Spar Sunday – PKA Kickboxing Black Belt Grading Exam: We Came We Saw and Hopefully Conquered!

After somewhat of an apprehensive week two weeks ago preparing myself to make the change to a different employer via a TUPE transfer, my 1st degree black belt grading exam was fast approaching. I had made the decision the week prior to grading to totally step off the gas and not train / workout during the final week leading up to my grading exam, for I felt I needed to conserve my energy for the big day on Sunday 30th March 14.

I used this rare period of downtime to focus on some flexibility stretches and paid extra attention to what passed my lips when eating and drinking. After officially leaving my previous employer on Thursday 27th March 14 and attending the Be:Fit London Festival the day after on Friday 28th March, I spent the eve of my grading with the Mr, relaxing and enjoying quality time together. I often found myself subconsciously visualising my tech sets in my head whilst making sure I was ready, mentally via various short periods of meditation.

I surprisingly managed to get a good night’s sleep despite choosing to spontaneously accompany my boyfriend, his Mother and Sister to the cinema to watch Ride Along starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart on the eve of the grading and awoke just before my alarm went off at 5.45am.

Thankfully I was organised for once and packed all of my kit, toiletries and a change of clothes into my Goddess III Work Play Bag the day before so only had the minimal tasks of jumping in the shower, brushing my teeth, eating breakfast and getting dressed as opposed to rushing around like a complete loon as I usually would!

Jo arrived to pick me up at 7 am on the dot, and after last minute well wishes and hugs from the Mr it was time to set out for our long drive up to Temple Martial Arts in Brum *Birmingham City Centre* where our grading was to take place.

We both were high in spirits but were also slightly nervous, for months of haaaaaard work, along with blood, sweat, bruises, sacrifices and  the occasionally tear has been put into the lead up of our Dan grading and only dawned on us during our car journey to Brum that we were about to be tested over a 4 hour period under the founder of PKA Kickboxing, Mr Michael Haig.

We arrived with half an hour to spare and decided to walk up to the dojo in the hope it was open so we could get ourselves together before the exam began. Upon arrival, I noticed Sensei Haig waiting in his car for another instructor to arrive for he had the keys open the dojo.

After an approx 10 min wait the other instructor turned up and let us in. By this time other females from different clubs were also arriving.

Dressed, prepared and ready as ever for the intensive 4 hour long exam, we waited to been seen for a licence check and to pay our grading fee.

The were a total of six women and six children of mixed genders under 16, all taking our 1st Dan Exam with Jo and another Lady going for their 2nd.




After a quick warm up and a few pictures taken to mark this significant occasion, Sensei Haig (the founder of PKA Kickboxing) paired us up with our partners and it was time to demonstrate why we were worthy of being honoured our Dan Gradings.

Shadow Boxing

Shaped in a semi-circle around the dojo, Sensei Haig asked us to get into left stance *orthodox* and kicked off with what felt like approx 2 mins of shadow boxing *hands only*.

The aim was to show off all what we have been taught, with a particular focus on footwork, making sure we were light on our feet whilst displaying sharp combinations of hooks, jabs, uppercuts, spinning back-fists etc.

I recall making an extra effort to bob and weave, slip and roll under imaginary punches thrown at me for I wanted to impress and show I meant business.

We then proceeded to complete 2 mins of shadow boxing *legs only* before finishing this part of the exam with a further 2 mins of shadow kickboxing combining hands and legs.


Without a break we were asked to get back into our positions we were in before our first test and went on to demonstrate punch and kicking combinations Sensei Haig had planned for us to do. I know I have a tendency to let my guard slip sometimes, especially when either performing our technical sets or punching combinations so paid extra attention to ensure this DID NOT happen during the exam. Guard did not drop once thank god!

Kicks on Kick Shield

Sensei Haig allowed for a small water break, which gave Jo and I sometime to briefly speak to each other. Sweat already dripping we both felt confident with what we just displayed and was raring to get going again!

Paired up with our allocated partners we each took it in turns to complete the below kicks into the kick shield and on Sensei’s count, performed a total of ten on each leg before changing stance and repeating to the swap over *the person who kicked first now had to hold the kick shield*

  • Rear Leg Front Kick
  • Round House
  • Lead Leg Side kick
  • Rear Leg Jumping Roundhouse

I opted to kick first whilst my partner held the kick shield. It natural for me to let out sounds upon striking the target area and recall Jo and I the only ones making substantial amount of noise.

Making a conscious effort to really pivot and drive through using the hips, I was happy with the kicks I did and surprisingly learnt that throwing a rear jumping roundhouse kick off the rear leg in RIGHT STANCE was 10 times stronger and felt more natural than in left stance. Odd that as my natural stance is orthodox and usually feel most comfortable kicking off my right leg.

