Aikido training in Japan

Year Without a Test: Now I Get It

Actually it’s ben a year and four months since my last aikido test, a long dry spell. After my last test I changed jobs and aikido time dropped from 3-4 times a week, to 3-4 times a month. It’s been a dark time indeed for aikido. Once I started this life over a year ago, I had one supreme goal: get back to a day job that would allow me to resume a plentiful aikido schedule as soon as possible. Everything focused to exit the purgatory I had slipped into.

But things have changed.

Primarily, I’ve found kyudo, a wonderful art I never imagined beginning. Spend enough time with something and roots will grow. Now I have another plant to attend to.

But back to the whole job thing. As far as I know, the only way I can live and earn money to live on in Japan is as an English teacher. So, I’ve looked for English teaching jobs. At first I thought of Interac, a public school job not unlike my last job with the Jet Program, but without the pay, vacations, and other various luxuries one enjoys on the Jet Program. Come the new school year in March, this was my ticket back to aikido. That is, until I set my eyes on teaching at a foreign language college that became the dream. I could definitely get a job with Interac in Toyama, but the college prospect is uncertain. Thorughout the year I’ve participated in various events to get acquainted with the school and staff (including an hour and a half presentation on how martial arts can benefit your life, focusing on Hawaiian Kenpo, aikido, and tai chi chuan, something I’d love to talk about here, but just too far in the past now). Due to application deadlines, I ditched the Interac idea in order for the college to come through. Well, I’ve continued participation, but I have learned nothing about the college’s interest in me, past the fact they like me doing these various jobs every once in a while. One thing I have come to learn though is that it is a well sought after job by other various gaijin bums in the prefecture, and I am probably not at the top of the list. Could I get the job next March? In the next couple years? Who knows? Frankly … who cares? The idea has grown cold; vines have already wrapped it in the history of a past me. I’m still signed up for things through January, and if something works out, I’ll see what happens. Regardless, it’s definitely not going to consume any more of my excessive attention. These employment puzzles have made me think a lot about getting my blackbelt in aikido here in Toyama, but always without an answer.

Until last week.

Out of the dark depths of the universe I don’t usually think of, my current boss notified me of various other opportunities within the company which would move me elsewhere in the country, and upward in various judgements of “better”.

I could leave it all behind and start anew. New place, new budo. I’ve been in Toyama for three years and wanderlust has grown quickly inside of me. It’s an exciting thought: change.

Saturday night I went to aikido and had an excellent practice. November is a month of testing, and Sensei asked me about getting back on track.

“Eh? Would that be OK with my infrequent practice lately?”

Of course! Hurry up and get your black belt and hakama! Three years of dedicated practice from you is more than enough, but I can’t give it to you now. Take the tests as they come and you’ll get the hakama soon.”

Wow. In my mind I had some very dark images. “There’s no way I can get a black belt with this schedule. My further aikidoka look down on me for it all.” Stuff like that. When I go to aikido I receive everything but this, just great practice with great people who have become my family, but of course that’s not what I think of on my own. Yosh! I can take the tests as they come, and I can get my black belt in Toyama like I’ve dreamed of. I’ll take the nikkyu test this month, ikkyu in March, and then shodan (black belt) in July. If I need more time or something happens, then I can push it until next November, which is no problem. I can do it.

The next day I went to kyudo for a trial ikkyu test. It was a huge … uneventful experience; a great example of some of the more frustrating parts of Japanese culture which require long periods of waiting. I practiced the test for 5 minutes, and spent about 3 other hours just waiting around. Anyway, in this period I realized how much goes into the tests in kyudo. I thought of Sensei who watches me everyday, doing everything he possibly can to teach me quality kyudo. It’s unbelievable. He’s an excellent teacher. My aikido teacher is the same. So are my past martial arts teachers. But without going on a sappy tangent, kyudo is not just something I do to pass the time until I get back to aikido. Well, maybe it was at first, but now it’s my main practice, something I’ve become very attached to. I can’t leave now. Sensei says I should be able to take my shodan test next May, and if not then, then next September. Yosh, I can do it.

I came to Japan with the dream of practicing budo in it’s home country. When I started, I consciously put the idea of belt testing out of my head, leaving it up to circumstance. If it happens it happens, but I will not bastardize this experience with the desire for status. It’s been less than pure to be honest, but I still hold on to the fact that focusing solely on the belts is a folly. However, it is an important part to the experience.

You take the tests because it’s what you do. You take the tests because it is a manifestation of your goals and a materialization of your efforts. It’s recognition from your teachers and peers, who are an absolutley irreplaceable and necessary part of budo.

It’s like going to school for for three years and then dropping out senior year. Not that I believe it is wrong, just not my style. I have an opportunity to complete this story. If I do, it will be just that: a complete story. If I can finish this, it will be my greatest project; a giant mural of expression and devotion. Martial arts is art, and oftentimes it looks a lot more like an epic Western painting rather than a black and white product of Japanese calligraphy.

So, I’ve realized I want to move on from this place and time, but not without the fruits and closing initial chapters of the journey. One more year of snowboarding, going to freezing rain hanami parties, sweat drenched summer inferno, and then come fall, I may depart afresh.

It’s all so clear now. Do budo to the best of my ability. Have fun when I’m not.

But I’m going to need a few things: some interesting books, new music and TV shows, and a lot more beer.

(A week later …)

I passed the kyudo test. Will take aikido this Saturday.

After rereading this post, it doesn’t quite communicate the feelings of frustration and devotion I usual feel, I think. Truly there is a large gap between worlds, inside and out. But who needs disclaimers. There is only understanding. What we see is real.

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