Tomorrow (12/1/18) I will test for my next rank – what we call “high brown” (otherwise known as i-kyu). I won’t get a new belt – in our system, one wears the same belt through what is, for us, the last three ranks before black belt. No stripes adorn our brown belts – we have to talk to one another and keep track of every brown belt’s progress in order to figure out who stands where in line and who is senpai (senior) to whom.
My sensei (instructors) tell me that I am ready to test even though I’ve been ni-kyu (middle brown) for only six months. I have to admit I balked when I was nudged to test in October. I didn’t learn the two new kata (forms) that I will perform for my test until after I’d competed at Nationals in July. Annanko (kata) was no problem, but Kanku Dai (kata) is another animal altogether. For Kanku Dai I felt I needed more time than just three months. By mid-November I felt far more confident. My Kanku Dai isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t have to be. I have years ahead of me to polish it further.
The three ranks of brown in our system are meant to be a time of transition, particularly during the final kyu (colored belt) rank. I don’t know when I will test for Shodan (first degree black belt), but I do know that if I pass tomorrow’s test I’m in for a boatload of hard work. For my Shodan test, whenever that will be, there will be two new kata to present and a couple of significant format changes in the test itself. I will have to train just as hard if not harder than I did for Nationals. At least I have already shouldered a boatload of teaching, so I’ve already had significant preparation for the responsibilities that I will have as a yudansha (black belt). In just a few days I actually will need to scale back the responsibilities I currently hold.
So far I have been balancing my own personal training with my dojo (school) responsibilities. But if I pass my test tomorrow I will need to give up one significant responsibility. OK, truth be told, I will need to give up helping with the college’s physical education class anyway because for next quarter the college has changed the class time and days. But even if the Winter Quarter Karate PE class was still going to work nicely with the rest of my schedule, I would still have to let go. Since the beginning of Fall Quarter I have been getting up at five in the morning to get personal practice time. I admit I’ve been feeling a little ragged around the edges. Pass or fail, I will need more time (and more intensive time at that) after tomorrow’s test to practice, to polish, to toughen my body further.
I am a little sad about not being part of the college class next quarter. It’s been a significant part of my journey and a tremendous boost to my growth for most of my training now. I will miss working alongside the dojo sensei and occasionally getting help with my own material after class. It’s been an honor to serve at the same place where the head of our organization got his start. But I understand it’s time for me to let go. It’s time to move on to my future. I’m excited about what’s next for me. This time of transition is bittersweet.
Whether or not I pass my test tomorrow the coming months or years will most definitely see me intensively preparing to tie on a black belt. And yes, when that happens, I will still be a beginner. I will always be beginning something new. I’ve been told that Shodan is the new beginning, the first step, and the true beginning of my own journey. It’s gonna be a helluva ride.
My deepest thanks to all the karateka who have helped me get to this point.