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Archive for September, 2006

Dan Gradings Weekend 2006

Sunday, September 24th, 2006

Although Sunday 24th September dawned grey and rainy, a full-arc rainbow over Coventry turned into a morning bright and warm enough for the Phoenix dojo doors to be removed, and chairs to be set out for the biggest day in the Yama Arashi calendar, the Dan-gradings.

Sensei Ric Costigan’s energetic Thursday course began the run-up, and the lively Friday-night taken by Sensei Barbara Moss, Head of the Association, continued the process of challenging the minds and bodies of everyone, including the candidates, Sarah Cannon’s suwari waza kata being particularly popular – allegedly!

On the Saturday before Dan-gradings, the normal 2-hour course becomes a full 2.00 – 6.00pm course, the first section being led by Sensei Barbara, who kindly didn’t repeat the suwari-waza kata. Then Sensei Ric took over, as usual making everyone work hard, and demonstrating some new aspect of a familiar technique to think about.

The last section was led by Sensei Brian, reputed to have only two speeds, Fast and Supersonic! The students, having already completed the equivalent of one-and-a-half normal classes, rose to the challenge, finding the strength to finish the course. Many also found that after a short break they had enough energy to visit a local hostelry…..

As there were only three gradings to be taken this year, two candidates for 1st Dan and one for Nidan, the gradings started later than usual, at 10.30am. Sensei Barbara led the warm-up, and then the gradings began.

1st Kyu Marie Bloxham was called up first, her main Uke being Derek Smith, himself the Nidan candidate. Katas, single techniques, sequences, disarming an armed Uke, the demonstration of favourite techniques, and at the end, Keiko against two attackers, where theory and practice finally join together into working Aikido, all performed calmly and competently.

Next came 1st Kyu Mark Burton, with Adam as his main Uke. Sensei Barbara chose different katas, and different techniques, but all drawn from the 1st Dan syllabus, and again performed in a workmanlike fashion, with the exception of the Keiko, which Sensei Barbara stopped when it became obvious that Mark was actually enjoying himself!

Finally 1st Dan Derek Smith stood up to take his 2nd Dan grading, showing no sign that he had been Uke shortly before. Naturally the requirements for 2nd Dan are more challenging than for 1st Dan, involving different kata, more advanced techniques, and more own-choice techniques, and concluding again with Keiko, which for 2nd Dan involve one of the Ukes being armed with a jo.

The armed attacker was speedily disarmed and the jo was discarded, picked up for use by the second Uke, who was also promptly disarmed, and this “exchange of views” seemed likely to carry on indefinitely, until Sensei Barbara finally called a halt and the Senior Grading-Panel withdrew to deliberate.

Very soon the Panel returned, and Sensei Barbara was pleased to announce that all three candidates had passed. She congratulated Marie and Mark on achieving 1st Dan, and Derek on gaining his 2nd Dan, although she did comment that it was disappointing that so few Kyu grades had attended, as no-one achieves Dan-grade without the help of others. But she was pleased to call Marie and Mark to kneel before the other Dan-grades to receive the formal Rei of welcome into the Black Belt rank.

Then Sensei Ric recounted a whimsical description of the Dan gradings which used to take place in Brussels, and those of us who have subsequently achieved Dan-grade at Coventry can only be grateful that times have changed! [Admin Note: Read Ric’s account here ].

This Grading was within a week of the 30th anniversary of Senseis Barbara, Grev and Brian gaining 1st Dan, and Christelle Evaert had secretly organised a collection from all the Dan-grades who train regularly at Coventry, and at this point, on their behalf, she presented Barbara with a surprise bouquet and a plaque congratulating her, Grev and Brian on their anniversary. Due to the generosity of the YAUK members the additional money was used to make a contribution to Mr Bill Smith’s nominated charity.

Sensei Barbara thanked everyone for the plaque and flowers, and then called Christelle back before the Panel to deliver her own surprise, awarding Christelle a well-deserved 3rd Dan.

