Our trip started out on Friday, with our Kendo van (I should get a picture sometime) and two other cars making up our caravan across the state. Normal trip hijinx ensued, and we had many good conversations to fill the 5+ hour drive. After unloading our bags at the hotel we headed to the Bellevue dojo for training. Yes, we train the night before we do anything in Seattle! Jeff Marsten Sensei and Yotsuuye Sensei were very accommodating of us, as always, and we were all able to jump into the advanced practice with them.
Their dojo is a lot bigger than ours, both in terms of physical size and number of members that come. I would say there were around 50 people there last night, give or take a few, so there were definitely plenty of opportunities for us to train with new people. After many rounds of mawari-geiko and a short break, we got back together for jigeiko. I was placed in the 16+ Kyu group. I think I was able to get to jigeiko with just about every person in that group, and it was definitely fun to go against new people that I don't ever see. To see how they move and fight and their technique was great for me, and in the end I was truly thankful for that experience. When I first started traveling with the Kendo group to other dojos I was a bit apprehensive about training with new people, but now I find that I look forward to it. One thing I will say about that dojo; it was hot! The heater was going for some reason, and there were no windows for circulation, so it got really hot really quickly which sapped my energy more than usual. But I pushed on, and I'm glad I did.
After thanking the Sensei for having us as guests at their dojo, we packed up and headed back to the hotel for food and some fellowship and words of encouragement from Sensei before heading to bed.
The next day came quickly, but we weren't heading out to the shinsa until around 11am, so we had a few hours to relax, eat, and get everything in order. I was able to get in on a conversation Sensei was having at breakfast about people that learn to think faster (such as in sports and martial arts) and can therefore react more quickly to situations and opportunities that present themselves or are created. I wonder if that is happening to me? I notice sometime that things that seemed out of my reach are now attainable, or at least a lot closer than they used to be (such as that Debana Kote on someone with a fast Men strike).
I believe there were over 70 people testing at this shinsa, with ranks ranging from 6 Kyu up to 4 Dan. We had a few people go over for various ranks, as well (10 people in all, ranging from 2 Kyu to 2 Dan). I got dressed and registered and headed back into the main gym for the opening and instructions. Curtis Marsten Sensei came by and said something which sounded like "Nikyu group, get your Men on and get ready." I wasn't sure so I asked someone else and they said "Yeah he said Nikyu group get ready." So I put on my Men and Kote and grabbed my shinai and jumped up, ready to go. Turns out that he said "Ikkyu group." Turns out that our group ended up going dead last. Not wanting to take my Men off just to put it back on later, I left it on, and proceeded to wait for our group for about the next 2 hours. During that time I got to watch some of the others test throughout the various ranks. They had the Ikkyu/Dan group on one court and the Kyu group on another. For the lower Kyu ranks the test included basic strikes, Kirikaeshi, and jigeiko. For the Ikkyu/Dan ranks it included two rounds of jigeiko followed by kata. Our group had it the easiest, as we only had to do two rounds of 1-minute jigeiko. After preparing for the past few weeks for this occasion, I was ready to go when it came time.
I had never met either of my two partners in my test before, so it was interesting going into matches with complete strangers. I took my time during both matches, trying to show good basics, show reservation (that I wasn't rushed to try and hit), and show that I could pick and choose the opportunities that came to me so I could get a good hit or two in. I also tried to stay out of tsubazeriai as much as I could, and did not get sucked into ai-uchi matches with people. For the most part I think I did really well, but we would find out later on if the judges agreed with me. I was not nervous before the matches at all, but after I was done I started to feel the pressure. There were two others testing with me from our dojo, and we watched the remainder of the matches and then joined the Kyu group in the smaller dojo for a brief talk from the judging panel. They pointed out that the biggest thing that they saw was footwork. Footwork for our group, as a whole, needed a lot of improvement. Also basic court etiquette needed to be observed more. I think I was guilty of this one, as I think I only took one step into the court instead of two.
Our judges finished up, and shortly after the results were posted. I went to look for my number, 68, and saw next to it that 5 out of 5 judges agreed that I was 2 Kyu material. I had passed! One of my resolutions for this year was to pass my Nikyu test, and it came earlier than I thought it would. I ended up skipping 3 Kyu, which put me up to my goal a whole six months earlier than expected.
My next goal is to work hard for Ikkyu in August, and then hopefully Shodan in February. Now that I'm in the upper Kyu ranks I need to start looking forward to Yudansha level and preparing for that, which means more work and more responsibility on my part. I've heard a saying that you should be shooting for two ranks above your current rank, and with all of the training I do with Yudansha these days and with my own motivation and dedication I think it's well within my reach to be there by next February!
And now, some pictures to end out my PNKF shinsa experience.