what light through yondan window breaks?

It’s not quite completely official yet — still waiting for the formal invitation — but the process has started by which I will be going for promotion to yondan, or fourth-degree black belt. I will be going alongside Senpai Charles, with whom I also went for my nidan (second degree) in 2013 and my sandan (third degree) in 2017. We will be joined by Gordy, an advanced brown belt going for his shodan (first degree), and there may be some kids going for their junior shodan as well.

I am, at once, thrilled and scared to death, as the promotions are much more intense at this level. While there are some disciplines that just automatically give you another stripe on your black belt after being in rank for a certain amount of time, Shuseki Shihan Paul doesn’t do that (which, honestly, is as it should be — black belt stripes should be earned). For yondan and above there’s additional testing on top of the three promotion sessions.

This will all happen in mid-November, and between now and then I’ll be running in Van Cortlandt Park, going to every class I can possibly go to, and also attending fighting classes every Tuesday night. Assuming I make it through, both Charles and I will have a title change, as yondans are formally referred to in our discipline as “sensei.”

In Japanese martial arts tradition, you don’t wish someone luck. Instead, you say, “ganbatte,” which means “try your best.” Which is really all we can ever do. And I love the sentiment (so much so that I used “Ganbatte” as the title of a short story that later won an award….). So I won’t ask y’all to wish me good luck, but if you want to throw a “ganbatte” my way, I wouldn’t object…..

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