It took me a couple of extra months to decide to test for Nidan. 

It was because I didn’t know if I had it in me to give to the process what it would need. True positive, lasting, personal growth isn’t an easy thing and I knew that Sensei would not allow this test to be an easy walk through. Knowing how much my Shodan (1st Degree) test affected me, I was expecting close to the same, if not more so, from Nidan. At least that’s what I wanted from it.

Breaking bricks during Blackbelt Ceremony

I don’t think I expressed myself clearly enough to Sensei then; I did not want to start something and not finish it at the level I know I can and should. I have also begun teaching and have tested students of my own and quite honestly, with them watching, the stakes were high.

To my Sensei; Deeply and sincerely THANK YOU for the great lengths, love and effort you put into this test.

I said that I wanted to make sure that we were doing the test “together”. It was just a feeling then, i’m not sure I even knew what I meant by it fully. I do now.

I wanted to set a couple of rules that I could keep running through my head and constantly compare what I was doing against them. Something I could set my compass to and lean on when I needed to dig deep — which I knew would inevitably come sooner than later… So the month prior to test weekend I established 3 “rules” to hold myself to:

  1. Do IT with Purpose.
  2. Suffer in Silence.
  3. Set the Standard.

When I arrived at the Dojo Friday morning and as soon as Sensei said “we’re going for a drive” I knew that what we were about to start would be epic beyond anything I’ve done prior in my Karate journey. I truly felt in my soul that no matter what came next, I would do it. Not only do it, but do it happily and at the same time enjoy the process, pain, discomfort, fatigue, any of it. Those things are the things that let you know you’re doing it after all. I had chosen to do this and I would be present within myself for it and absorb every aspect of the weekend to come.

This is what I meant by “together”.

Shodan was more about overcoming what was put in front of me. It was about “making it through” the test and coming out the other side forged a better man for it. Nidan was about walking the path that was laid out for me and being one with it, no matter what it was. Unlike Shodan where I felt I was fighting myself through the process to survive, to get to the next step and get it done During Nidan I was completely aware of my surroundings, I could feel the present moment fully without any regard for what the next thing would be. This is what I wanted.

Sensei made that happen by providing the challenge and guiding me through it. For that I am grateful to him and what he created. It’s not often you get to test your heart and when that test is presented to you and you overcome, it changes you.

I don’t know if my performance on that mountain during the Karate skills portion was good or not. I just know that I truly felt “in the moment” on each part. I took it moment by moment without any regard for what was to come and what had just passed. As soon as one thing was done it was out of my head and my focus was zeroed in on the next thing Sensei said. I think this is what you call a “flow state”. I’ve rarely been there and as I think back right now, I want to stay there. I felt so alive… Even though my body was in pain and I was feeling the cold and rain like nothing else, when we were moving and doing, I was truly present in my own mind and heart.

The beautiful thing to me about this, is that this isn’t something you can achieve by yourself. You need the relationship and trust to be there. In this case a Sensei and a student. I feel like this is unique and I am getting goosebumps just writing about it. I imagine this is what it’s like for a Quarter back to be driving his team down the field during the Superbowl and scoring the winning touchdown with seconds to spare.

The Hike

The first real test, let’s call it ‘phase 1’ of the weekend was a 20+ mile hike with 20lbs and some other gear in a backpack. I use ‘rucking’ (hiking with a weighted backpack) as a training tool. Prior to this weekend I had done a few 6–7 mile rucks and even had done a 12 miler a few moths prior. I’ve completed a GoRuck challenge. Nothing prepares you for 20+ miles though. This thing was tough. Also knowing that this was the first thing to complete and that we’d have 3 more days to go was daunting.

I’m not sure if Sensei planned it this way, i’m going with yes, but after 5 or so miles, every time we got to one of the overlooks and it wasn’t the destination overlook a small part me died inside. It was mentally draining to continue on without knowing the distance and that the destination was maybe just ‘one more’ overlook… Time started to get close to where I’d set as milestone for needing to turn back and very similar to the ‘mats test’ in the Dojo during Shodan test it felt very much the same, except this is much more physically difficult. The top of the mountain was snowy and icy which made it slow going and hard to walk on at times and I’m 99% sure at one point we came across mountain lion tracks in the snow. I drove us hard on the hike, I just wanted to complete it. It was most excellent 🙂

The Time Capsule; aka “the Hole”

Shovels on our packs before the hike.

I believe the time capsule is going to become something of a testing weekend legend as we continue to unearth and re-burry it time after time. Digging the hole was very hard and depleted anything else I still had left in me after the hike. The ground was kind of soft but laced with roots and rock that had to be dug up and moved — it took a lot of time and completely fried my back in pain. I gave it what I had and wanted to do a good job. This is definitely something I only wanted to do once and not linger on the task. As it began to get dark all I could think about was how much I no longer wanted to be digging this hole…

I can assure you that those that come behind us will have the same level of difficulty in digging the hole again. We took our time to make sure of that. Sadistically it filled me with a warm feeling to know it won’t be easier for the next crop of testers to get to to the time capsule. This is something I will not lose sleep over, even though it may be my own son doing the digging.

