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PNKF Winter Shinsa 2018 - Yondan

Yondan.  It's what I've been working towards for a while now, and it's what I tested for last weekend at the PNKF shinsa in Seattle.  For any that don't know, yondan is 4th degree black belt in kendo.  I've heard that it's one of the harder tests to pass, somewhere around 25% pass rate if I remember correctly.  The test itself isn't long, timewise.  I simply had to do two rounds of sparring, 90 seconds each, and nihon kata 1-10.  Total time on the floor is roughly 8-10 minutes.  Everything I'd been working on would hopefully shine through in those precious few minutes.

We arrived to the venue around 11:30am.  There was quite a large group of us there for testing, to challenge a whole range of different mudansha and yudansha ranks.  I'm happy to say that overall it was good for everyone else, as we had a lot of success.  Personally, though, I knew I would be facing a tough challenge and it didn't help the nerves much.  After suiting up, getting myself and everyone else situated in the gym, and warming up with the entire group, I had a lot of time to wait, watch, and contemplate what was coming.  As they did during my last test, they had the space split into three courts:  kids on one court, adult kyus on another, and yudansha on the last.  As the day went on I got to witness some fantastic kendo from my dojo mates as they went for various ranks themselves, as well as from others that were there for their own tests.  It was a great day for kendo and I'm glad to be a part of that, but each round of keiko that finished moved me closer to my own time.  I was one of three testing from our dojo, and we made up the youngest three testing for our rank.  This meant that we would most likely be paired up with each for all or part of keiko, as well as for kata later on.

As the last of the 3 Dan group finished up, it was our time.  I was second up in our group, and would be fighting in two matches back-to-back.  My first partner was from my own dojo, funny enough, and after he finished his first match and bowed out, we squared up to face each other.  Having someone familiar to fight against was great to start with, as I could literally feel my heart beating against my chest as we bowed to each and stepped up to the starting line.  The announcer called "hajime!" to start us, and we both stood up, took kamae, and began the match.  It started off well enough on the outside, but about halfway through I had to remind myself to relax and take the death grip off of my shinai.  We both made some good attacks, and I tried to focus on keeping a nice, straight posture, keeping the pressure on my partner, and making all of my movements and attack with purpose.  I wasn't sure if I'd done this or not, but as time ran down and we bowed out I would have to trust that I did well.

I immediately bowed and stepped in with my next partner, a guy from Portland.  I recognized him from a couple of tournaments, but had never talked to him or fought him personally.  I felt a lot more relaxed, though, so as the match started I continued to focus on what I mentioned previously, and really tried to do my best and hope it was enough.  I was able to land many successful attacks, but again wasn't convinced that it would be enough by the end.  Even though a lot of people said that I looked really good out there, there was always the doubt in the back of my mind that the judges would think otherwise.

Kata went well.  I'm pretty confident in my kata, and had taken time inside and outside of the dojo to study and practice it, so I wasn't too worried about it.  My partner was, again, the guy from Portland, and he did a good job as shidachi, following my movements and performing the techniques with me.  After we bowed out from kata, we gathered up and heard impressions from the judges.  Our group had a lot to work on, according to them, with issues being brought up about our keiko, our kata, and our lack of elements in both.  Afterward I talked to one of the judges and receive some more personalized feedback, which didn't fare much better, but gave me some good points to work on.  I was even more unsure of how I did afterward, though, as some of the points that were brought up were big issues.

The time had come; the results were posted, as evidenced by the fact that a large crowd had started to gather at the far end of the gym.  I started to make my way over and was greeted with smiles and calls of  "Congratulations!" and such.  A group of my friends stopped me and bowed to me, reciting "Sensei! Sensei!" before we all melted into a big group hug.  I guess that means I passed!  I still had to see for myself, so I made my way through the crowd to take a look.  #116 (me), 6/6 on keiko, 6/6 on kata.  I'd done it!  I was speechless for a bit, not really able to process what had happened.  It was a strange mixture of joy, excitement, relief, exhaustion, and a few other emotions.  I walked away from the board pretty stunned, to be honest.  Up until that moment I wasn't sure if I'd been enough for yondan.  And now I knew that I was, and all of the judges agreed.

I started my kendo journey just under nine years ago, and here I am now.  None of it was easy.  I have put in a lot of hours of training, both in and out of the dojo.  And I know there there will be even more hard training ahead, but in that moment I could celebrate that I had achieved something that no one at our dojo had done before.  I was one of the first yondans that were "homegrown" all at Spokane Kendo Club.  It was not only an achievement for myself, but also for our dojo and everyone there, and I feel like this is the start of something new and exciting for all of us.  Hopefully I can help to continue to forge a new path for everyone coming up behind me, as well as working with everyone to continue to improve myself and our dojo.  Hopefully as I grow and mature in this new rank I can continue to do good kendo, and inspire others to do the same.

Videos are coutesty of D. Pan


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