training for my shodan although I won’t be grading be for another few months or so. It seems we both waited a long time for this (this is the 9th year I’m training in JJ), of course I don’t know you but I’m sure with that much experience and dedication (studying a second style and teaching) you’ll do great. What exactly do you have to know for your exam? I have to take the shodan-test twice: once for my sensei and once for a federal commission of black belts (Flemish jujutsu Federation) in order for it to be nationally and internationally recognized. The program my sensei drew up basically consists of 3 defenses against every attack from the kyu-grades and then a whole lot more: basic hanbo-jutsu, basic escrima (cinco-tero system), basic kubotan (pocket stick), defense against weapons with weapons (stick and knife), defense from a seated position and finally sparring against two opponents. The demands for the federation are quite different: 30 throws in defense (10 against grabs/chokes, 10 against headlocks/bearhugs, 10 against kicks & punches), 30 locks (again divided among grabs, bodylocks, strikes), 20 atemi, 10 chokes & ground and weapon-defenses. The majority of the exam is prearranged in the sense that you get to design your own program, the rest consists of explaining two techniques from each category and free sparring. I think it’s nice to be examined in different ways (the great majority of defenses I’ll demonstrate in front of sensei will consist of locks since it’s my favourite category and I’m generally better at it) although it does mean it’s basically twice the workload.

Let us know how it went,


PS: does this mean you get to toss Lori across the mat in preparation or do you train with other ukes?

Chris Olson said...


Your test sounds quite comprehensive. An element of our tests is that we never know exactly what we will face. I know I need to know our curriculum and how to teach it. This includes over 70 throws, numerous large and small joint locks and manipulations, defenses against a broad range of weapons and unarmed attacks, ground defenses and restraints, chokes, defenses against multiple armed and unarmed attackers, as well as demonstrative katas, counters to everything and anything the grading panel requires.

That last bit is what tends to make grading candidates in our style exceptionally nervous. What is known by non-black belts in our style is generally the thing of rumours, whispers and wild fancy. There is a bit of a shroud of secrecy, as dan grades won't tell lower belts what actually happens in gradings, but tend to drop small hints. Some of the most outlandish stories are actually true, which doesn't help the nerves.

Every grading is different, but I would say the consistent theme across all gradings in this style of Jiu Jitsu is they push you to your limit, and find out what you do after. Candidates tend to be run through their various techniques at a mentally blinding pace to overwhelm the mind, while being physically challenged to tire the body. At that point, the actual grading begins and the real blood and guts jiu jitsu is practiced. It's our performance at this stage that I believe determines whether the panel will pass or fail us. I'm not party to the grading panel's thought process, so this is only my theory based on observation over the previous nine years.

Regardless of the results of the grading, I knew it would be a worthwhile experience, as it's not often black belts from across the country come together to beat upon one another and push each other to demonstrate our skills. I passed, but I can tell you that I picked up a couple of bruises and lumps in the process, (special mention to Sensei's Fairweather & Cooke,) and learned a little more about myself in the process. My particular grading was probably orientated a tad more towards the technical side then to the brutal side, but until I see a few more gradings to put it into proper perspective, I can't really judge.

Sensei Lori was instrumental in helping me practice and readying myself for my grading, but as she is from another style of Jiu Jitsu, was not able to attend the actual test. I would also like to thank Sensei Jon Jamnik from Jitsu Canada, as well as all the students of West Coast Jiu Jitsu for helping me play with off curriculum material and getting in extra practice time. These things are never earned on their own, and I'm very thankful for everyone at West Coast Jiu Jitsu and Jitsu Canada who contributed to my training and my beatings for the test.

Good luck in your preparation and your test Zara.

Stu - sorry for hitting you in the groin as opposed to breaking your nose.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,

Congratulations! Not many people make it to black belt, it’s quite and achievement and you should be proud. I looked up your organization and it seems they only grade until Sandan so that actually makes a first Dan far more ‘valuable’ so to speak than in a style that has the usual 10 Dan-system although normally you’d only get a technical grading uptil 4th or 5th Dan at maximum, after that it’s pretty much an honorary grade based on experience, loyalty to the organization/style and special effort in promoting it. The fact that you’re part of an international organization is a good thing since it ensures uniform standards and quality instruction, I always found it fishy when teachers cannot claim affiliation to a well-known and respected organization (makes it more likely they’re frauds and incompetent) plus you get to meet other people (on national and international level) with the same interest and compare your skill-level with them.

