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My First Grading...
 

It's been a rollercoaster of emotions, everything from extreme nerves to extreme joy, and it all happened because of one thing, grading my first pattern. I had an inkling about what was to come, but I never thought I would experience it in quite this way.

It all started when Dennis announced the Chinese New Year dinner would take place on a Saturday, that's when the penny dropped and I knew I would have to grade with an almighty hangover. In class on the Friday before the meal, I heard Dennis' voice ring across the gym, 'Chris, you will grade on Sunday!!!', for a moment my heart sank with no small amount of trepidation, only for that feeling to be replaced with the joy of knowing that I was deemed ready to grade and that I might soon be able to throw out the old belt holding my trousers up.

That whole Saturday I was in a daze, constantly trying to remember simple things like the name of the first pattern, is it Zhan San or San Zhan, confusing myself all the time. Trying to work out the difference between a Tiger Strike and a Tiger Swipe, a double Upper Crane Block and a twin Upper Crane Block. I eventually decided enough was enough, if I didn't know it now, I wasn't going to learn it in time for Sunday. The dinner came and went in a very enjoyable blur, too enjoyable, as I found out the next morning…

Hung over, and with a sense of foreboding, I made my way to King's Cross, all the while trying to think of excuses why I couldn't make it, late trains, no trains, no Underground, a plane fell on my house, the dog ate my uniform, anything. By the time I thought of my last excuse I was standing outside of the Tonbridge Club, it was two minutes past ten, not only was I going to fail my grading, I was also late for the class, it was all going horribly wrong. As I got downstairs, my heart sank once again, while the class hadn't actually started, there were so many people in the small gym I could hardly move. A few minutes later I was standing near the back of the class, just trying to keep up, before I knew it the class was finished and everybody got the opportunity to practise. So I did, my mind blank, focussing on my pattern, walking forwards, turning, swipes, strikes, kicks, everything I had learnt over the last few months, I even got the name of the first pattern straight in my mind, San Zhan. This was about as ready as I felt I would get. And then it was time to start…

It seemed like a thousand stylists from every club were sitting around the edge of the gym floor. All watching intently, all nervous, or so it seemed. I can only speak for myself, but I don't think I have ever been as nervous in my entire life, grading means so much. I was just hoping that my name would not get called first, that way I would at least have some idea of what was required, having never witnessed a grading before. Then the first group was called up, and one of the instructors told them what to do, three steps forward, twin Upper Crane Block, three steps back, jab, punch, lower block, three steps forward Crane Kick, back to your Horse Stance. What is the name of your first pattern? What does it mean and what are the three wars? I began to feel a little more confident, but my heart was still beating overtime, then I heard, 'Chris, up!!' and my mind went blank, I heard the instructions but it seemed like my body refused to follow commands. 'In your own time, perform your first pattern!' and I raced through it so quickly, just to get off that floor and away from the gaze of all the other stylists. I bowed one final time, and sat down, relief must have been visible on my whole body, the only thought on my mind was, that I don't ever want to do that again. Then came the small debriefing afterwards, I dreaded the comments that I knew were coming, and before I knew it, I was told, that there is a difference between an Upper and a Lower Crane block, and to stop looking at the floor, all the gold had already been picked up. And that was that, my first grading complete. I went home that afternoon on cloud nine, ready for the agony of waiting for the results…

Every class after the grading I would try to sneak a glimpse of Dennis' bag to see if there were any red sashes in there, but to no avail. Then he announced that the results would be put up on the website, so I checked it almost every day, hoping that the magic words would appear, then finally they did, I had passed!!! I was presented with my red sash in what was probably the proudest moment of my life, and with that gesture the rollercoaster ride ended, I just hope that grading the second pattern won't be quite as nerve-racking…

 
Chris Petzny