My kicks performed and it was time to swap around. Holding  the kick shield nice and sturdy, I took the opportunity to glance over at my training partner in crime Jo whilst the lady I was partnered with took a second to get back into position to perform her kicks again.

Jo looked sharp, and hit those kick shields with such power and precision. I smiled to myself for I felt we both were nailing it at this point.

Even Jo’s partner was amazed and asked her where she gets all that power from?

Punches into Focus Pads

Drowning in sweat by this time, Sensei gave as another quick water break before we partnered back up and went straight into punching combination into the focus pad on Sensei’s count.

From memory, we had to perform the following combinations for a toal of ten times, first in left stance then in right before swapping around:

  • Jab, Cross, Lead Back-Fist, Rear Spinning Back-Fist
  • Lead Uppercut, Rear Uppercut
  • Lead Bolo punch, rear Bolo punch
  • Cross, Jab, Lead Hook, Rear Uppercut
  • Lead Hook, Rear Hook to the body, Lead Hook, Rear Hook to the head

Making sure I brought my guard back to my face with each punch thrown, I enjoyed this part of our grading for I put in max effort whilst ensuring to pivot and twist to really show off the punching combinations we were asked to complete.

Technical Sets 1-16 and 1-20

By this time I had completely lost track of time and was delighted to learn that were going to be doing our techical sets next. Sensei called for a water break to which most of the students took bar Jo and I. I didn’t feel I needed a water break and rather than stop and get potentially cold, I chose to keep warm by shadowing my tech sets in front of the mirror whilst Sensei went to get his coat.

Just before we started our exam I was quick to notice how cold the dojo was but having warmed up and now covered in sweat through the various tasks thrown at us I longer felt the cold. The same can be said with the rest of us grading for some even stripped down to their training vests.

Sensei went through what he will be looking for, technique was high on the agenda as was pace and fluidity and asked that we give nothing but 100%.

These words went around in my head like a record and repeat and used this to get into the zone, mentally for the technical grading assessment ahead.

Starting at technical set no 1 we began, and as I was paired with a lady of similar age I had never trained with before, gauged the pace she went at and took it from there. I did notice however that the pace we were going at was slower than what I have been used to training at.


You see, when training with the likes of my higher grade KB familia Dee, Jo, Jamie, Chris, Marv, Phil and Darren, there is no option but to pick it up lol. It was either that or being on the receiving end of a connecting kick or punch which isn’t pretty *speaking from experience* but whenever I tried to step it up to my desired pace it would throw my partner off.

My partner and I proceeded to work our way through the sets and kept my focus and composure, despite the lady * i forgot her name* making the odd mistake through either being out of position or a brief memory blank.

I too messed up slightly on tech set 10, as Sensei Haig pulled me up for not connecting my rear hook to the body after attacking with the uppercut whilst rolling under my partners rear hook.

Having just under two weeks to analyse the technical set part of the grading, I can honestly say I gave it everything! Such was my focus that no-one was going to stand in my way of this significant achievement and wasn’t leaving that dojo without making an good, memorable impression.

Once we finished tech set 16, those going for our 1st Dan Grading went on to do some more partnered combinations into each others gloves whilst Jo and her partner proceeded with their four remaining tech sets required to demonstrate skills worthy of a 2nd degree black belt! *Go Jo 🙂

We concluded the 3.5 hour exam with a freestyle pad routine and partnered sparring.

My Thoughts on Our Dan Grading Exam

In my humble opinion, I would say I am quietly confident both Jo, Darren and I had done more than enough to earn our 1st and 2nd degree black belts in Kickboxing,but such is life you just never know until it’s officially confirmed.

I surprised myself by performing well under intense pressure and did not let the big occasion get the better of me. One of the best pieces of advice I got was from Sensei Marvin and Sam, who both said to treat the exam like an extended class and I did just that.

Can I just point out that, without exaggeration, I have NEVER sweated soooo my in my entire life! My hair was absolutely soaked and failed miserably at attempting to take my t-shirt off for it was stuck to my body and had to call on the help of my training partner to yank it off of me haha *shakes head*

Jo and I left the dojo on an extreme high yet stiff as she quoted ‘old biddies’ as Sensei Haig didn’t complete a cool down and stretch. We took matters into our own hands and stretched ourselves out in the middle Birmingham Town Centre, using the stairs and rails to for resistance much to the amusement of the locals.

Thank You’s

A MASSIVE THANKS has to be said to the wonderful people over at Cherry Active, The Good Health Box, Whey Hey Ice Cream and Work Play Bags for equipping me with AWESOME products to try that played a vital part in helping me in the lead up to, during and post exam grading.

Also thanking the Mr, my Breakin’ Boundrez team, Sensei Paul and Phil and my KB class peers for your ongoing support throughout this roller-coaster of a journey.

Did Jo, Darren and I do enough to pass our 1st and 2nd degree black belts?

Check back tomorrow for an update on our results 🙂