Sho Dan Ho Essay

My first impressions of Ishin Ryu Ju-Jitsu were purely of a auditory nature for the first few months. My friend Debs and I played badminton with a group of people at the Hawksmoor Sports Centre every Thursday, and we became intrigued by the sound of one fearsome sounding man shouting out numbers, to which there was a unified response of either slapping sounds (later known as the numbers game) or a strange foreign word ‘Ouss’. I wondered what all this shouting was about, so one evening decided to bravely poke my head around the curtain to investigate! There I was met by a larger-than-life man who was clearly in charge, beasting people with what seemed like endless numbers of press-ups. I told him point blank that I knew nothing about martial arts and could not do press-ups, but he told me not to worry about this minor point and to come back and try out a few classes before committing. When I asked him if Ju-Jitsu would help me get fit, he just nodded and smiled in a way that really should have warned me for what was going to come! 

After some research on-line, and being very impressed with the information on the website, Debs and I started training regularly at Borehamwood.  I have never had such an emotional roller-coaster with a ‘hobby’ before. I remember feeling butterflies in my tummy at least 30 minutes before the start of the class, and dreading the ‘warm-up’, which at that point nearly killed me, but loving the techniques we were shown and the feeling of satisfaction afterwards. I also remember spending the first 6 months feeling like I’d been hit by a bus on the days following training, and having to convince people at work with that my horrendous bruises really were from Ju-Jitsu (my so called hobby) and not from Andy beating me up! 


I had always hated running with a passion, but sussed early on that I would have to start if I was to improve my fitness to a suitable level.  I was so worried about not being able to do the Ishin-Ryu run on my white belt grading that I started building up my running to – wait for it ……. half a mile in preparation before my white belt exam! I also had to improve my press-ups as I very quickly learned that when Soke told me not to worry about not being able to do press-ups, that didn’t mean I didn’t have to do them, but rather he would ensure that I WOULD be doing them before long! I was extremely disheartened when he corrected my 20 attempts at press-ups (with my bum in the air, legs spread and dipping down a fraction of the way) so that my posture was correct, to find that actually I could not even do one!!!  And so started the long journey to discovering what being ‘fit’ really meant! 


The students at Borehamwood were really friendly and took a lot of time and trouble to train Debs and myself. I realised that my spatial awareness and kinaesthetic skills were pretty rubbish, and got easily confused with left and right. I remember watching Soke demonstrate techniques, making them look so easy, and thinking ‘yes, I get it!’, but when I went away to try, completely forgetting how the technique started! It just looked like a mass of limbs twisting in peculiar ways I had not seen before. Our slowness at picking up the techniques must have been incredibly frustrating for Soke and his Sempai teaching us at the time (there were no Sensei then!). However, they never let this show and were incredibly patient – particularly Soke, Sempai Mark Kitchenham and Sensei Andy Herbert. A few other students that were really encouraging were Mick Kingsnorth, Olli Lyons and Matthew Twitchett. We got the impression that people didn’t think we’d last long and were constantly told how people leave all the time with hardly anyone ‘making it’! But that didn’t bother me – I have never quit at anything in my life and wasn’t about to start!  


Unfortunately, after passing my yellow belt exam, Debs’ partner of 7 years was killed in a freak accident. Debs was unable to carry on training, and for a while I questioned whether I should stop to commit more time to my relationship, having seen how devastated Debs was at losing her Andy. I was working full-time in the NHS as a speech and language therapist, teaching piano and seeing private patients in the evenings, studying for an MSc in psychology and a diploma in psychotherapy, and gutting/re-doing the house I had just bought, as well as helping out with some sick elderly relatives. I knew I had put Andy, my partner at the time, to the bottom of the pile and so seriously had to question the commitment I could put into training for something as intense as Ishin-Ryu. I took a break for training for a month (though it seemed like forever!), but sorely missed it. I came back one evening to see whether I really wanted to continue, knowing the intense commitment it would require. As it happened, I totally loved it and it felt great to be back on the Tatami. Soke welcomed me back with open arms and I knew that this was where I wanted to be. A strange change had occurred within me at this time. The death of my friend meant that I no longer feared the beastings we got – whatever physical pain I felt was almost a welcome distraction from my emotional anguish, and I was alive!  And so Ishin-Ryu became my therapy – not only in grieving for they loss of my friend but also as stress relief from work. Any insomnia I suffered with started to vanish; I started feeling tired at bed-time and refreshed in the mornings after a solid nights sleep.


