Last week I passed the renshi test in Hiroshima.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the term “renshi” or the grade levels in kyudo …
one usually starts at the “kyu” levels (counting down as you move up, from maybe 3 kyu, 2 kyu, 1 kyu) and then you move up through the “dan” levels with 1 dan (shodan), 2 dan (nidan), 3 dan (sandan), 4 dan (yondan), 5 dan (godan), 6 dan (rokudan), 7 dan (nanadan), 8 dan (hachidan), 9 dan (kyudan), 10 dan (juudan).
In addition to the kyu and dan levels, there are also “shougou” levels that denote status as a “teacher” which are comprised of:
Renshi – “Instructor” (the test is usually taken after achieving 5 dan, but some wait until after 6 dan). According to the kyohon (kyudo manual), the title of renshi implies, “The candidate should be firm in character and have the ability to instruct in Kyudo. Moreover, there should be evidence of advancement above the previous levels.”
Kyoshi – “Teacher” (as far as I know the test is taken after achieving 6 dan, and one must already have achieved the level of renshi). According to the kyohon, the title of kyoshi implies, “Possession of character, technical ability, and judgement are essential, as well as scholarship and cultivation, which are necessary requirements for leadership in Kyudo. Moreover, the candidate’s eligibility should be proven by meritorious service.”
Hanshi – “Master” (as far as I know the test is taken after achieving 8 dan, and one must already have achieved the level of kyoshi). According to the kyohon, “This level should exemplify the highest degree of conduct, dignity, and perfection of ability, together with the highest quality of discernment.”
For me achieving renshi has been about climbing this giant mountain in front of me. I can now look below and see all of the trials and tribulations that I have had to pass through to get to this point, and yet, I now look up and see giant behemoths of mountains before me. It’s only going to get steeper,
and we’ve really only just gotten started.
I’ve had a week to process all of this, but still have little idea of exactly what it is to be a renshi.
After hearing the news, one of my teachers told me, “You’ve only just walked through the gate. Learning what it is to be a renshi is just getting started.” I love this idea, and it can be applied to any level. I think it’s easy to think of each of the levels as singular blocks, where one single block is all the same regardless of where you are. With this mode of thinking, I call myself a renshi, and consider myself the same as all the other renshi around me, assuming that all is the same until you jump up the next block. But this is a big misunderstanding. Each level is rather an organic process that goes through all different kinds of phases turns, and everyone will experience them differently.
One other teacher told me, “More than anything else, be thankful.” I think he was specifically talking about being thankful to all the people who have helped me on my journey, teachers, training partners, family, friends, etc. Getting to this place where I was able to start kyudo took decades of support from family and friends and teachers and ancestors, and after that I can’t help but remember my friend who asked if I wanted to try out a kyudo class with him back when this all got started. Since then, every single archer has played a part in my experience, each given me a lesson to learn. And I can’t help but think of a couple of my main teachers who, without which, I would be and have nothing. I have been very fortunate to find myself in places with thriving dojos and teachers and kyudo culture, and all of my progress has been maximized because of this. In this lonely art where we seemingly shoot alone, people are so important, and the more the merrier. Perhaps there are a lot of people all over the world who don’t have the resources of gear and people that they want, and if that’s the case, I can only hope more connections can be made between the islands of kyudo culture around the world.
It’s all rising and opening, billowing outwards. There is no “failure.” Only different manifestations of the path that take us further than we were a step before. We use our mind to understand our situation, and perform magic, affecting the future with our calculated steps, though they may seem random. Onward and upward, piercing through the veil of “the End.”
I’d love to talk about some of the details of day, because there is no test day without drama and adventure, but I suppose this is enough for now. Tiny little steps that don’t hurry nor lag. That’s a great place to be.