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Following on from the article How to prepare for your next martial arts grading, I thought it would be helpful to interview Gillian Dean SBN, who is a 4th Dan Soo Bahk Do practitioner and also an examiner in the UK & Ireland Moo Duk Kwan.   In this article, Dean SBN shares with you how she got into martial arts, along with her own grading experience as both a candidate and examiner, to assist with your preparation for your next martial arts grading.

Photo headshot of Master Gillian Dean.
Gillian Dean SBN, #33589, 4th Dan, UK & Ireland Moo Duk Kwan

Hi Dean SBN, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed!  Could you tell me how and when did you discover Soo Bahk Do?

I started training in October 1991, when I was 17.  Up until that point, my mum would always make sure I did something: either gymnastics – which was my main one – and then it was badminton.  I did trampolining for Preston College after that.  When that finished, I was looking for something to do.  At the time, I knew people that went to a different martial art.  I went to watch one day.  It wasn’t in this area – so, I went to try and find something that was.  I went to Fulwood Leisure Centre, just on my own.  I watched a class on the Friday evening, and then I went back the next Tuesday.  I’ve been training ever since.

What was it particularly about martial arts that made you think ‘I’ll try that’ and ‘I want to pursue that’?

I don’t know – it’s not like I’m particularly into martial arts in any other way.  I think it was more perhaps the flexibility side of things.  The martial art that I went to watch was totally different.  It was just something that I fancied giving a go.  I thought I’d go and have a look because there really wasn’t much else going on at that point.  It was just on the off chance I thought I’d just go and watch one and see what it looks like.  It was good, so I decided to go back.

You’ve touched a bit about the flexibility – in general what value has doing a martial art brought to you?

It’s the confidence, which does come to you after a while.  I think you can be quite confident in everyday life, which I’m not particularly, but I think once you know what you’re doing, and if you know what you’re doing well, then your confidence does grow.  It’s building on that every time.  Fitness – flexibility especially.  The discipline of it too.  You do have to be very disciplined to keep going and to train over such a long time.  The lovely thing is if you go and train at other places, you have friends all over the world – and they are your second family.

Did you often train at home as well as at the club?

No.  I would read everything at home – like the book and the text that you need for the gradings – but actually practising, I’ve always done in class.

Could you share your first martial art grading experience?

I was always really nervous – especially those first few ones.  There was about six or eight of us who started at the same time, who always graded together at the same time for years – probably up until we got our black belts.  I don’t know what’s worse: you’re up first or you’re then sat for a little while waiting to get up!  I was always really nervous about it, but generally did really well with them.  There was just one grading where I had to repeat one form (hyung/kata) because I had got the end of it wrong.  That was the only time where I had to repeat anything in an actual grading.  I’ll always remember going wrong in that, and I never did it again.

In your position as an examiner at gradings, what advice would you give to anyone looking to test? 

Before you even go to the grading, you need to make sure that you know everything.  It’s not just what you’ve been tested on.  Pretty much now it’s classed as a presentation.  It’s making sure you don’t forget the stuff you’ve learnt early on, being able to do everything, and knowing the curriculum, as well as your terminology.  If you’re nervous, it’s fine.  Still go and know that it’s a presentation and it’s not the end of the world.  If you have to repeat something, you repeat it.

When you actually go into the grading, you need to follow your etiquette.  Especially if you are a higher grade, you need to be looking and you need to be practising your forms at the back.  You can help other people out as well.  Just prepare.  You can always do a warm up.  Just be ready to come in and crack on and go through your forms and everything else.

What advice would you give to testing students, that you’ve noticed practitioners do during a martial arts grading?

Discipline.  Be disciplined. It’s basic things: have your toes together, stand up straight, and answer correctly when you’re being spoken to. Specifically, have your belt tied correctly, and the correct trim on your uniform.  You can still be nervous, but you have to remember it’s still your etiquette.   The start of your forms and the finish are really important.  It doesn’t matter if you mess up in the middle.  The thing people remember is the very start and the very end.  If you go wrong on a form, just acknowledge your mistake and catch up.  If you need to do it again, you’ll probably get it the next time around because you’ve already done it once in front of everyone.  Have a good stance, and a very good hand position.

Can you just clarify what you mean by hand position?

Hand position is having that chambered hand – the one that you’re not using.  It’s not on your belt, it’s not too high, and it’s not on your body.  It’s as if you’re doing an elbow to someone behind you.  Bring your arm back to that position when you’re not using it.  That’s one of the things that’s picked up upon a lot: hand position.

Can you share your most memorable experience of a martial arts grading that you’ve done?

It would be my 4th Dan over in Korea – the intensity of that!  It’s the whole experience.  So, as well as jet lag and everything else, you start your training.  It’s seven or eight 20-hour days for me preparing for the final presentation.  That’s all your Moo Pahl Dan Khum in the morning, then breakfast and then training, then dinner and then training, and then tea and then training.  Come 11pm, you then had a couple of hours of your paperwork to do in your group.  So, you get to bed at 1am and then you’d be up again at 5am, to get everyone else up and ready to go down to the hall. 

What drove you on every day?

The people that you test with keep you going.  I still speak to those people.  They are absolutely lovely.  The instructors over there give you good support.  That’s what keeps you going.  You get a good friend over there and it absolutely keeps you going.

From that experience, what was the key takeaway?

I think I didn’t know enough history-wise.  I could have done more to know, in regards to the forms and everything else.

Finally, what advice would you give to parents who are reading this to help prepare their children for a martial arts grading?

Read the manual.  The little ones especially: learn the basic numbers and the commands.  Just a little bit.  Make sure they’re standing up straight, they’ve got their uniforms, and they know how to tie their belt.  Take an interest in what their children are doing, and ask if they need anything, or if they’re not sure that their little one knows something.  Just ask and we’ll go through everything with them.

Thank you for your time.

From this interview with Dean SBN, the key message to prepare for your next martial arts grading is to really know your syllabus content (along with past content), the etiquette of your martial art, and also pay attention to the guidelines about your uniform presentation.  Essentially, a grading is a performance of your skills and abilities in your martial art. 

Are there any particular themes you’d be interested to learn more about in a future interview with a senior martial arts practitioner?  Let me know by leaving a comment!

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