The second night of promotion was even more amazing than the first. While the first night covered basic material and combinations, the second night covers kata and self-defense. These are my two favorite parts of karate, so Friday night is usually my favorite part of the black belt promotion, whether as a participant or as a spectator. (The black belt promotions are closed — we cover the windows and door and everything — but all black belts are welcome, and I have made it a point to make it for at least one day of each promotion since I got my shodan in 2009.)
Friday is also when we talk about our essays. I’ll run my essay here after the whole thing is over (I posted my previous two essays for my shodan and nidan promotions here), but I noticed there was a theme throughout all our essays about the community of our dojo and how welcoming it is. Some of the other candidates told very personal stories about their journeys and the difficulties they had to overcome in life, and what led them to the dojo, and all kinds of other incredibly heartwarming and heartfelt things.
This is what I love about our dojo: it’s not just a bunch of individuals who come inside, sweat for an hour, and leave. These aren’t just fellow karateka, these are people I consider to be good friends.
I actually digressed a bit from my essay, which was about the other six people I went up with, mostly, and in general about how the dojo has given me all these cool new friends I never would have met, plus a bit about how much I love teaching. But when I went up to speak, I mostly talked about how the prompt for the essay — how has the dojo changed your personality? — was kind of backwards for me. When I was in first grade, I got a commendation from my teacher because I was always trying to help the kids who were struggling with something. My parents are librarians and teachers, and that dual whammy of trying to help people learn things obviously took, because I have taken to teaching like a duck to water. Even when I was a color belt, I was always offering to help folks out who were struggling with things and to answer questions. (Of course, sometimes, even now, the answer is, “I have no idea.”)
But the influence of my parents goes beyond that. When I was a kid, three separate sets of friends called my parents one weekend asking to come over and/or for a place to crash. My parents, of course, said yes each time. After the third call, my mother turns to my father and says, “What are we running here, a halfway house?” And my father shook his head and said, “More like an all-the-way house.”
My own house today is like that, too, as Wrenn, Dale, and I all are always willing to take in anyone who needs it. We had six house guests the weekend of our wedding, and three the weekend of New York Comic-Con, and so many others. We’re always happy to open our doors without hesitation or question.
So it isn’t so much that the dojo changed me, it’s that I found a dojo that fit me like a glove. My dojo is my second home, really, and it’s because of the wonderful community that Shihan has built.
Anyhow, that was the end of the night, which included some remarkably personal stuff from some of the candidates. It just tightened that community feeling.
Prior to that, we did tons of kata, tons of self-defense, lots of other nifty things. One of my favorite parts was when Charles and I — the two people going for sandan — did a nidan kata called Koryugojushiho. Most of our katas have very nifty, flowery translations (“peace and harmony,” “fortune and luck,” “keep pure,” “the rhythm of the wind”), but Koryugojushiho has a much more prosaic translation: “traditional 54 movements.” It’s the longest kata I’ve ever done (and one of the two longest we have, the other being a sandan kata I look forward to being able to learn after Monday), and Charles and I did it twice together. I made one mistake the first time, which is I think part of the reason why Shihan asked us to do it again. (We also did it in two separate directions.) Charles and I also faced each other to do a bunch of fighting drills, five of them attacking with punches and kicks, and then three more with bo staffs.
It was fantastic. We all had tremendous energy and we fed off each other’s spirit and intensity, and it made all of us stronger. As I said above, I’ve been to every black belt promotion since I went for my shodan in 2009, and this was one of the most powerful I’ve been to, and I’m not just saying that because I’m in it…..
Tomorrow morning, we go back to the dojo for the final piece, which is kumite — sparring. Where Friday covered my favorite parts of karate, Sunday will cover my least favorite part. But I will persevere, and I hope to make it through.
We’ll find out tomorrow…..