Improving my sleep was not the only benefits to my health that Ishin-Ryu provided. I had to change a lot of my routines around. Because I worked in my evenings on top of my day job, I had to organise how to eat. This sounds strange, but I did not have time to get home from work and cook myself a decent healthy meal with enough time to digest it before training started. It was never a nice feeling having your dinner repeat on yourself during a beasting!!! So I decided to cook a massive pasta/rice dish with vegetables/salad and fish/chicken/tofu the evening before training, and graze on it throughout the day so I had enough nutrition for the sessions. I could not just skip a meal as my blood sugars can drop rapidly without regular food, and then I go all faint, dizzy and feel sick (not what you want on one of Soke’s beastings!). So food preparation became essential. I upped my water intake, and cut out alcohol, ate porridge and banana for breakfast, started making fruit smoothies and generally optimising my nutrition for the food I was eating. I had always eaten healthily, but this was taking it to a new level! I was also aware that some of the senior grades who had been training for years carried knee, ankle and other joint injuries. I decided that I did not want to end up like this if at all possible, so started taking multivitamin supplements, cod liver oil, garlic, and glucosamine with chondritin as preventative precautions. 


At this point in my training, I sorely missed Debs, but also felt quite liberated to get on and train more seriously. I had spent most of the 10 years of our friendship looking out for her and protecting her, and I could not get my head around hurting her, even in the name of training. Gavin and Romanian Chris were training for their orange belt when I returned to training, so I slotted in with them. They didn’t hold back and showed no mercy which was great. I was soon training really hard and aggressively and I loved it. I still really appreciate the time and effort they both took to help me develop my techniques. They could have quite easily got irritated that I was not as strong as them, or as quick at picking up the techniques, but they were really encouraging the whole way through. When I had first started Ishin-Ryu, my aim was to get to yellow belt. I thought at the start that I probably wouldn’t get much further both with the physical demands and external commitments, so getting my orange belt was such an achievement for me. 


Around this time, I got friendly with a girl at the Dojo who had started – Lou. She was super- fit and really switched on, and I admired her approach to training – she just wanted to train like a nutter!  The four of us trained together for a while, until Gav left to start a family and Chris was away in Romania more and more. So I started to train regularly with Lou. I found that training with her meant we got lots covered each lesson and she was always very encouraging. She gave me lots of good advice on how to improve my running and was very open with tips to help me improve my performance in general with tips on hydration. I knew a lot about nutrition and how the body works already from my biology A-level, so combining this knowledge with hard training meant I could really step up the pace. 

By this point, purple belt was in sight, and purple being my favourite colour meant I had to get that belt!!! I had always just taken one belt at a time without focussing on Sho-Dan Ho, as the thought was too terrifying, but by the time I got to brown belt; it was quite an unavoidable thought. I realised that something had happened to me during my few years training – I actually wanted to get my Sho-Dan Ho and realised that it was a realistic possibility rather than a ridiculous, laughable idea! And so began the journey of some crazy adventures in the pursuit of more serious fitness! I did a lot of early morning runs by myself and with a few hardcore members of the Bushey dojo on a Sunday morning (Sensei Mark, Eugene, James P, etc). Lou and I joined Barnet Ladies Athletics club on a Saturday morning, where we engaged in killer hill sprints and interval training. All of these runs were followed by the obligatory ‘fizz’, then a healthy omelette and less healthy but well deserved hot chocolate! We also started interspersing the runs with fizz every few miles under Soke’s suggestion. When we could borrow mats, Lou and I set them up in our back gardens or kitchen, and practised throws and techniques. We went along to Crouch End boxing club to prepare for the milling. The guys down there looked very bewildered when we turned up and told them “we’re not interested in boxing, we just need to be able to punch solidly for 3 minutes and need to get used to being hit in the face!!!” They were extremely surprised that we could do proper press-ups and did not have to do them on our knees! And we felt very proud that our sit-ups were much stronger than most of the men down there! We trained twice a week at Borehamwood, and went up to Honbu on Fridays whenever possible to get Soke to check our techniques. We also started running 8 miles up and down the A41 before training at Borehamwood to try to emulate the grading as much as possible. 