Finally the Dan Gradings were over and the partying began. Snacks and drinks awaited in the end dojo, and then the coach took those who had booked to the Bell at Monks Kirby. Well, most of them, anyway, as it departed without Grev and Ros! Fortunately they hitched a lift and didn’t miss out on the meal, although profiteroles replaced the usual delicious crème brulee.

Finally the coach started loading passengers for the return to the Phoenix, and everyone was well-fed and happy, but some still ready to continue the festivities at the club. Not to break with tradition more drinks were available along with a various selection of food from the Wing Wah and finally finishing about 1am but of course ready to resume training the next day……!

30th Anniversary Dan Grade

Sunday, September 24th, 2006

It is not as much as the song says – it was 20 years ago today, but actually 30 years ago today that on 19 September 1976, Sensei Barbara Moss, Sensei Greville Cooke and Sensei Brian Kennedy took their first black belts together.

Not here of course, but in the Yama Arashi dojo in Brussels, Belgium, where we all had to travel to take our Dan grades until the mid-nineties under the supervision of Tony Thielemans Sensei. It was an experience from start to finish.

Depending on where we stayed, in was either a tram or taxi ride from the likes of the Van Belle Hotel or a 20-minute walk from the Hotel Central on the Sunday morning to clear the head from the previous evening’s alcoholic excesses, through the cobbled streets of Brussels up to the dojo for the usual 10am start. The dojo was situated just off the Grand Sablon, an area known for its antique trade. It was an uphill walk most of the way, and little was said en-route as the club got nearer and the pressure built because of what lay ahead in the coming couple of hours on the mat. The Sablon church bell used to toll loudly as you neared the dojo, making matters seem even more black – pardon the pun – and then you had to gather your breath for two flights of very steep stairs before you got to the large mat area, which was blue but roughly square in size to ours. Changing rooms were approached over the lounge area by a creaking timber staircase.

Before they knew it they were First Dans, black belts complete with hakama, something they had strived for, and their aikido life could begin in earnest.

So what has happened over the last 30 years. The club was originally based in Foleshill Road, and about 1973 or 74 it moved to here (Broad Lane) and became the Phoenix that we know today, a club now well known and recognised throughout the aikido fraternity. Tom and Barbara had a lot to put up with here while developing the club. Initially the building was shared with other clubs. The mat – not the blue one you see here today, but a traditional white canvas one was laid out. It much to Tom’s consternation that he had to clear the mat each Sunday following the rabbit club from the day before! The roof leaked. Despite numerous attempts at repairs it still leaked, when it was frosty the mat used to crunch under your feet, so don’t ever complain that it is cold! After training you were bound to go around the mat with whatever pots pans bins you could find and place them diligently on the exact spot where the leaks came in. Woe betides you if you missed them you were in for some real hard training the next session.

Courses – as well as the annual pilgrimage to Brussels each September, summer courses were organised and held at various venues in Coventry with invited instructors teaching. Another favourite, held at Silverstone in conjunction with the Kai Shin Kai with Mike Smith, was one of the first which opened the Yama Arashi doors to other styles. Due to association with masters such as Hadyn Foster and the late Bill Smith at the Big Three Courses at Lowestoft, the club became highly recognised and return visits to the Phoenix by those respected men and others will be long remembered.

Tom put his heart and soul into building the club both physically and spiritually up right up until his untimely death in 2003. Barbara has of course been at his side all this time, with John Moss too. Barbara returned to aikido after setting up alternative activities involving the fitness side, and became RSA qualified instructor in various aerobics exercise classes, and of course is now our 5th dan principal. Grev 4th Dan Aikido and 1st dan Kendo and Brian 4th dan Aikido and 1st dan Iaido are time-served club members whose loyalty, support, dedication and commitment on and off the mat have contributed to the smooth running of the club over the years, and whose teaching is certainly a testament to the unique spirit that this Club possesses.

Thousands of people have passed through these doors to taste what aikido has to offer, hundreds have stayed the course to reach black belt and then disappear when the hard work has been done to get there – I have never understood why – but only a very few give and have given the substantial part of their whole lives to being here. I sincerely hope that they will continue to show us the Way for the next 30 years too – there is still a great deal to learn!

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