Since February of 2016, my two sons and I have practiced Nihon Goshin Aikido at Beckham Martial Arts and Fitness. NGA is a movement based, close-quarters martial art that can be learned by anyone of any size or age. It is a combination of aikido, aiki-jujitsu, jujitsu, judo, karate, and iaido. We learn street effective self-defense that disarms and subdues aggressors with turns, throws, joint-locks, and breaks.
One night I had the honor of being the junior most student to serve as part of the uke (attacker) for four brown belt students who were completing their final tests for their black belts. The four brown belts range in age from mid-30s to 60. Each had to defend themselves from 50 attacks by multiple attackers (2 or 3). This is done attack line style. The defender (nage) stands in one spot in the floor and the uke is lined up to make the attacks as instructed by the shihan (lead instructor).
When the attack lines were complete, each brown belt then used a succession of 25 different defenses in a randori attack. In randori, the nage stands in the center of the dojo surrounded by an uke of 6 people. Each member of the uke attacks the nage with a particular strike or kick and the nage must use a specific technique for defense. If you are doing the math that is 150 correctly executed defenses. If the defense is not correct, the nage must do it again. If you want an idea of the physicality of this process, it is about like doing 150 pushups in 25 sets of 6 except that you have to stand up between every single pushup.
Throughout the entire process, the emphasis is on control. To pass, the nage must defend with the intensity appropriate to the belt of the uke. When the uke is black belts, the defenses are much more aggressive than when the uke are yellow belts (like me). The size of the attacker must also be factored in. For the purpose of the tests, the nage immediately fails if they hurt any uke. The uke is also responsible for giving a realistic attack and protecting himself/herself with side falls, back falls, forward rolls and tapping out when joint locks are applied.
On one wall of the dojo is a name board. Hanging on the board are thin strips of wood with the name of each member of the dojo placed in position relevant to their rank. At the end of the tests, the lead instructor confers with all his black belts (fellow instructors) and then reveals the results starting with the most senior brown belt first. If the test has been completed successfully, the member ceremoniously moves their name on the name board. The lead instructor will call the person’s name and inform them that they may move their name on the board. It was a special moment when the senior most brown belt’s wife, who was in attendance, got to tell call out her husband’s name and tell him to move his name on the name board. I am proud to report that we now have four new black belts in our dojo.
I share this experience because I am proud of the accomplishment these gentlemen have made. Each of them have their own story. Rising to the level of a black belt is so much more than demonstrating a series of physical skills at a moment in time. What took place in the dojo last night was an event. It was neither a point of arrival nor departure. What makes the accomplishment of these men more meaningful is that what they did last night was merely the continuation of what was inside them since they first set foot in the dojo.
There IS an addition and subtraction process. One must learn and demonstrate 50 different skills to reach the level of Sho-Dan (1st degree black belt). But showing a skill at a moment in time in a controlled environment, does not guarantee any person is ready to defend themselves on the street. If you’ve practiced just enough to pass a test at a moment in time, your skills are about as valuable as the piece of paper your certificate is printed. You don’t need my help to draw the parallel to the “certifications” one obtains in life only to be shoved in a drawer or at best framed on a wall but with no measurable difference made in readiness for action.
There is an unsubstantiated story (meaning it is internet bunk but I love the illustration just the same) of Michelangelo being asked about the difficulty in creating the David sculpture. His reply being,
“It’s easy. I just started with the slab of marble and took away everything that everything that wasn’t David.”
Along the journey to the black belt level, these gentlemen had to chip away unproductive habits and limiting beliefs that stood in their path.
Friend, do you believe in the artistry in you? Are you aware that a Potter is at work? Consider this message in light of your own goals. What needs to be chipped away and what needs to be developed. I would love to hear what you discover Friend. Why not drop me a reply as a way of making your declaration and reaffirming your commitment to what is being shaped in you?