Remembering tests and seminars

This weekend is the NY aikikai winter seminar.

I’m reminded of my shodan test and serendipity.

I had thought I’d get to test with one the somewhat senior to me women.

I’d trained with all of them. We had, I thought, a rhythm, an understanding. Inwardly I hoped I could test with C, or R. Both of them were beautiful and strong on the mat. Neither of them gave me quarter.

At some point in December I realized: all of them were taking nidan.

I couldn’t ask them to test with me. Their concerns – hell even I knew this – were greater. I had to be right, ok, not awful. They had to be perfect.

So, only a week before the test I asked, humbly, if a friend, D, would be my partner. He was a foot taller and 70 pounds heavier. He knew more. He was already a black belt, and he was really really much better than I.

But D trained with me at least once a week. D knew me. And D said yes.

This was serendipitous. D was an astoundingly responsive uke. D’s technique and attacks were clear and easy to understand.

Most of all: D was 6’1″. I was suddenly able to give a performance. Tiny me, big D. Flamboyant. Joyous. Unexpected. Even the weapons — no one knew I could floor him. His fall – perfect.

D gave me the gift of the best test I could do.

I will never be able to thank him enough.
Now, one of the best things about that seminar is that my test wasn’t the star offering. IH gave the most amazing shodan performance. After all, he had been training since early childhood. His randori – with extra ukes and more techniques – was powerful. But C – she offered one of the best tests I’ve ever seen. Even 25 years later, C’s nidan test was perfection. She radiated power, joy, ability, clarity. I have never enjoyed a test more.

All the nidan tests were good, please understand. RP did a good work man like test. It showed her mastery. JO did a test of grace and nobility. Oh. But. CK. C’s test. Oh. I haven’t words.

It’s a great gift to be able to perceive great talent. She has it.

The only thing comparable that I’ve seen – in aikido – is DW’s yondan test.

What an experience.

Sensei said: Tonight there’s a delay between first and second class. We have 4th dan test.

Total fluke for me that I saw this. I had taken longer than usual to shower and change. So I stopped to watch.

What did I see? I saw two young men in shape, showing what they knew.
I saw one young man, holding back so that he could let the other show more.
I saw the teacher attempting to bring out all the knowledge that the two had.

It went one more than 15 minutes.
The two of them didn’t want to stop.

My love for the art was solidified in that moment.

I knew I would not be performing as they did. But I also knew that because I could perceive what the did, there was the possibility – however faint – that I would be able to expose my own truth and strength.

Not as they did, but as I, myself, am.

That’s why I will always be glad that my shodan test was not the star test, but was beautiful.

My nidan test was perfect. Oh you’re thinking, she’s full of herself.

I’m not. Nidan should be perfection. Cold and clear. Perfect.

My uke was a very talented woman whose style was different from mine. I was all coarse raw mess. She was delicacy personified. We loved training together, and getting her to be my uke was what I needed to focus.

I had to finesse everything. I had to show that each technique was technically perfect. There was no space for muscling through her. To demonstrate competence I had to demonstrate compassion.

Choosing her was the smartest thing I could have done.

At that point everyone who knew me knew that I was competent and reasonably strong and powerful. I wasn’t known for elegance or gentleness or adjusting to people. Testing with C made it clear that I could show delicacy. Mind you, my teachers all knew what I didn’t: that I was capable of judgement, that I was capable of showing technique, without showing off.

But getting back to Christmas 1990.

I was tired – I’d taken 3 classes. The night before I’d gotten outside about half a bottle of scotch. I was hungry. It was after 5:30 when I went on.

D gave me the happiest strongest best attacks I could’ve dreamt.

Thank you David.