Well, I failed my brown belt grading yesterday in quite spectacular fashion. Frustratingly, it wasn’t my technique that let me down, it was my bloody ridiculous metabolism. It was a really long grading, and I had been sitting on the mat for almost 3 hours before my name was called. Unfortunately, this is just too long for me to go without food, and as soon as I stood up and felt the tremors in my thigh muscles, I knew it wasn’t going to go well.
I have always been borderline hypoglycaemic , and have to eat every 3 hours1 or so to stop myself feeling sick and dizzy; by the time my grading started, I hadn’t eaten for nearly four and a half hours and my blood sugar level had tanked. As well as the physical effects, getting too hungry also makes me confused and irritable (just ask my wife), when I really needed to be alert and relaxed.
Consequently, I struggled mentally and physically, and when Sensei Moss called a halt to my grading with only half the required techniques completed, I knew I’d failed. No surprise, as I didn’t manage to complete a single kata without having to stop and regain my balance. Ironically, the part of the grading I was most worried about, the two man keiko, went really well; possibly this was because my head was so fuzzy by that stage that all I could do was move out of the way and use whatever technique dropped into place, rather than over thinking each move.
The most frustrating thing was that the panel assumed I simply wasn’t fit enough to manage the grading, which really isn’t the case; I just can’t go for that length of time without food. In retrospect, I should have prepared better, and asked Sensei for permission to leave the mat at some stage to “fuel up” before my own grading started, but I completely underestimated how long the other gradings would take. When I grade again in July, I shall take some carbohydrate laden food2 with me, and have already discussed with Sensei the necessity of taking a break to eat.
My own failure aside, the other gradings were a mixed bag, with quite a few people failing, and a few doing really well (particularly those from the Milton Keynes and Stratord dojo’s, something that Sensei commented on too). Dennis, the only other person going for brown belt, did a spectacular job, and really deserved his pass, despite his having reservations about his level of preparation.
All in all, it was a disappointing experience for me, but I’m trying to be positive and treat it as a learning experience. I have to admit I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been, but after a 6 year gap I really needed to face the pressure of a grading again, and I’m fairly sure that if I had been okay physically I would have done enough to pass. Still, there is always next time, and the one positive thing I take from yesterday’s performance is that I don’t need to worry as much about the keiko, which is a big weight off my mind. I’ll be back on the mat tomorrow; I need to put the disappointment behind me, and get back to enjoying the training without the pressure of a grading for a few months.
1. Anyone who has spent enough time with me to see what happens when I go without food for too long will recognise at least two or three of the symptoms of hypoglycaemia listed below (I have experience almost all of them to a greater or lesser degree, but I’ve highlighted the ones that my wife will certainly recognise):
- Abnormal mentation, impaired judgement
- Nonspecific dysphoria, anxiety, moodiness, depression, crying, fear of dying
- Negativism, irritability, belligerence, combativeness, rage
- Personality change, emotional lability
- Fatigue, weakness, apathy, lethargy, daydreaming, sleep
- Confusion, amnesia, dizziness, delirium
- Staring, “glassy” look, blurred vision, double vision
- Automatic behavior, also known as automatism
- Difficulty speaking, slurred speech
- Ataxia, incoordination, sometimes mistaken for “drunkenness”
- Focal or general motor deficit, paralysis, hemiparesis
- Paresthesias, headache
- Stupor, coma, abnormal breathing
- Generalized or focal seizures
Although eating will reverse the symptoms very quickly (usually within minutes), I have found that eating high sugar snacks as a “quick fix” will almost certainly give me a severe headache, apparently as a result of the rapid swing in blood sugar levels; in the long run it’s always better for me to eat something high in carbohydrates (like pasta or wholemeal bread) than to reach for the chocolate bars or biscuits, even though it obviously takes longer to prepare a proper snack. ↩
2. At the moment, the plan is for honey and mashed banana on wholemeal bread, to give a good combination of quick and slow release sugars. If anyone has a better idea for a suitable snack (it has to be easy to carry and quick to eat), then please let me know. ↩