Karate on the Mountain

The next day brought the Karate skills portion of the weekend. It was cold, rainy, windy as all get out and so very unpleasant. I typically love cold weather, I love being out in it, but this wet-cold was almost the end of me. Once I actually get cold, it’s over, I want nothing more than to bundle up and get warm. The wind was blowing so hard, at one point before Sensei got to the test site, the wind blew the canopy we were tasked with setting up down the road.

Bending steel rebar…

I resolved myself to not let the weather affect me. I have no idea if my performance was good or not. But I left everything I had up there on that overlook. I have no regrets and will continue to have zero regrets about the effort and heart I used for this portion of the test. The thing i’m most proud of is that up until then, in any test i’ve done prior, I will typically try to leave something in the tank for what I know will be the next thing. This time, in each section, in each Kata in each kick, etc… I put all I had into each thing without any regard for the next. If I gave out doing the very next Kata, then so be it. This was my mindset that day and I loved every minute of it.

Mr. McCall’s

As we drove to Mr. McCall’s house/dojo you’d think I would be dozing off; but no, I was wide awake and keenly focused on getting there to see what was next. Just being around a group of people like that charged me with newfound energy because I knew I would get the chance to speak with some of them again. I’m grateful that it turned out to be more downtime because I think I needed it. I also began to swell with pride over watching the other students digging their time capsule hole and knowing that I had put so much more personal effort into creating our own just the day before.

Mr. Daniels’

This part of the evening was mentally exhausting, the drive was long and then at one point on the way back to the cabin there was a bad storm that just took whatever focus I had left right out of my brain. This was a real struggle to stay awake, I did it, but knew it would cost me if we had a heavy load of work the next day.

It is always energizing for me to spend time around Mr. Daniels. I have a lot of respect and love for him. I really can’t tell you why, maybe it’s a shared respect from fighting each other, and maybe it’s that I see him as a leader in how he approaches his own Karate path. I’ve seen him out on the competition floor doing sword Kata when others are too embarrassed to do it themselves. He is proud in where his path has lead him and seemingly humble enough to admit his own faults and short comings where others certainly won’t. He is a serious man but at the same time doesn’t take himself too seriously. I learn much from all this about him.

Fears

I wrote that I was afraid of losing time. That I am focused on making sure i’m living the life i’m meant to live and that i’m full filling my mission as a person on this planet. I imagine that most people who reach 45 or so feel similar. Ms. Hammock said as much in her own words when we were having the talking stick ceremony. It felt great to speak about things in my life that I rarely give words to. Those thoughts are there, constantly, but I never give them voice and for sure never get them out of my heart. This whole part of the test really moved me and has made me continue to reflect on the things I brought up. Empowering me to double down on some things I have been working on prior to all this.

Waterfall on the Cherokee Native American Reservation

The Waterfall

Now, don’t misunderstand me, that was a cold bastard of a waterfall. I honestly didn’t want to get under it at first when Sensei were reading to us about the monks, Yamabushi. But once it was clear we were going to do it, i was all in. I’ve never felt the world around me shrink more in that moment then when we were standing under the water. Focusing just on that moment, no room for outside thoughts or feelings.

I’m going to do this again, I’ve already decided where.

This was an epic culmination to an epic weekend and it couldn’t have meant more to me than it did at that moment. I will forever carry this particular part of the test weekend with me.

Endings

When I walked out of the back room and saw that you had called everyone there, my heart was filled with emotions. Pure happiness. I had not really involved anyone in my preparation for testing for Shodan. I kept it all internal and to myself. Even with my wife I shared very little. That’s not to say I was an open book to everyone this time around. I wasn’t completely sharing, but I did make sure to spend time with those that love and support me throughout 2019 and involve them in even just a small way with the journey. I didn’t fully do it for them, selfishly I did it so that I wouldn’t feel any lingering guilt about any of it and in hopes they would understand my motivations a little better. But I think it helped them too, I think it helped them to feel included in my life, it helped them see the process and it helped them to genuinely feel invested. Love and trust is a two way street and if I don’t let anyone ‘in’, then they won’t ask or care to be ‘in’ when I need them to be.

Hearing Sensei read the paper/letter I wrote out loud changed me. Even though I wrote it myself, and I to admit, I wrote that in about 15 minutes, it just flowed out of me. I wrote it, I didn’t re-read it, I just got it out of my mind and onto the paper and feel asleep as much as I could. It’s not going to win any awards but I think it is about the truest thing i’ve ever written or spoken to someone who isn’t related by blood or marriage to me, ever.

Most of this is for my own memories, an attempt to try to retain them in written form. This isn’t everything but is a good collection of my thoughts and recollections of the test.

I am and will be forever changed. For the better. Thank you.

PS: I got instantly buzzed after that single drink of Saki…

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