Thursday, September 26, 2013

The road to black belt

A bit over two weeks ago I left Wolfi. Well,  just for two weeks, because of my karate ambitions ;)

I've been dreaming of black belt ever since I started karate and for the last two years I've been heavily practicing for it.  Originally I wanted to get my black belt in Finland already a year ago, but in the end it didn't go all too well, because of some rather strange/peculiar reasons... Well then came the time to start our journey and I had to change my plans...

2010 we lived a moment in Saarland and there I was training with the local karate club and got used to the German habits. I'm also surviving pretty ok with German language, so I thought why not try to do my examination here in Germany. In May in the beginning of our journey I was training for two weeks with the Tokaido club in Kappeln. I really liked the people there and their way of practicing and also the sensei there turned out to be very nice and helpful. So in the end of May I decided to take part in dan-examination in Germany.

During the summer months I didn't have a chance to visit any other karate clubs or seminars, but I practiced alone when ever possible and few times even with Wolfi. I also had heavy correspondence with Werner Wilhelmsen (the sensei of Tokaido), or actually Wolfi-'my personal translator' had :) Werner did plenty of paper work for me. Made me the member of their club and the German Karate Federation and also sent me the official passport. He also did good job by explaining certain techniques via email, so that I could practice alone. Thank you very much for all your efforts, Werner!

7th of September was a preparation camp (Vorbereitungs Lehrgang) in Gerolstein. The previous day I drove there and that was also my very first proper trip alone in abroad! Everything went perfectly fine until I was about 20km from my hotel. Then came the problems.... I don't have a GPS, so I have to survive with just paper maps and some written directions. My hotel was in really strange place and no signs to the place until just 1km before! So in the end I made 60km and 2h extra, and also had to call Wolfi to give me some directions over the phone... Luckily all the other places I found easily :)

The preparation camp was held by sensei Shuzo Imai (8th dan) and I was instantly happy to see that he does some important techiniques (eg. tsukkomi) the way I've learned them. One big stress point less! The other participant were very friendly and quite interested of this Finnish visitor... In the lunch break I had some nice conversations and all in German! I'm rather proud of myself ;) Training was very good and heavy and I got a very nice partner for the couple techniques (kumite). It's really rare joy to get a partner with whom you can instantly practice like you would've known for years! Sorry I forgot your name (I'm really lousy in remembering names), but thank you for all the help, my very nice training partner! :D

After the camp we even got personal feedback from sensei Imai. I really appreciate such! Imai said, that my techniques look very good, I have a good posture and that I have very good chance to get 1st. dan in two weeks! I was almost melting of happiness :) Just need to get more power! Well, that I've been hearing for quite some time already and am heavily working with it...

Next day I headed north towards Kappeln and 12 days intensive training with Tokaido... It was over 600km leg, but didn't feel too bad because I was finally able to enjoy my own speed. What an enjoyment it was to drive 120-180km/h on the Autobahn!!! Usually our speed together is max 110km/h, so I was heavily smiling almost the whole time :)
I had a really big double room with mini kitchen and balcony just for me alone! What a luxury :)
I stayed in Dörpskrog Ringsberg, which is about 30km from Kappeln, because it was the cheapest place in the neighborhood and also in the middle of quiet countryside. I was really in need of peace and quietness, so this was almost a slice of heaven for me. I had a comfortable bead, soundproof walls and lovely walking ways in the village. What else does one need to be able to relax? ;)
Corns eaten by deers.
It was raining almost every day, but luckily there was some moments without rain, so I could have nice walks along the fields. Plenty of corn growing there! I met some sweet little deers eating corn almost daily, but unfortunately didn't manage to capture them on film. They were always too quick or against the sun.
Along the walking path was growing plenty of wild blackberries, damsons and apples. What a great pleasure to pick your own lunch! :)
There was also growing wild hops, but didn't start making my own beer :D
Beautiful boys in the backyard of the hotel. I wonder does the corn go straight to humans or via these fellows...
Food for the weekend. Just perfect amount for one person for three days!
Heavenly smoothie full of energy! 4 figs, 4 bananas, 1 tsp vanilla powder and some water.
One has to have a partner in belt examinations, because there is plenty of partner techniques. I got Harald from Tokaido to be my partner. Also with him it was very easy to start training, no problems what so ever! I've been very blessed with good training partners, already back in Finland! Terveiset Lasselle ja Artolle! :)

Harald is a very good instructor and motivator and has plenty of good tips. I was in very good hands and in the end didn't have much stress about the examination. The biggest stress point for me was the language! Germans have totally different way of pronouncing the Japanese words than Finns have and then there is also different dialects...
What a lovely welcome!
After one week practicing in Kappeln I thought it's time to do something else as well. So I decided to have a ride to Denmark, because I've never been there and the border was just few kilometers away. The weather was very nice when I left, but just when I was entering the border it started raining again. Eventually I had only 150km loop, but at least now I can say I've been there :)
Besides the normal horses and cows, I also met some camels in Denmark :) I hope they were not for the entertainment or nourishment of humans!

