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Know Thyself

This week is black belt promotion week for us in Kenshikai Karate. On Wednesday, Friday and Sunday there will be numerous students testing for all degrees of black belt, from the magical first degree, all the way up to the rare and mysterious fifth degree (also known in our style as Kyoshi). Two students from my own dojo will be receiving their forth stripe this week, graduating to the prestigious rank of "Sensei".

I remember my own Sensei promotion as if it were yesterday. It was my first one without my teacher, Shuseki-Shihan William Oliver, who passed away in November of 2004. It was a title that, despite my having over 15 years in karate at the time, still held a certain amount of power for me. Besides, Sensei means teacher, and I was running a dojo. I was responsible for making new karateka.

So yeah, it was a big deal.

We did a lot of pushups at that promotion. So many that Matthew ended up seriously damaging his arm and having to go to the hospital, missing the Sunday morning testing. Sunday is our sparring day, and I showed up to fight with a sore shoulder, very little sleep and the man I loved stuck in a hospital. (He was fine, they just needed to keep him there to monitor something for two days. Can you say, extremely high cost of health care?) Needless to say, it was kind of a dramatic day for me.

Here is what I remember most about that Sunday:

  1. The black belt man, who will remain nameless, who failed to notice that I could not raise my left arm above my waist and proceeded to kick me over and over in the head. Next time I will wear a big red sign that clearly states that I am unable to block that side of my body. Or perhaps, people who come to help out at promotion could pay attention to someone other than themselves. (No, I am not still angry. I have let it go.)
  2. While tying on my new belt, Shihan Monte, a man who had known my own teacher for over 30 years leaned over and whispered in my ear "Shuseki Shihan would have been very proud." Tears. So many tears.
  3. Being far too much of a hot mess to want to take any photos. And the thoughtful student who had just received his first degree black belt who gently pointed out that although I did not feel that way at the time, I "might want to have them one day," He was right. Thank you Thomas Daly.
  4. Really wishing Matthew was there. ( I know, ewwww.)
When you first start training in karate, promotions are a big deal. New belts are the most tangible way to know how you are doing and are easy goals to work towards. But the longer you train, the longer the time between ranks. In our dojo it is usually a full year from brown belt to advanced brown, and another year from advanced brown to black. That is a long time to wait if all you care about is getting promoted, so most students who make it that far have started to find other things that excite them about karate, other reasons for putting on that gi every day. 

I got my forth degree black belt in 2006. Yesterday, while having lunch with a good friend who trains at our dojo, the topic of promotion came up. If two Kenshikai Senseis are testing for fifth degree this week, doesn't that mean that Matthew and I would be coming up at some time in the not so distant future?

At our rank, you never know when you could be invited to attend promotion, if ever, and to ask is unheard of. But yes, her thinking is reasonable. In a year or so, it could very well be our turn. Again.

I don't think I want it.

Please don't misunderstand me; I do not mean to sound spoiled and ungrateful. It is a huge deal to be invited to go for promotion and if it happened to me I would feel incredibly honored. And of course, I don't know how I will feel in a year or two. But if I were asked tomorrow, I am pretty sure I would decline. With the utmost respect and appreciation of course.

My karate training is a huge part of how I define myself. Along with the numerous classes I teach all week, I still step on the dojo floor every Tuesday and Saturday as a student. I try to practice blocks and punches, kicks and katas as if I haven't been doing the same ones for 24 years. I can still lose myself in the beauty and energy of a flawless kata, and there are few things that feel as good as the moment when all the parts of your body work together to get a move just right. Also, I put an awful lot of focus into trying to become a better teacher every time I stand in front of those tiny four year olds. I put an awful lot of thought into how to grow our business. And I take my role as the leader of our dojo's women very seriously.

But I also do jiu-jitsu now, a pursuit that is still incredibly new to me and extremely challenging. And while new belts in BJJ are few and far between, there are many other milestones to reach for, many other goals to work towards. At the very least, I would like to triangle someone who is not just kind enough to let me.

Isn't that what is supposed to happen when you devote your life to the martial arts? Your training changes. Your view changes. You change.

I have changed. Karate means something different to me now than it did when I first tied on my white belt 24 years ago. It means something different than it did on that emotional Sunday morning seven years ago. But as a martial artist, I still know exactly who I am. I own my spot on the floor, my role in our dojo, and I like it there. Although I still try to improve and grow every day, I do not need, or want, any more stripes on my belt. It is more than enough for me to put them on my five year olds instead. 

Also, there is also absolutely no way there could be a promotion more meaningful to me than that last one, way back in October of 2006.

This is just me by the way, my own personal issues. If you want to get fifteen stripes on your belt, please go ahead. Really. I will be the first one cheering for you. (Read as "Please don't punish my husband for my insolence. Please give him lots of stripes. He is in no way connected to this blog post." And so on...)

So that's what I have been thinking. That being said, maybe you could not share this blog with the Shihans? Just in case I change my mind. 

And good luck to everyone taking promotion this week!


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