At the end of last summer, I had a phone conversation with my sensei in Japan, Mr. Takeda. It had been a while since we had spoken, and it was really nice to catch up on news with him and my home dojo in Numazu. I knew that August was when they have their rank testing (shinsa) and asked him how it went for my dojo mates.
I guess that several of my former dojo-mates had tested for rank, and for 4 dan and above, about half had passed. I guess that’s pretty consistent with when I tested. For my 4dan rank test, 3 of the 5 people testing passed.
I was glad to hear that Sano sensei passed his 6 dan, and also Mr. Takato, whom I received a very nice iaito from when I left Japan, passed his 5 dan. However, my classmate, Mr. Hasegawa who started the same time as I did and always tested together, did not pass his 5th dan test. According to Takeda sensei, the higher rank testing requirements have stiffened up over the last few years, and the testing board is passing a lower percentage of applicants even at the 3 and 4dan levels.
So I got to thinking how I could try to improve and check my own technique for my own upcoming shinsa. There are no upper ranked sensei nearby to compare notes with, and short of sending a video of myself doing kata to someone, I was pretty much on my own.
Later, I read this interesting article http://social-issues.org/community/node/255 in which 8dan Hanshi Ogura sensei talks about when he was preparing to make his third attempt for 8dan. After his regular practice session, he would go back in alone, turn off the lights, and practice in the dojo in the dark for an additional couple of hours.
So, I decided to try this. It was pretty hard to get the dojo to be completely dark – there was some light bleeding in through the outside window above the door, and also from the exit sign, but it was still pretty dark. After all, it was the middle of winter in MN, and the sun had long since gone down.
I went in, sat down, and proceeded to start through the first few seitei kata. It was an experience that was unlike any I had before. I found that the kata in seiza were okay – I had started in the middle of the floor, and knew that I wouldn’t be getting too close to any walls. Starting with the standing kata kesagiri was a bit different. I became much more conscious of how big my steps were, and I kept thinking how close I might be getting to the front of the dojo. It was really difficult!
The other thing I noticed was my nukitsuke and noto had reverted back to being extremely slow. I felt like it was the first time using my shinken again and feared for cutting myself on my nukitsuke and noto movements. Again, very difficult.
I only tried this for a short time, my regular practice was about to start, but it’s a different type of practice that I think is valuable and I’d really like to do again – maybe this time after a practice sometime.
Also in that article, Ogura sensei gives some of what he felt are grading requirements for rank. What he states for 5dan (my next attempt) are as follows:
- Being able to perform all the kata nearly perfectly; having learned the basics of position(s) of the imaginary opponent(s) and suitable distance(s), based on learning from written references and teachings from one’s Master.
- Being able to show an extension of your soul in the sword movements, facing the imaginary opponents; instilled calmness, metsuke, kihaku (unmistakable determination to vanquish); the harmonious unity of ki (energy) – ken (sword) – tai (body); smooth and controlled movements; mastering in both kokoro and waza (mind/heart/soul and techniques).