Monday, October 24, 2011

Jodo Grading

I passed my Jodo 5th dan on Saturday. The gradings are held at the Tokyo Budokan, which is a wonderful place to do Budo because of its excellent, unvarnished, sprung hardwood flooring. Even with my sweaty feet, the moisture is absorbed almost immediately by the unfinished wood, creating a surface that is neither sticky (when your feet are only a little moist) nor slippery (which happens when your feet are really wet). As my sweaty feet are caused partially by nerves, and exacerbated by slipping and sliding (see if you don't get nervous doing iaido or jodo on a floor that has just been wet-mopped!) this calmed me down a lot and in turn, led to less sweating, I think. In any case, the footing was excellent.

The grading was originally scheduled for mid-March, but was cancelled due to the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. It has been weird weather lately in Tokyo. It has been noticeably much cooler, like 21 - 24 degrees, but the humidity has stayed quite high so that it feels cool, but if you move around, you immediately start to sweat. Your body doesn't quite know what's going on. I wore a jacket but by the time I got to the Budokan, I was drenched with sweat and feeling very uncomfortable.

I was running a bit late because I had washed my keikogi in anticipation of the grading, but with all the humidity, it hadn't dried in 2 days! So I had had to take it to a coin laundry and give it a quick spin in the dryer. This put me behind schedule and meant I had to rush to get there on time, and I think my partner, John, was getting a bit nervous. He seemed relieved when I finally arrived. I quickly changed into my keikogi, and we had time to go through the techniques once before the organizers called us to line up.

There were 25 candidates for 4th dan, and 24 candidates for 5th. We all had to sit on the floor in rows and wait for our turn to grade, which was done 4 people at a time (2 groups of 2). In a jodo grading, you perform one side, then do shi-uchi kotai, and perform the other side. You are graded on both your jo techniques and your tachi, so the judges are quite busy watching both sides, which is why about 4 people is the practical limit. It does make for a slow grading, though. In the end, we had to wait for about an hour before it was our turn to go on - an hour of getting increasingly nervous, and getting sore and stiff sitting on the floor.

I was exceedingly nervous waiting for my turn, but when I got out on the floor, everything seemed to go very quiet and I felt really calm. For 5th dan, you must do techniques 8-12. By the time I got through the jo side and did Ran-Ai, my adrenaline was coursing and I was trembling. We did shi-uchi kotai and I forced myself to calm down. As we got into the techniques, I re-entered a zone of mental focus. But by the time we got to Ran-Ai, I was hyperventilating again. Quite a rollercoaster ride.

We were almost the last group to test, which meant we didn't have to wait very long to see the results posted. Our numbers were written on the wall - we had passed! (The practical component, at least!) The judges were evidently quite strict because the pass rate was less than 50%. Now it was time for the written exam.

We had to answer 3 questions about Jodo and write our answers in Japanese. This was done in advance, and then submitted on the test day. I had written mine first in English, and then taken it to about 4 Japanese friends, all of whom gave me slightly different corrections! Settling on an averaged version, I wrote out my answer, which only took me about an hour (including 2 false starts where I made a mistake and had to start over!) Again, you sit on the floor in front of the judges' table as they go through the papers one by one. If there was any question about the contents, candidates were called up in front of the judge reading their paper. It wasn't long before my name was called.

I ran up to the table. "Did you write this yourself?" asked the judge. "Yes," I said. "Hmph. You wrote here that in the seated bow, it is left hand, right hand. That's the way we used to do it. Now it is both hands at the same time. Please remember that." "Yes Sensei, I will." Shiiya Sensei looked at me from the next seat over and laughed. "What's the matter with you? Who the heck taught YOU?" I just bowed and tried to look chastened. I returned to my spot and even from where I was sitting, I saw the judge writing on my paper: stroke, stroke, stroke, small square, all enclosed by a big circle - the kanji for "Pass"! Yay!

Despite a few mistakes here and there (which were all clarified in quick conferences with the judges) everyone who passed the practical exam also passed the written exam. We stood up and Shiiya Sensei gave us a quick speech. "Congratulations on passing, and you have all worked very hard. But the real work starts now. You are going to be asked to teach more and more from now on. You need to make sure your techniques are correct and that you know what you are supposed to do. For example, with the etiquette in the Zen Ken Ren. [Looking at me] If you're teaching, you'd better get it right. But anyway, congratulations to you all!"

After that, there was a lot of bowing, thanking, handshaking, and so on. We celebrated with a few quick beers, and I felt absolutely GREAT. At the same time, I knew that if I had failed, I would have been crushed. It's not good to get so emotionally invested in gradings. You have to keep an even keel and just keep heading forward, regardless of whether things go well or go badly. I knew I probably shouldn't feel so good, but I couldn't help it.

As I've probably mentioned, I haven't been doing much iai lately. I have been able to kind of "blame" that on having to focus on Jodo in advance of my grading, but I don't have that excuse any more. At dinner, I was seated next to Tsubaki Sensei, who does both Iaido and Jodo. He asked me about Iai, and we had a good talk where he basically told me to get my ass back to Iaido and just do standing techniques. So I'm going to try and channel some of this positive momentum from Jodo into Iaido ... keep moving forward, keep moving forward ... Kind of like a shark. Stop moving, and you die.


Anonymous Jack Bieler said...

Congratulations, Jeff. Well done.

7:05 AM  
Blogger Suen 孫 said...

Congrats on passing!

Looking forward to hearing about your return to Iaido practice. =P

7:07 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

Nice Job Jeff!!

I like your description of the mental side of the grading. Every grading I've ever done, I wonder at the end if I did all the techniques I was supposed to. Usually I figure out that I did the last one, and the first one, so the middle must have happened...somehow.

CONGRATS!...FYI Shiiya and Arai sensei are in Toronto this weekend,...can't wait!!!!

7:35 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Hi Eric and all,

Thanks for the kind words.
Eric, I think that "blank" comes from intense mental concentration on your partner (or kasou-teki, in the case of iaido). But this time, I was quite conscious of myself ... I'm standing here, holding a jo, that guy is over there, holding a bokuto, the judges are over there, I'm doing kata #9 next, etc. It probably isn't good to think like that, but I blame it on the fact that I was really trying to make sure I didn't make certain mistakes that I had been told repeatedly about for each kata.
Shiiya Sensei told me he was going to Canada. He seemed excited about it. I'm jealous. I hardly ever get to do koryu and it certainly isn't taught to me by 8-dans. 4-dans, usually.

6:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff, nice to hear! Now Eric is going to put you on the list of judges for our 2012 grading, you can hop a plane and attend yes?


7:33 AM  

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