Recently, Lewis Clark had performed his shodan (1st black belt) exam, and I had the privilege of participating in that as his uke. It was a warm day, and Lew & I had been doing keiko for several hours. Two exemplary shihan had instructed the classes, Yamada sensei & Shibata sensei. The pace was challenging, and as a result the dojo windows were fogged by the steam of our sweat.

At the end of the training we began the exams. With the utmost sincerity and appreciation we performed the rigorous demands required for acceptance into the yudansha (black belt) ranks. After sometime I realized that the pace as metered by Yamada sensei was taking its toll on my aerobic capacity. This didn’t detract from Lew’s test, as another fresh yudansha uke readily took my place upon the request of Yamada sensei. It wasn’t until the last phases of Lew’s test that my weariness subsided, and I could clearly perceive the shodan exams culminating with randori. This randori utilized several uke, 5 or 6 maybe. In my past experience I had never seen so many uke during randori. I was not surprised to see my friend Lew perform this final challenge with dignity & skill. Although, I wondered how I would fare with so many uke. It was a natural thought knowing that sometime later this year I am slated for a nidan (2nd black belt) exam before Yamada sensei.

Shortly thereafter, the nidan exams began, and I paid attention with curiosity. The pace was again brutal. The uke seemed exhausted, but continued on and on. Eventually, the nage had begun to weary during jiyu waza (freestyle technique). This was another first for me, a multi uke jiyu waza. In this case there were two attackers who could use any strike, grab, or whatever to affect the nage testing. As soon as nage finished with one, another was at it again. This took its toll, but the nage showed me a deep courage and impressive Aikido skills. Again I witnessed henka waza (changing technique) being employed whereas kaeshi waza (reversal technique) was my previous understanding for this level of exam. Finally, nidan level randori with large numbers of uke attacking. It was so impressive the Aikido grace with which one yudansha had performed randori that she received an applause.

Truly, I have had some worry after learning about the challenge that confronts me. Although, after sitting in seiza and reflecting, this is the same feeling that I have always had when preparing for a test. The magnitude is clearly different, but the approach is the same. I find an analogy in the making of a shinken (live sword/blade). On an auspicious day the swordsmith comes to the forge, makes an offering to the shrine, heats the forge, and chooses a piece of quality steel. This rugged piece of steel is heated to a white glow, pounded with steel hammers, heated & pounded again, and then cooled in clay. The swordsmith than heats it again in the forge and begins to fold the steel back on itself. With each fold the piece gains strength & shape. At each step the sword is cooled in clay and examined carefully for function, beauty & flaws. Each additional fold becomes more difficult, but the blades impurities diminish. Eventually the swordsmith is satisfied, heats the piece white hot, quickly quenches it in water, and polishes the fine work.

Monday February 3rd, 2003