I had to re-examine my diet at this time. Although I had always eaten healthily, I found I just could not eat enough food to sustain all the training I was doing, and started cursing the fact I had a fast metabolism. I started eating about 5-6 meals a day, as well as taking all my vitamins and supplements. Eating food containing protein (to nourish the muscles) and anti-oxidants (to fight free-radicals – cancer causing agents that whizz around the body produced by intense exercise) in the ‘golden hour’ after training became really important. Sleep was the other big area that I changed as the body heals and regenerates whilst asleep. I used to go to bed at 12-1, but found I was too tired to maintain this. Again under the advice of Soke, I started going to bed at 10.30 (ish!), although it took a while to get into this pattern…     


The lead up to the Sho-Dan Ho grading was stressful as I had split from my now ex-husband and moved out of our home. I was living at my parents with nothing but my Ju-Jitsu training gear and a few changes of work clothes. I re-routed my runs so I was still doing 12 miles, but did not have my usual routine. I also had the emotional stress of going through a marriage break-up only 8 months after being married, along with the associated emotional blackmail and questions from family, friends and colleagues. I threw myself into training, though I knew my mental capacity to absorb information was at an all time low as I had to focus on splitting finances, filing for divorce, changing my name, etc. I knew I was fit, but I also knew I should have been more switched on to the technical side of training. That whole lesson taught me quite a lot about my inner-resilience, and that actually you don’t need much material stuff to live a full and exciting life!  


Section on being UKE


There is another side to Ishin-Ryu that I have always been aware of and admired, but have experienced first hand of late. Aside from the demanding fizz and technical demands, there is a real sense of unity and camaraderie. This goes from the encouragement and support within the training environment, but also extends way beyond to something I can only imagine resembles the Free Masons. Since my split from Andy, so many people at the Dojo have offered their support. Lou has been on hand for lunches and chats, as well as helping out with my house, Mike Lee and his wife Gemma offered me somewhere to stay if ever I needed, Gavster offered a friendly ear, Sensei Mark changed all my locks, Sensei Andy T laid my laminate floor and offered to fit my kitchen, Richard Petchi changed a window pane and installed a cat flap, Matt Abbott has been round a few times to install a shower and fix leaks amongst other things, and Romanian Chris has sorted out a whole range of other odd jobs that needed doing. Of course, Soke has been a tremendous support, both emotionally and practically. He has been a shoulder to cry on, my motivator, advisor, counsellor and very best friend through this time, as well as helping me plan and action all the jobs that need doing in the house!  Admin Admin Admin!!!    


To conclude, Ishin-Ryu is far more than just a martial arts club. There is the high level fitness requirement, the fighting spirit required when you actually feel like you could crawl under a rock and die, the hardcore training, the nutrition required to achieve full fitness, the discipline and will-power to get up at 5.30am and go for a 12 mile run before work in the rain, the commitment to train at least twice a week, the dedication to help out Soke and his Sensei when they require, the camaraderie felt as you go through and help others through beastings and outside the Dojo. I now fully understand what those who go before me mean when they say ‘Ishin Ryu is a way of life, not just a hobby’!

Ruth Rogers                                                                                                 18.02.08

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