Saturday 21st of September was the big day: dan-examination in Neumünster! I had traveled there the night before with Wolfi, who I met in Kappeln. Really strange feeling to drive together after two weeks break, but of course a great feeling to be together with him and the girls again :) Two weeks is definitely the max time I need/want to be alone! This was also the longest time I've ever been separated from Hertta! It's rather easy to be away from Wolfi (I'm used to it), but to be without my babies is almost heart breaking...
Doing juntsuki-no-tsukomi.
The examination in Germany is a bit different than in Finland, but no means any easier!!! Much less katas and partner techniques, but much more kicks and hits! Because of my injured hips and lower back, certain kicks are very painful and even dangerous for me. Luckily the senseis were very nice and understanding and let me do easier versions of two jumping/turning kicks.

My fear of the language problems wasn't for nothing, I was barely able to understand half of the commands! Luckily after first three or four techniques I realized that the examination is going exactly according to the technique-list. I had learned the list by heart and could do everything according to my memory :) Just some small and inconspicuous double checking from my neighbor occasionally... ;)

There was only four other candidates besides me and the tempo of the examination was extremely fast, so luckily the whole event only took about two hours. No 4-6 hour tribulation like some people had been scaring me! Anyway I've never understood these marathon tests. I have this 'old fashioned' way of thinking, that just from one technique (eg. juntsuki) you can see what someone is 'worth' of. Well, different clubs and countries all have their own styles and ways of thinking, and one should respect them! :)
Kihon kumite #5, one of my favourites ;)
The examination went very well. I had positive feeling the whole time and so did Harald, which helped a lot with the small tension I had :) Of course I made some small errors, but was always able to do better next time. Nobody's perfect!

After we had sweated our asses off the senseis had a small break to think things over... and finally they awarded new dan-grades for everyone! I was of course extremely happy and relieved, but the proper understanding of the situation didn't hit me until after two days! Well, I was extremely tired and couldn't think too clearly anymore...
Senseis from right to left: Werner Wilhelmsen (5th dan), Shuzo Imai (8th dan) and Andreas Frahm (4th dan?).
The only negatively surprising thing in the exam was, that we didn't get any feedback! I was very disappointed about that, because I think it's very important to get proper feedback in order to get better! Lucky me, Wolfi was filming my parts so I could at least valuate myself and I also know very well my own weaknesses... The only thing I heard was, that there was no hesitations at all whether I should get the belt or not! So obviously I did pretty well :)
The happy black belt owner between Harald and Werner. The new belt was a gift from Werner/Tokaido, thanks a lot!
Germans love their stamps! :D
Two days after the examination I got email from Harald. He had asked feedback from sensei Imai, who was then instantly answering back. He said all my techniques were good and correct, but I need to get more speed and power. Nothing new there for me, but I still appreciated this very much! Extremely nicely done!

This power problem I've heard for years. Sometimes it's heavily puzzling me, because when I do 'kihon' (techniques alone) people say they don't see any power, but when I do 'kumite' (with partner) I get constantly complaints that I hit too hard! This just makes me wonder, is it because I'm almost always next to much bigger men and of course people compare me to them (even unknowingly) and then I definately look weak! Or is it the thing that people think fastness is power..? I'm not horribly fast, but I do know I have quite a lot of power compared to my size... and my training partners know it also ;) Hopefully one day I figure this out one way or the other....

Now some thank yous:

Vielen Dank an alle Mitglieder des Tokaido Kappeln für ihre Hilfe und tolle Unterstützung, vor allem Harald und Werner!

Suuri kiitos myös kaikille Sokuton ja LKK:n jäsenille, jotka ovat olleet auttamassa ja tukemassa jo dan-harjoitteluni alkuvaiheessa! Erityiskiitos Artolle! :) 

~ Ilta

P.S. Links for those who are interested to know the differences with Finnish and German dan-examinations:


  1. Congratulations, you earned this! I really can understand the frustration of trying to graduate in Finland as the collegium seems to close more and more to stare at their own bellybuttons.

    1. Thanks Arttu! I think so too :) Nice to hear someone understanding my experiences and problems back there...

  2. Mahtavaa luettavaa! Ihan superhieno saavutus. Onnea vielä!


  3. Time flyes so fast. I'll send a huge hug and I congratulate your achievement. Respectful greeting to my sensei.
    the Arto ;-)