© 2011 Jeff
I passed my Jodo 5th dan. The gradings are held at the Tokyo
Budokan, which is a wonderful place to do Budo because of its
excellent, unvarnished, sprung hardwood flooring. Even with my sweaty
feet, the moisture is absorbed almost immediately by the unfinished
wood, creating a surface that is neither sticky (when your feet are
only a little moist) nor slippery (which happens when your feet are
really wet). As my sweaty feet are caused partially by nerves, and
exacerbated by slipping and sliding (see if you don't get nervous doing
iaido or jodo on a floor that has just been wet-mopped!) this calmed me
down a lot and in turn, led to less sweating, I think. In any case, the
footing was excellent.
The grading was originally scheduled for mid-March, but was cancelled
due to the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. It has been weird weather
lately in Tokyo. It has been noticeably much cooler, like 21 - 24
degrees, but the humidity has stayed quite high so that it feels cool,
but if you move around, you immediately start to sweat. Your body
doesn't quite know what's going on. I wore a jacket but by the time I
got to the Budokan, I was drenched with sweat and feeling very
I was running a bit late because I had washed my keikogi in
anticipation of the grading, but with all the humidity, it hadn't dried
in 2 days! So I had had to take it to a coin laundry and give it a
quick spin in the dryer. This put me behind schedule and meant I had to
rush to get there on time, and I think my partner, John, was getting a
bit nervous. He seemed relieved when I finally arrived. I quickly
changed into my keikogi, and we had time to go through the techniques
once before the organizers called us to line up.
There were 25 candidates for 4th dan, and 24 candidates for 5th. We all
had to sit on the floor in rows and wait for our turn to grade, which
was done 4 people at a time (2 groups of 2). In a jodo grading, you
perform one side, then do shi-uchi kotai, and perform the other side.
You are graded on both your jo techniques and your tachi, so the judges
are quite busy watching both sides, which is why about 4 people is the
practical limit. It does make for a slow grading, though. In the end,
we had to wait for about an hour before it was our turn to go on - an
hour of getting increasingly nervous, and getting sore and stiff
sitting on the floor.
I was exceedingly nervous waiting for my turn, but when I got out on
the floor, everything seemed to go very quiet and I felt really calm.
For 5th dan, you must do techniques 8-12. By the time I got through the
jo side and did Ran-Ai, my adrenaline was coursing and I was trembling.
We did shi-uchi kotai and I forced myself to calm down. As we got into
the techniques, I re-entered a zone of mental focus. But by the time we
got to Ran-Ai, I was hyperventilating again. Quite a rollercoaster ride.
We were almost the last group to test, which meant we didn't have to
wait very long to see the results posted. Our numbers were written on
the wall - we had passed! (The practical component, at least!) The
judges were evidently quite strict because the pass rate was less than
50%. Now it was time for the written exam.
We had to answer 3 questions about Jodo and write our answers in
Japanese. This was done in advance, and then submitted on the test day.
I had written mine first in English, and then taken it to about 4
Japanese friends, all of whom gave me slightly different corrections!
Settling on an averaged version, I wrote out my answer, which only took
me about an hour (including 2 false starts where I made a mistake and
had to start over!) Again, you sit on the floor in front of the judges'
table as they go through the papers one by one. If there was any
question about the contents, candidates were called up in front of the
judge reading their paper. It wasn't long before my name was called.
I ran up to the table. "Did you write this yourself?" asked the judge.
"Yes," I said. "Hmph. You wrote here that in the seated bow, it is left
hand, right hand. That's the way we used to do it. Now it is both hands
at the same time. Please remember that." "Yes Sensei, I will." Shiiya
Sensei looked at me from the next seat over and laughed. "What's the
matter with you? Who the heck taught YOU?" I just bowed and tried to
look chastened. I returned to my spot and even from where I was
sitting, I saw the judge writing on my paper: stroke, stroke, stroke,
small square, all enclosed by a big circle - the kanji for "Pass"! Yay!
Despite a few mistakes here and there (which were all clarified in
quick conferences with the judges) everyone who passed the practical
exam also passed the written exam. We stood up and Shiiya Sensei gave
us a quick speech. "Congratulations on passing, and you have all worked
very hard. But the real work starts now. You are going to be asked to
teach more and more from now on. You need to make sure your techniques
are correct and that you know what you are supposed to do. For example,
with the etiquette in the Zen Ken Ren. [Looking at me] If you're
teaching, you'd better get it right. But anyway, congratulations to you
After that, there was a lot of bowing, thanking, handshaking, and so
on. We celebrated with a few quick beers, and I felt absolutely GREAT.
At the same time, I knew that if I had failed, I would have been
crushed. It's not good to get so emotionally invested in gradings. You
have to keep an even keel and just keep heading forward, regardless of
whether things go well or go badly. I knew I probably shouldn't feel so
good, but I couldn't help it.
As it happens, I haven't been doing much iai lately. I have been able
to kind of "blame" that on having to focus on Jodo in advance of my
grading, but I don't have that excuse any more. At dinner, I was seated
next to Tsubaki Sensei, who does both Iaido and Jodo. He asked me about
Iai, and we had a good talk where he basically told me to get my ass
back to Iaido and just do standing techniques. So I'm going to try and
channel some of this positive momentum from Jodo into Iaido ... keep
moving forward, keep moving forward ... Kind of like a shark. Stop
moving, and you die.