Making Shodan

I was very fortunate that at the seminar where I was recently promoted to Shodan, I got the chance to see one of my teachers having his shomenuchi ikkyo technique being corrected by his teacher’s teacher. He very respectfully knelt as he listened to the correction, accepted it in earnest, and then attempted to put it into practice. For me, that became an exemplar of what it meant to be admitted to the Yudansha ranks: a devotion to improving oneself through the application of humility. So to it became clear to me that others will watch you, and knowing your rank, follow you whether implicitly or explicitly.

Admittedly, I didn’t feel like a Shodan upon passing the examination and watching the video of my test did nothing to disabuse me of that notion. Surely a Shodan would have performed better and if I had performed better perhaps I’d have the feeling of being a Shodan, I thought, not really having any idea what it would mean to “feel like a Shodan.” Indeed, as I spoke to others I learned that ‘imposter syndrome’ is common amongst those that are newly promoted. Even though teachers whom you respect and are verifiable experts have deemed you worthy of such an honor, that self-doubt will creep in. As I reflected upon this over the days following my test and promotion, it occured to me that perhaps I didn’t become a Shodan that day, that instead, maybe, my instructors saw the Shodan characteristics in me long before that, and that initiatic, transformative experience had occurred before I had been asked to formally test for that rank. Whether this is true or not, all I can do now is continue to practice Aikido so that I can live up to what they saw in me as best as I am able.

After that seminar, I had to travel for work and as I had done countless times before I brought my Gi and Obi with me, but this time it was a different Obi and my packing including a Hakama as well. At this new dojo, with people who didn’t know me but were very kind and earnestly trying to practice Aikido, they were deferential towards me and my rank, which is what we are taught in Aikido and shows very good instruction from their teachers. At a certain point in the practice, the chief instructor paused to tell the class that he was glad they were allowing me to lead the lines and were being deferential to my rank. But he went on to tell them that there are different styles of Aikido, and while some things are the same, some things are different. I was there to learn how their style was different and expand my knowledge of Aikido, so they didn’t need to be overly concerned about rank and should treat me as any other student there.

I was so happy that he said that. I was pleased to be able to focus on being a simple student again with a beginner’s mind. It also allowed me, in a small way, to model the same behavior that I saw in my teacher’s just a few days before, respectfully and humbly learning from those that knew more than I did. As a newly elevated Yudansha, I will endeavor to inculcate this spirit in all my practices.

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Jack Freund