It's always the same; you train regularly, observe all the dojo etiquette, keep your dogi clean, pay all your fees and generally conduct yourself in a manner befitting the legacy of Doshin So. Then, despite your exceptional conduct, somebody tells you you've got to take a grading exam. That's when your long-term memory suddenly blows a fuse and everything you've learned over the previous six months is inexplicably beyond retrieval. The names of techniques take on a mysterious, otherworldly dimension that bares no relation to anything you've been doing and everything your sensei ever said in howa acquires a multidimensional metaphysical quality beyond the grasp of even the most wrinkly of sages. If that isn't bad enough, you look to your elders and betters for guidance and further complicate the condition with conflicting advice as to how to approach this neurological meltdown. Well, Sensei Russell Jenkins who, despite his obvious wisdom, is no stranger to the malaise, herein draws upon his extensive experience as examiner and examinee to guide the challenged and confused along the path of successful gradings.
TO BEGIN with, once your sensei has dropped the bomb and given you the deadline - don't panic. Your first reaction may well be to question your instructor's sanity, since it's only been six months since your last exam and in the time since you've managed to convince yourself that, despite regular attendance, you still have all the flexibility and co-ordination of an ironing board. Remember, your instructor is there to manage your progress and in doing will have to answer to Mizuno Sensei should his/her students be presented with the opportunity to grade without having first attained an acceptable standard. The fact that you are given the opportunity means that your instructor has every confidence in your success, despite what you might think.
Don't try to attach particular importance to any one area of the syllabus. Everything is important. Areas that are often overlooked and left to the last minute are kata (single and pair form), kamae and unpo-ho (footwork). The latter often come up at the beginning of the grading exam and your confidence can suffer a serious blow if it comes as a surprise.
Whilst the kumi embu may seem to be an unattractive prospect, it is actually a great aid to preparing for the exam. It will cover a range of techniques from your previous syllabus, which will probably not crop up in the rest of the exam. Make full use of the freedom allowed in the kumi embu by favouring your preferred side. Look on it as an opportunity to become fully familiar with a large chunk of the exam devoid of surprises and make the best of it. Make it a showcase to express your ability in zanshin, ki-ai, hapo-moku, etc. In short, all the elements that because of nerves, might otherwise be less readily at your disposal in other areas of the exam.
Remembering the names of techniques is always a problem, but one
that becomes easier over time. I think initially, if you can take
on board that generally anything ending in 'nuki' is likely to be
an escaping technique and anything ending in 'gote' means it's gonna
hurt, then you are half way there. In addition, if you take time
to expand your basic Japanese vocabulary, there is usually a give-away
in the name. For example, 'juji' means 'cross' (juji-nuki, juji-gote,
ude-juji, eri-juji) and 'sode' means 'sleeve' (sode-nuki, sode-dori,
If you're unclear about what is expected of you in the written section of the exam, take each question from your syllabus in turn and write your answer. Your sensei or senior kenshi will be able to advise as to what is or is not an acceptable answer.
Whichever way you approach revision and study, ensure that your time is spent productively. Do not be afraid to ask and question until you understand. Nothing pleases a sensei more than to see some willing volunteer for the pain stakes! If practising with your partner away from the dojo, concentrate on one or two aspects of your technique. Come away from your session feeling you have accomplished or learnt how to do a technique effectively - notice I said effectively not necessarily 100% correctly. If I move my feet slightly forward or backward does it matter if it works for me? The whole criteria is, does it work?
Depending on the time and venue, you will usually have an hour or so to warm up and practice before the exam begins. Make good use of this. If you don't have a training partner, this is the time to find one and acquire some familiarity.
Regular dojo practice with co-operative training partners is almost entirely devoid of stress. Grading exams are a rare opportunity for examiners to see how you apply what you have learned under more stressful circumstances. Whilst this is by no means akin to a street fight, it is nevertheless an ideal opportunity to practice heijo-shin. Remember what you have done. Only you know how much work you have put in. Be confident and take your time. All examiners have been there themselves and appreciate what you are going through. Remember, even if at this late stage you remain unconvinced about your ability, your instructor thinks otherwise.
The most important piece of advice is never give up. If you find yourself making a pigs ear of something don't collapse in a heap of laughter - that is the worst thing you could do. Bring yourself to kesshu-gamae, rei to each other and start again.
Make the techniques realistic - if you lose contact with your partner that you are attempting to pin make sure you apply some form of atemi, i.e., kick or strike them before separating.
It is most important that the techniques you are asked to perform are practicable and realistic. We have all seen the 4th kyu grading where the partner seems to have a sudden attack of vertigo when gyaku-gote or ude-juji are applied. Of course it is important that at an early stage you assist a partner all you can but that does not mean falling over at the slightest or earliest opportunity.
While practising techniques repetitively in the dojo, we generally
tend to pay less attention to zanshin between attempts. Do not let
this happen in the grading exam. Maintain eye contact and show continuous
observation of good distance and stance between techniques.
If you are taking a dan-grade exam, you will probably be doing so wearing 'do' (body protectors). If so, make sure that you make full use of them. They allow for more positive contact and a lack of such will therefore become more evident to the examiner.
Whilst it is hoped that things would never get quite this sticky, don't panic. Simply stop, rei, and politely explain that you do not understand the instruction. The examiner will usually be possessed of sufficient experience to understand the problem and make it clear enough for you.
Avoid shuffling from hidari to migi when preparing to do any technique
in the exam. Unless instructed otherwise, the defender should decide
hidari or migi and the attacker should adopt the appropriate stance
to deliver the correct attack. If your partner appears to be adopting
the wrong stance, tell them. Whilst it's not a good idea to express
such hesitation, it is preferable to dancing around between tai-gamae
and hiraki-gamae only to follow with the wrong technique.
Nerves are always going to be a problem in the exam situation, however the best way to overcome or control nerves is to prepare. If you go into an examination fully confident with whatever is asked of you, then it will go a long way to combating the nerves. In addition, one of the most obvious symptoms of a nervous state of being is shallow breathing. This is why we practice chosoku and ki-ai. Use chosoku and ki-ai to overwhelm the characteristics of nervousness and the rest will take care of itself. It may be of some comfort for 4th kyu examinees to know that you still get the nerves at 5th dan. However, for some bizarre reason it just doesn't seem to matter that much.
Shorinji Kempo is unlike any other martial art I have ever come across. Prior to Shorinji Kempo I trained for 4 years in judo. There were three members of the British team at the club where I trained. For 4 years I trained in karate (1964-69) when karate students were required to register with the police as being in possession of a dangerous weapon. Judo, Karate and Shorinji Kempo are all excellent defence systems in their own right but all no match for a gun. The whole point about Shorinji Kempo is how you behave in private and public life and what you do about it. To be an effective member of Shorinji Kempo and a productive member of society you must and should take action. Mastering oneself, overcoming one's fears and weaknesses is paramount. Grading examinations are an ideal opportunity to put this into practice.
In conclusion, don't look upon grading examinations as an opportunity
for the BSKF to put you to the test, rather an opportunity for you
to put yourself to the test. Not to see how good you are compared
to other kenshi, but to see how good you are compared to yourself