When I started training in the Bujinkan I already had many many years of training in martial arts, a second dan in Kenpo Karate and various ranks in other arts and styles I dabbled in and out of. So when I started training Bujinkan I had no desire to be a black belt, I already had that. I did however have this goal from the beginning to get as far as my Godan. The idea of what the test entailed and also the thrill of travelling to Japan gave me a goal that seemed almost impossible to achieve. And if I did manage it I had no hope of achieving it in front of Hatsumi Sensei. (Or so I thought)
As the years went on in my training I became less about gaining rank or even thinking of the prospect of being a Godan. But the Bujinkan and training with people like Shihan Marc Moor and Shidoshi Ryan Hobbs etc. gave me more food for thought and more to aim for then rank ever could.
Despite all this I have had a year and still until now of being very unwell, awaiting major surgery, my training became limited and sometimes no matter how much my brain wanted to train my body could not physically follow. But rather then sitting at home, I continued to go to every class. Some nights joining in for one technique sometimes lasting a little longer. But I listened and learned as much as I could. But most have no idea of just how frustrating it is to sit at the side and not do what I love the most.
Then suddenly back in mid August, Mr and Mrs Hobbs suddenly found flights to Japan. Within hours they were booked and the trip of a lifetime had suddenly gone from being a dream since I was ten years old to being a few weeks away. Panic and excitement all soon set in.
Japan itself is an unreal and just inspiring place. It’s like marmite I imagine people either love it or hate it there is no in between. But man oh man did I love it. But that would need a weekly blog series on its own to tell you of all the amazing things I seen and explored.
When I got to Japan, the first night and first class I trained in was at Hatsumi’s class at the Honbu. I was very nervous, it was like being a beginner all over again and with about 10 other people in the room there was nowhere to hide. Of course once training started everything was fine again. It was such good fun and I learned so much. Hatsumi even had the odd giggle or smile when ever I knocked my training partner on the floor. The next two weeks continued on like this. Instructor after instructor I was inspired and in awe of it all. The pace was so slow and steady I managed to keep up with it all. Although on one day I decided to do two classes my body gave up on me. And I paid for it that night and the following days. But I was still determined to squeeze in as much training as I could.
After about a week or so of training we were at Nagato Sensei class. It was relatively busy and throughout the class he kept coming over to me, and constantly watched on as I trained. Towards the end of the class he spoke to Marc and after a long discussion and many unbelievable compliments about me, Nagato was more than adamant that I take my Godan test on Sunday. No excuses, he expected me to take it at the next Hatsumi Sensei class.
I left the class almost shell shocked, the high of being complimented by one of the most senior instructors in Japan was unbelievable. But at the same time was completely terrifying. It was a completely surreal experience.
The next few days had my train of thought up and down. Do I take this test, the one I never thought I’d ever do with Hatsumi Sensei looking over it or do I not. Do I try and achieve the dream I set all those years ago, or let it pass me by. After much thinking and talking with the people I look up to most in BWS into the late hours of the night, I decided to face my fears and dreams and go for it with each one of them rooting for me from the sidelines. Worst case scenario was id fail the test and be laughed out of Japan. But that was the worst that could happen haha And it would have made a good story
Soon at Shiraishi Sensei’s class he told me to stay behind after class and as everyone else left, he helped me prepare for my Godan test. Even this terrified me, people where watching as they grabbed their bags to leave. But Shiraishi was eagerly anticipating my success with his wise and very powerful teachings. But at the same time I managed to find that complete inner calm. And Shiraishi’s smile and bow of his head said I was ready.
Sunday came around fast and while I dreamt of another very low turnout, I was not to be so lucky. Instead there was upwards of 120 people in the room. A lot of them being big named instructors I had only previously heard of. The class continued as normal and I was feeling like I was going to pass out and throw up all at once. My mind couldn’t focus on what was being taught, I was just a total bag of nerves.
Right when I thought it’s gone too late it won’t happen now and started to relax. Shiraishi ran over to me pulling me towards Hatsumi. Hatsumi suddenly clapped his hands and stopped the class, everyone knelt down and I was suddenly called to the front along with one other man. I knelt at the side and watched on as the guy went first. I tried to calm my mind and stop my body shaking with nerves. As the sword swung downwards and hit the guy. People clapped, so in my head whether you passed or failed everyone obviously still claps.
I knelt on the floor, my whole body literally shaking. Desperate to calm my mind, and forget the 120 people staring straight at me. Long story short……I closed my eyes, and before I knew where I was I was no longer kneeling where I started and everyone was clapping. Did I pass? Did I fail? I had no idea. I didn’t get hit, But did I go at the wrong time? I had no clue. Then we bowed out and everyone started to congratulate me on an excellent pass. Shiraishi was quick to shake my hand and say he knew I would do it, well done.
In the following short space of time I felt in shock, my body literally felt like it had just been hit by a bus and was going to keel over. Every ounce of energy I had was gone and I shook inside, not to mention being in agony on top of it all. But I did it, I achieved what I never truly thought possible. It was a night of celebration with my friends, new fiancé and fellow students. It was a night to remember.
Since then I have had a lot of time to think and train wearing my new rank. I am under no illusions that this rank will be one I will grow into over time. And I have a lot of work to do to prove to myself that I have what it takes to be a Godan. But it’s a challenge I greatly accept. One which after a long year of being unwell has given me a new spark and energy in my training. One which will last well into the distant future. I am proud of what I have achieved and excited at what else is around the corner. I have had mixed reactions to my rank, some are delighted and inspired by what I have achieved, others not so happy to say the least. But as Nagato Sensei said several times in his lessons. Do not concern yourself with others and what they do. Focus on what you do, other peoples opinions do not matter.
But to be honest personally it turns out the whole Godan test has nothing to do with the rank after all, nor does it have anything to do with others being happy or unhappy at my new rank, it’s the personal mindset that has inspired me, my young students and my ninja friends. The future shall be full of Budo! That’s the only definite I know.
In the words of Shiraishi “Keep smiling, keep the flow, no tension”. That is how I have always trained and that’s how I plan to continue