Tuesday, May 6

Shodan Diary

"Success is a rare thing"

I hesitate to say how wonderful a day I had for fear something terrible will happen to ruin it. I have strived a long time for this goal. I don’t know how to describe how I feel it because it’s such a new experience for me.

Gaining black belt rank in aikido is not a easy thing. Those who have, will dismiss it as no big deal while humbly acknowledging the hard work to gain it. It is hard work and I too, am grateful of the achievement.

It was like any trip to Sunday class in Portland except a dear friend who doesn’t train drove me up instead of one of the other instructors from Eugene. It promised to be clear and warm after several false starts at Spring. Indeed everyone worked up a sweat in the intense aikido class. After a half hour break we had ki class taught by Tabata Sensei, considered to be one of the top instructors in the country.

Class ends and the aikido testing begins immediately. A table is set up at the corner of the mat and the chief instructors sit in judgment. I go first thankfully. I don’t like watching someone else go first while I fret about technique and worry my performance won’t measure up. It’s an actor thing. It also give me time to rest during the other test before the grand finale of rondori.

My partner Steve and I moved smoothly through the waza (arts) as they are called out. I made a few goofs but instead of scolding myself for them I merrily make the corrections. (Although now looking back I am less pleased with my errors). I am asked to do Jo Number One, a set of movements with a four foot staff. I begin and immediately realize I’m doing the wrong one.

“Oops that’s number two let me do that again.” and I sit down to restart. This is a major no-no because I should have just finished what I began. I catch Tabata Sensei frowning at me like what the hell is she doing?

The next big goof is when Steve trys to cut me with a wooden sword and as I take it away from him I put my hand on what would be the sharp blade of a real sword. This is immediately spotted by the senseis. I was kind of hoping they wouldn’t notice that but they know what to look for, rats. I do it two more times before I get it right.

A test is not a pass or fail affair. You aren’t considered for a test until they feel you are ready, so the goofs aren’t held against you( except they expect you will never make the same mistake again).

At last comes rondori. We had been practicing it in aikido class with some success but the teacher was concerned that I wasn’t “popping up” fast enough from a sitting position when you start. He’s not the only one, this body isn’t exactly a toaster.

Tabata Sensei stands at the front of the dojo as five people line up on one side of the mat while I sit on the other side. He impresses on me the importance of staying calm, keeping one point. I feel like a rider on the top of a roller coaster about to plunge down the first drop.

We bow, he shouts “Begin” and the next thing I know I’m standing and wondering what is taking these guys so long to get to me. Mind you they are coming at me in a dead run. Ok I’ll take this one over here first. They roll, get up and return for another attempt. The rest is a blur as I continue to brush them off. A couple of times they almost succeed but I calmly go on, refusing to let them get to me. At one point I step back - DON’T DO THAT! I shout to myself and move forward thereafter. Finally I hear the teacher clap two wooden blocks together as the signal to stop. We return to our original places and bow. The entire thing last 30 seconds.

We formally end with everyone lined up and bowing to Tabata Sensei. There is applause and congratulations from all the instructors for me and Diane. I can barely contain my emotions as years of effort and desire finally pay off. By the time my sensei comes up to me , I’m in tears and she gives me a big hug. Later as I’m changing, Mindy one of the ukes in rondori, congratulates me.

“I had fun attacking you.” she said.

“What a coincidence I had fun throwing you.”

As I look at the group of instructors toasting the new shodans I feel palatable relief that it’s over and I am one of THEM. Not that it will make much difference. Like graduating from one grade to the next, now I’m the freshman and target for endless ribbing. I am also informed that I am expected to be a responsible role model in class. I glance around doing a “Who me?”double take.

I have climbed the mountain to discover I've only scaled one hill. Just another milestone on the journey with aikido.

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