In January 2016 I created a series of blog posts called “More Betterer” in response to a friend’s challenge to think deeper about who I will be when I am a Shodan (first degree black belt).
On October 16, 2021 I passed my test for Shodan. Yesterday at the time I’m writing this.
Dan-rank testing (1st degree and beyond) is held yearly in October. I was supposed to test in October 2020. That didn’t happen due to COVID-19. Yes, I admit I was bitter from time to time. OK, well, to be honest… I was quite often bitter. But sometime after July 2021 when I was able to be in class again in my dojo I started to realize that the extra year was very beneficial. My performance at my Shodan test confirmed this. Talk about a silver lining! Another nice bonus was that friends and family who would not be able to be there in person were able to watch online. I never foresaw that, and I loved it that they were “there” to root for me.
So. Now I’m Shodan. Did I predict what it would be like accurately?
More Betterer Part I – Introduction
There really aren’t any predictions here. I now have a better idea now of what it takes to run a dojo in different settings: in recreation centers, as a club, and as a business. Of the three, the business model scares me the most. In the last couple of years I’ve learned that leasing space is expensive and you’re locked in for five years. Often the contract says the rent will increase each year. Tuition from teaching children can cover the expenses, but as for myself… I cannot teach children because I am immuno-compromised. So I learned that if I some day start my own dojo the business model probably won’t work for me unless I have at least two other yudansha (“black belts”) in with me.
More Betterer Part II – The Nitty Gritty
Just some short, random comments on this blog post…
I’m very grateful to my online friend not only for being the inspiration behind the “More Betterer” series but also for his continued support throughout my journey. I am honored he took the time to watch my test online.
I have a more clear memory of the black belt oath now that I’ve signed it, but… Memory will fade. I need to ask for a copy so that I can read it from time to time.
I’ve changed my main dojo since 2016 (I’m still within the same organization) so I won’t be helping at the two dojo(s) (schools) I mentioned in the article. I will be doing some substitute teaching at my current dojo – heck, I already have done that from time to time before and after we were closed for COVID-19. I love teaching – in fact, that was a big part of my bitterness when the dojo(s) were closed down and I couldn’t test for Shodan and gain that credential that would grant me the official designation of sensei (“teacher”).
And yes, I anticipate dealing with “stuff” that I mentioned in my article.
More Betterer Part III – Mental
Yes, the “inner demons” are still there. Imposter syndrome hasn’t been much of a problem in the last couple of weeks because my Sensei and others have done a great job of building me up. You know who you are – thank you!!! But I’m sure imposter syndrome will rear its ugly head again sometime. I am better at dealing with all the inner demons I listed in the blog post. I think I have grown bigger and I have learned more about dealing with those dark emotions. They will never go away and there’s no “woo woo” magic about being a yudansha (“black belt”) that will make them go away. It’s what I do about it that counts.
More Betterer Part IV – Physical
Just some random comments…
I still watch those who outrank me but sometime since I wrote this blog post I learned to also watch those who are my peers and those who are lower in rank. My kohai (those who are lower in rank) have their gifts, and I know I have my challenges. For instance a new white belt might ask better questions than I could ever come up with. It’s my job now to bring out my kohais’ gifts and help them to shine.
1) Lose ten more pounds – I don’t know what I weighed when I wrote this article. I do know that I did a lot of stress-eating in 2020 due to the COVID-19 situation. I did a lot of damage to myself. My knees felt it and I couldn’t fit into one of my gi(s) (uniforms). I was back to my pre-karate weight. When I got word that testing in 2021 might be a possibility I immediately went on a diet. I lost 20 pounds and reached my target weight a month before my test. I stopped dieting so that my body’s resources wouldn’t be strained. I’d like to lose ten more pounds, but if my half-century-old body won’t allow it, I’m at a good place.
2) Be able to do at least 30 pushups – Sometime in the summer of 2020 I tried. I made excellent progress and then tore something in my shoulder while doing push ups. It wasn’t a bad tear, I was still able to judiciously participate in online classes, but it put me off push ups forever. Once my shoulder healed I started doing alternative exercises. Months later I took up bo which has done wonders for my upper body.
3) Nice deep stances (if deep is called for) – I’ve been complimented on my stances lately. That said, in the years since I wrote this article I’ve had to revise my notions about stances. Form is good but not when one sacrifices fluid, balanced movement and smooth transitions. Like anything else in karate there’s a balance. I will continue to improve my stances.
4) Better endurance – well, I’m still working on that one. I’ve learned more about breathing, about not “powering through” with muscle, about kime (when to tighten up), about breathing, and about when to just move. Honestly that’s what got me though my test. I hate jogging. Hate, hate, hate it. Jogging could’ve been a good thing for me to do, but in the end? I think the time I spent just working, working, working on kata taught me more about how to get the most out of my body.
And yes, I’ve had to be very clever about my training. I’ve had to be even more clever than I originally predicted. I trained in my basement, I bought a webcam, I learned how to use videoconferencing technology. For the past year a friend has allowed me to teach an early-morning fitness class in his space and he doesn’t mind one bit if I practice karate after.
In this blog post I was looking at seven years from 2016 “give or take a year or two.” That would’ve put me at 2022-2024. Obviously I was off by two years. It took me five more years – four because originally I was supposed to test in 2020 but couldn’t due to this infernal plague.
Being a little bit better today than I was yesterday is still my goal… Or will be. I took today off to do some shopping and make the three hour drive back home. I’m taking tomorrow off too. But the next day I’ll be back in the dojo. Back to work!
And yes, there are things I was completely clueless about back in 2016, and there are still things I’m completely clueless about. There are still more depths I haven’t even begun to sound. Shodan literally means “first level.” I have taken the first step on a bigger journey.
This is the true beginning of my journey.