Envision these colors: The off-whites of canvas and wall and Japanese paper, black, and some natural wood tones. The colors of Aikido and my Dojo and my Sempai and Kohai. (Well, their gis and hakamas really; they themselves come in all of the usual human colors. Add those in for good measure). Keep these colors in mind. Click the Timestamp
to read why. (Rest of the post)
Dedicated readers of the blog might remember that I somewhat casually started taking the beginner's class back in early June of last year. My friend Scott talked me and Emily into trying it out, and it was a bit of a lark, inspired by his enthusiasm as much as any native interest I had in martial arts. Partially because of this very blog, I took an increasingly serious interest in it over the course of the summer, and the blog often seemed like Aikidoblog. I was immediately amazed by the mysterious tumbling and falling, relentlessly compared to my experience as a Bharat Natyam dancer, and watched a student become a black belt. Oddly enough, it's after I stopped blogging about it regularly that I really became a more involved student, with a regular membership and at least biweekly visits most of the time. By the time the holiday party roled around, I had snagged some new close friends and a sense of community. So when I came back from Japan, two weeks ago, walked into the Dojo and saw my name on the bulletin board as up for the 6th Kyu* with two weeks to prepare, I was both terrified and touched. I still have a lot of trouble with the forward rolls that first so amazed me--they're significantly less mysterious, but terribly difficult for me.
I didn't feel ready for the test, but my name on the board served as a challenge, a vote of confidence, and a dose of psychic adrenaline. The last two weeks have seen a drastic increase in my training. I got Jacob to be my Uke--a senior student, or Sempai, to practice with me before hand, and receive my techniques during the test. He patiently and cheerfully egged me on in my rolls and coaxed loud kiais out of my strikes. He's also extremely tall which forced me to really work on my techniques. Sara was going to be my Uke, until she realized she'd be out of town, but before that she worked on my rolls with me after every class. There are a bunch of students up for kyu tests later this week, which really added to the air of intensity and preparation. Josh, an extremely helpful yudansha I haven't gotten to train with in a long time, was up for his second Dan on Saturday, and his renewed presence added a level of intensity and another expert to grill. I went to every class I could possibly make it to, even a Saturday morning class. Last Saturday we had a special class for Josh's Dan test, with lots of Yudansha, and time for a few rolls afterwards. I actually got to train with Peter, who's usually an instructor! Josh's test went wonderfully, of course. I don't think there has been a single adult training in the Dojo at the same time I've been in the Dojo who didn't at some point train with me, watch and point things out for me, or at least heartily encourage me. Even former students who came back just to see Josh's Dan test took some time out from their reunions to watch me roll and give me feedback.
And it all led up to tonight, my 6th Kyu test. Earlier, when Scott asked if I was ready, I said I was in as much as I wasn't ready to quit. My forward rolls--still not so great. I would have to do them with everyone watching. It was pouring rain and I had been hiking around town for much of the day so I was already sore. My gi managed to rip in the knee just in time for the test. It's been a long weekend. I was pretty nervous.
When I got to the Dojo, pinned on the door was a note of encouragement from Yudansha and Kids Class Instructors Lars Erik and Martha--they had to chaperone a dance, but they would be thinking of me. Right before the test Sara gave me a big hug and told me that when I went up I would look out and see my fellow students sitting there and watching, and they would all be sending me vibes of love and good wishes and encouragement, willing for me to succeed. Well, if nothing else hers alone would probably do the trick! I nodded, I didn't really understand. After a long class during which I felt increasingly awkwrd, the instructors, Peter and Alberta, lined us all up and then called me out. Jacob and I "stepped" forward from the line to knee-walk to the front, bow to the Shomen, bow to them, and bow to each other. Jacob flashed me a big, bright, encouraging smile. I didn't breathe that well. I didn't get my feet over my head that well. I lost my balance a couple times. I got confused at one point between the technique I was demonstrating and a subtle variation we'd been practicing in class earlier in the evening. I was totally nervous and terrified of forgetting to bow properly. But boy, did I feel the love. I certainly couldn't focus enough on the line of students watching to make out their individual faces--they were just one blurry line of gi's and heads and affection.
You might recall my earlier Valentine's Day post about how love comes in all colors, not just red and pink. I hoped you'd have a good Valentine's Day, regardless of what color you were on. Tonight I found I was on a new set of colors--the ones I asked you to keep in mind at the beginning of this post. I hope you had as lovely an evening as I did.
p.s. Oh yeah--I passed.
* Aikido, like most Japanese martial arts, the Game of Go, and other pursuits, uses a system of Kyus and Dans to rank. You start with a high Kyu number--at my Dojo the first ranked Kyu is 6; I suppose ostensibly before your 6th Kyu test you are 7th Kyu. In the Game of Go it starts around 30 or 29. As you get more advanced, your kyu ranking goes down. 1st kyu is the highest kyu ranking. From 1st Kyu there is a switch over to Dans, which go up in number--first Dan (Shodan) being the lowest, second Dan (Nidan) being higher, etc. I'm not sure what the how high Aikido goes. Dan ranking are black belts in the martial arts, and in Aikido people with Dan ranking wear billowing black pants, or hakama, over their regular white gi uniforms, and are called Yudansha.