As far as our gradings go: although we know more or less what to expect (if you don’t know what they’re going to ask you cannot prepare adequately) in practice they call out an attack, your uke complies and you defend so it’s not like a demonstration where everything is prearranged. On top of that my sensei’s been hinting at a surprise for the test so I’m expecting something along the lines of abduction to a secret underground ninja facility or perhaps I’ll get attack by him in a Scream-mask someplace I definitely won’t expect it. For first Dan the most important elements are technical mastery and fighting-spirit: even though it’s a lot and the grading goes on for hours you’re always expected to react instantly and violently and always begin and finish in good form showing control and awareness. Although it’s definitely not the end of the line first Dan marks the beginning of the journey towards real mastery (kyu-grades are all about fundamentals and for first Dan this is what you really must know inside and out) and if you get it you’re basically a representative of your sensei and style so you’d better be good, both in technical competence (someone who only knows a handful of throws and locks can never be called a master) and actually knowing how to fight when necessary. That is why I like sparring so much: yes it’s tiring (two minutes may not seem much until there are two guys in front of you who are genuinely trying to hurt you), you’ll get hit once in a while and the stress is insane but it teaches you very valuable lessons. Lessons that are fairly impossible to learn any other way except through real fighting.

I fully agree with you: your worth as a martial artist is only revealed when you’re tired and you let go of your conscious mind, allowing you to move freely and effortlessly without fear or preconceived notions holding you back. If you think while fighting you’re basically dead: you must rely on your training and reflexes and allow your subconscious mind to take over since it’s much quicker in detecting danger and organizing the proper counter-measures. Besides getting involved in actual fights (which is one way of learning and effective although hardly morally justified) sparring while physically and mentally exhausted is the single best way of developing and testing these instincts and as with everything the proof of the pudding is in the eating. ...

Anonymous said...

As to my preparation: for now I’m still in the process of drawing up a program (meaning selecting techniques allowing for enough variety but also realism and ease of use), after that it’s practice, practice and more practice to get them absolutely perfect and ensuring instant and proper reaction. What worries me most is the weapon vs weapon part of the curriculum: while I’m proficient in the empty hand defense against stick and knife (at least on the mat) I have fairly little experience in actual weapon-handling and I still don’t know what exactly will be expected of me. Last training sensei ordered me to do my rolls with the hanbo which is akward at first but fairly easy once you get the hang of it, I’ve trained with him a couple of times with hanbo practicing basic strikes and kamae but that’s about all I know at this point. As for the short stick: basically what he wants to see is blocks & counterattacks against the basic five strikes so all in all that’s fairly easy. Knife vs stick I’ve never seen so that’s still a big question-mark. To improve my ability and knowledge of stick and knife I have begun training in cinco-tero escrima, a medium to short-range style which is fairly blade orientated and very direct and to the point. Although we (meaning my sensei and me) only attend the monthly cinco-tero federal training the head-instructor (pangulong-guru) has agreed to come teach at our academy and I’m told aslong as I keep training with them on a regular basis and practice enough on my own I’ll be able to grade in their system although I’m not a member of one of their clubs (there simply isn’t one in my province and I’m not planning on spending two hours on a train, to and back, to attend training). Training with sticks and knives is very fun and it’s a great add-on to my background in ju-jutsu.

Well done,


PS: a successful Dan-test is indeed as much other people’s achievement as it is yours, I’m especially grateful to my sensei for donating his time to improve on my techniques and giving me private lessons and of course to anyone willing to help me in my preparation. Regardless of the outcome they will all be invited for a party at my house for their favourite poison.

Chris Olson said...

Ah yes - the post grading party is a good time, and I ended up having to do multiple disgusting black coloured shots...

Good luck, I hope to hear about it.