Fortunately the weather in Winchcombe was much cooler than it seems to have been in Cambridge -- we even had rain and thunder, and an impressive (if brief) powercut while we were watching the sword gradings (all the swordspeople carried on silently performing their cuts, blades glinting in the near-dark). But it was still warm, and the dojo was boiling. By the end of the grading/training session there were little pools of sweat all over the floor. Niiiiice.
The way the gradings are done, lots of people grade at once in small groups (about 4 people), with one or two instructors to each group. The instructors seemed to spend most of their time just shouting at us to kick higher, punch harder, generally work harder and be better, and I felt like I'd been bellowed at for hours (I've no idea how long it really was) when they finally told me, to my surprise, that I'd passed. Basically though I decided that I wasn't going to let a bunch of hollering goons in glorified pyjamas intimidate me, and I was just going to bellow right back at them -- with some pretty fierce kiai which have left my throat feeling a bit raw. Seemed to do the trick though.
The grading seemed to be much more like a particularly fierce lesson this time, though, rather than an exam; that is, the instructors didn't just yell, but also frequently told us (well, shouted at us) what we were doing wrong in a given exercise, and then told us to do it again. Not actually reminding us of moves, etc., but things like "wider stances", and "turn that foot round", and so on, followed by the inevitable "Do it again!" Which made it feel more useful in a way.
It's, um... interesting trying to do aikido wrist-locks when both your hands and your training-partner's hands are dripping with sweat, though. Ick. Fortunately they didn't spend long on those; and they didn't even ask for the judo throws that we had to know for the grading, for which I was profoundly grateful -- I wasn't exactly looking forward to having to try to heave some sweat-sodden bloke over my hip.
Having said that, though, I think the worst bit of the whole thing wasn't actually part of the grading at all, but the drive there and back (not that I was driving, thank god) -- three hours each way, nervous on the way there and exhausted on the way back; with Sensei and one other student, neither of whom are the easiest people to talk to (just because I don't have much in common with them, really). The best bit, though, was being told by Sensei after the grading that apparently I'd been the best student in my grading group. Okay, that's only best out of four, but still -- colour me well chuffed. :-)