So the time had arrived for my first dan grading contest. I did compete in February at brown belt in a points scoring competition but this was to be my first actual dan grading. Graeme very kindly drove me to High Wycombe and I was very thankful for that especially as I was extremely nervous.
On arrival I did what most people do, eye up the competition. This wasn’t a good idea as sat next to me was a giant of a man who stood at least 6ft 6 and weighed in at 113kg. Then there was the French guy, full of muscles, who weighed in at 115kg. Both of these guys I felt sure would be opponents of mine; however I only weighed 89kg so I would be giving away a lot of weight.
Also present were some guys from Witley Judo club which was nice as I was able to warm up with them before the fights started. Unlike the competition I attended in February where I weighed in and that sat around for 5 hours waiting to fight, this was well organised and no sooner had we warmed up than we called over to the mats to start fighting.
What normally happens at dan gradings is that they split you in to groups of light, middle and heavyweights. I normally weigh anywhere between 89 – 94kg so I’m usually classed as a HW, albeit one of the lightest ones. The fights soon started and there was some lovely Judo on display. I was particularly impressed with the newaza skills of a couple of the lighter guys and was surprised that the referees gave plenty of time for the newaza to progress before calling matte.
Before long my name was called out along with my first opponent who didn’t appear to be a heavyweight, in fact he was considerably shorter than me, although he was fairly stocky. What I didn’t notice at the time was the GB patch on his back so perhaps I shouldn't have been too surprised when I was thrown not once, but twice with a drop seoi nage for wazari scores. Bugger I had, as I always do, lost my first fight. On reflection I could have done better and probably would have done had I been better prepared mentally. I’m not saying I would have won but I was just caught cold a little.
I walked over to the side of the mats with a look on my face which said “here we go again”. I was now thinking that if I can just win one fight I’ll go home happy. Before long I hear my name called and again my opponent was smaller than me. I would probably guess he weighed around 80kg. This guy was someone I recognised from the tournament I entered in February at Worthing so I figured he was competition hardened. When the ref called hadjime I quickly took a dominant grip and was able to really bully him. At one point I threw him to the mat just using my arms. It wasn’t long before I was able to do that again but this time I got my foot in for a sort of Kosoto gari and he fell flat on his back. “IPPON” shouted the ref and all of a sudden I was a happy man. I had achieved my goal of getting 10 points at my first dan grading. If Graeme had said lets go home at that point I would have probably gone home content. However winning my second fight meant I had another fight and even if I lost that I might still be in someone else’s line up.
My wait for my next opponent went really quickly as all the fights in between seemed to end in Ippon. Yet again my opponent was smaller than me and I knew him, it was one of the guys from Witley called Jack. Jack was just under 80kg so was giving a lot of weight away, however he was, at 17 years old 25 years my junior so I figured that evened things out a bit. Now I have never done tachiwaza randori with Jack before but I have done Newaza and I felt I definitely had the edge should we go to the ground. When the fight started we were both a little too defensive and the ref stopped us at one point and told us to attack more. With less than a minute on the clock I managed to throw him for Ippon. I couldn’t believe it, 20 points at my first dan grading and now I had a line up and the chance of actually getting all 100 points.
Out of the 20 or so guys that were present I think there were five who qualified for a line up. The tall giant guy and the French guy had both gotten a line up so I knew I wouldn’t have to fight them. The guy that beat me in my first fight had also gotten a line up so I knew I wouldn’t fight him. I think the organisers had a hard time matching us all up to be honest as a couple of other guys had been choked unconscious, one to the point of fitting, so they were not allowed to fight. Eventually my line up was called and of my three opponents two were ones I had already fought and beat. My first opponent however was what Graeme had called “a stopper” he was 102kg and was designed to present me with a problem, a real test, which after all this was supposed to be.
I was quite quickly able to establish a good grip and felt confident that I was going to be able to throw him. I probed him tentatively with some foot sweeps and noticed that he had his weight mostly on one side of his body so I tried a Hiza guruma and he toppled over for ippon. Within seconds I was fighting my next opponent, the guy I had beaten in my second fight and this time he had upped his game and was moving around quickly, making it a lot harder for me to control him. He attempted a drop seoi nage but I was easily able to step off and attacked his turtle. I was trying for the Juji-gatame turnover but his arm was stuck in good so I baited him by sliding off his back and hoped he would take the opportunity to attack me on my back. When he did I quickly pushed his left arm outside my guard and slapped on a really tight san gaku jime and got the tap almost immediately. That was two wins and I needed one more to get my 100 points. I was fighting Jack again and to be fair he really went for the win but I was coming off of 4 ippon wins so my confidence was sky high. Again it was a cagey affair and I was really reluctant to over commit to anything as I feared being countered. Then, in what appeared to be a blink of an eye, he attacked me with Kosoto gari and I was able to counter with Uchi mata for the Ippon. I was stunned; I couldn’t believe I had actually done it, 100 points and within touching distance of being a black belt. Jack had been my hardest opponent by far and I’m sure he’ll get his 100 points at his next dan grading. He ended up being in the tall guy’s line up and actually beat him with two wazaris. I called him Jack the Giant Slayer afterwards and told him he should have that put on his black belt when he gets it.
Next up for me is the dan grade theory test so I need to swat up hard. As I didn’t expect to be in this position I assumed I would have at least a year to prepare but now I want to grade quickly, in a month or so, so I have a lot of work to do. In the gym on Monday I felt a severe pain my left bicep whilst doing chin ups which is exactly the same injury I had this time last year. Hopefully it won’t keep me off the mats for long but at least I don’t have to worry about shiai and fitness now, just technique.
Below is the video of my line up