I was honored with the rank of Shodan, by Mark Ahlquist Sensei, Osameru Aikido.  I was introduced to Mark Sensei in Spring of ’07 by a mutual friend Frank Spera Sempai, Sandan under Osameru Aikido.  Looking back, it has been a long journey, and yet so much more lies ahead of me.  I believe that the rank of Shodan merely places one on the bottom rung of the ladder; all prior ranks were merely jumps at the first rung.  For those who persisted and managed to grasp on to it, and have pulled themselves up, it is but the first step toward a long, long, long climb up!

This brings to mind a story I read long ago, it denotes well the subject at hand rather poignantly:

There is a famous story about Yagyu Matajuro, who was a son of the famous Yagyu family of swordsmen in 17th century feudal Japan. He was kicked out of the house for lack of talent and potential, and sought out instruction of the sword master Tsukahara Bokuden, with the hope of achieving mastery of the sword and regaining his family position. On their initial interview, Matajuro asked Tsukahara Bokuden, “How long will it take me to master the sword?” Bokuden replied, “Oh, about five years if you train very hard.” “If I train twice as hard, how long will it take?” inquired Matajuro. “In that case, ten years”, retorted Bokuden.

I’ve been told that you grow into the rank of Shodan, and yet it feels familiar, comfortable, more of an effect on others rather than me.  I am continuing on the path and know that an infinity of learning lies ahead for me.  This can leave one quite humble.  It is not the attainment, but rather the journey, the people, the memories, the life experiences that culminate and coalesce into what becomes your unique path.  The teacher merely points the way; it is up to the student to take that first step and walk the path.  A great teacher of mine, Anthony Pallante always maintained that you are responsible for your own training. I have been fortunate to train with and be taught by wonderful, humble, talented,  proficient, and giving teachers throughout my journey thus far.  No one achieves anything alone.

In America, it seems that Black Belt is a quasi final stage or ultimate attainment; while in Japan, it is regarded more so as a serious student.  While it may take considerably more time here in the US to attain rank, more than double the time, it is regarded to be on equal footing at best, or even less from a Japanese perspective. In Japan for example, one can achieve Shodan rank in about three years where here in the state it takes about seven years and the number of days required to attain rank is considerably less. Here is a link to both the Aikikai site in Japan and the USAF’s American version as follows:

Aikikai Grading System:    http://www.aikikai.or.jp/eng/information/review.html

vs

USAF Aikikai:     https://www.usaikifed.com/static/images/USAF_09_test_req_4.3.pdf

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