The Annual Grading Camp
After just one weekend of RA training I attended my first Camp along with my good friend Lennart Wallgren (AKA Lionheart). Previously, I was used to JKD camps where we really just learn new skills and drills but this was very different: Since we had only attended one session, neither of us were expected to grade at the camp, but we were both thrown straight into pretty full-on fighting! We got to observe fellow Kiwis John and Carl going hell-for-leather, kicking the shit out of each other. It was brutal!
By Year Two I knew what to expect and aced my green belt, but the step up involved fighting Kiwi Carl who had seemed so intimidating the year before. He promptly dropped me with a kick so hard I felt I’d broken ribs: I dropped to the floor, spat out my mouth guard, and prepared to die - slowly and painfully. As I was a reasonably big “new guy,” perhaps Carl wanted to let me know who was boss. I felt ashamed and part of me wanted to go home right then. I’d only just got my breath back and it was time to fight Carl AGAIN - this time in boxing. I planned to keep him on the end of my jab whilst avoiding his cross, and I managed to tag the big fella a few times without taking further damage. A lot of martial arts is about overcoming adversity, and I think this was a valuable part of my development.
Some months later we did a grading in London where I failed my blue belt – no complaints on my part. Pat’s weekends had placed almost no emphasis on solo single stick drills and forms, so as Andy called out Filipino terms Len and I just looked at each other totally lost! At Year Three’s Annual Camp I passed my blue belts, and in Year Four both Brown Belts. This was a much more challenging grading technically, and I’d like to give great thanks to James Dismore and Ricky Patel for their help getting my core drills up to scratch. This year (2018) I should be off to the Philippines with the objective of getting my Black Belt (AKA Junior Instructor), and in May 2019 I hope to graduate to Senior Black Belt (AKA Senior Instructor).
The Annual Camp is quite a unique social event: We all give up the second long weekend in May (which just happens to coincide with my birthday) to drive down to Torquay and spend three long days in a gymnastics hall going through demanding drills and sparring scenarios - often while tired and hungover. Pat expects those grading to partake in the annual “full-contact Karaoke” (like normal Karaoke, but more offensive, and with the risk of injury or death) and usually arranges a second wacky event (Zumba and Dancing being two of the most hilarious I’ve experienced). Besides the grading, you’re sure to have your confidence and sense of humour tested! In truth, I don’t enjoy the grading element that much - I’ve failed many exams in my life and all forms of testing fill me with dread and anxiety. The way I combat this is by pretending it’s not a test at all: Pat often says ‘those that enjoy it tend to pass,’ so I’d advise anyone attempting camp to take the same approach!
Embracing a challenge
These are the things that are really memorable to me: The days before I even started the course; the start of Year Two when I’d let my skills erode; when Carl flattened me with ‘that kick’ at camp; when I failed my blue belt – part of my head saying ‘just walk away,’ ‘make up an excuse,’ ‘I’m not good enough and never will be.’ Yet I kept going.
Year after year, it’s largely the same groups that show up at camp, and I’ve always been one of them (whereas it’s the same faces that always find an excuse for not turning up). Year after year, one or two people drop out of the monthly elite training group – some who’d become good friends, and certainly some who I would have said at the start were way more talented than I am.
You may have heard the term ‘white-belt mentality.’ I could have sat comfortably in my JKD world where I’d achieved a certain level but I was willing to start from the beginning: To be a white belt in RA. I am convinced I will go on to get my black belt, but what special talents do I have? NONE – I just tend to stick with my commitments. With that in mind, I guess that Martial Arts is as much about self-mastery - managing those fears that tell you to give up and walk away - as it is about self-defence.
Tom McGrath is a London-based JKD instructor and currently working towards his instructor qualification in Rapid Arnis. He also co-hosts Primal Radio alongside Jim McCann, where you can catch interviews with Pat O’Malley and more!
Episode 6 - Guest FMA Legend Tuhon Pat O’Malley, founder of Rapid Arnis, former world champion stick fighter and former coach of the British stick fighting team