A couple of months ago Sensei Noha gave myself and two of my dojo mates the OK to test for Shodan (1st degree black belt) in the spring of 2012. I am as scared as I am elated by this. Scared because physically, my knees are not in great shape. I have a hard time sitting seiza (the sitting position in traditional Japanese martial arts where you sit on your knees), and there are many techniques on the test that are executed while in a kneeling position. I will, however do my best. It’s all I can do.
Typically in a testing cycle we start working on our preparation by going down the list of techniques to be performed on the test and sharpening them up through out this period up until the test. Maybe it’s too early but Sensei seems to be taking a different path in our preparation. He usually works on themes for several classes based on O Sensei’s notions of fullness, presence, manifest, hidden and the divine, in an attempt to tap into these levels of consciousness, while also bringing these notions and states into a practical and fully embodied individual. When we start our test preparation we work more on the techniques and less on the more esoteric aspects of the art. However, he seems to be tightly integrating technique into this mode of instruction. I’m grateful that he is doing this.
For me and many others, Aikido is not just the sum total of a series of techniques and movements to disable an attacker. O Sensei talked about Aiki being the underlying force of the universe. There are many names for this in different cultures, Aiki (Harmonious Energy) is a much bigger notion and is not simply meant to be practiced on the mat or for the resolution of physical conflict. So as sensei goes through and works with us in the preparation of test, I keep these notions in mind. I have many avenues to work on conditioning, sharpening of technique, repetition of movement, but Sensei provides a very unique aspect in my training and will thoroughly enjoy and inhabit the teachings provided through the time where we test.
I started martial arts when I was 11. My friend from down the street, Sherman Wong, would have a few kids over and we would spar in his yard. I think sparring was an excuse to beat up on the younger kid (me). Somehow he and his friends had gotten involved in Danzan Ryu Ju Jitsu and started bringing me. My first teacher was Professor James Musselman who was ranked Godan at the time (1973). I learned how to roll and fall very well under “Prof” and he gave excellent instruction in the biomechanics of movement so that even as a young kid I could understand it. I stayed in for 4 or 5 years, but my teen years were filled with a lot of turmoil, so I quit and did not continue on in any kind of martial arts training till the late 80s where I found Aikido. Even in my Aikido training, there are huge gaps. However a few years ago I finally made the choice to make Aikido a consistant part of my life and have been thankfully under the tutelage of my current teacher, Bob Noha Sensei.
I am inspired by many in my life, Leah, the beautiful woman in my life, who inspires me with her wisdom and creativity on a daily basis; my son, who has already done and accomplished so much in the short 15 years he’s been here, all of my teachers, from Prof Musselman, through my first Aikido teacher, Cress Forrester, Steve Gengo, who taught me so much about movement in Aikido to my current teacher, Bob Noha. My appreciation for all of these people that have helped me along the way is truly heart felt.
We advance in our training at the pace that we do. Our paths take us on journeys with a very straight path or a wide and varied path. For me my path has been pretty wide and varied. I’m excited to finally be able to test but I am also happy and grateful that my journey has allowed me to view many things and not only allow Aikido to permeate the things off the mat but allow the things off the mat to permeate my Aikido.
I’m not perfect and there are many things Aikido helps me with. Sometimes I fail myself but I feel that Aikido has helped me pick myself up. A doka O Sensei used to say is “everyday is new, and so we are new everyday.” So with this I prepare.