“A Good Day to Die”
by James Nielson 


    “Today is a good day to die”.  This thought went through my head the morning of my san-kyu test.  This may sound a bit extreme but I also heard Sensei Sandhu make a similar statement during the testing.  He explained that every decision is a matter of life or death.

    Going into the test I knew that it was not going to be a “cake walk”.  The senior students of the Gi-Yu dojo possess a certain quality that I believe is lacking in many schools.  That quality is hard to describe but what it boils down to is confidence.  After the test I realized where that quality is developed.

    Performing the required techniques for my level was only the first challenge.  Bad habits still surface when I moved and nothing I did escaped the view of the members of the testing board.  Each mistake I made seemed to be amplified under their watchful eyes.  This was the most stressful part of the test for me.  The Gi-Yu dojo has many excellent teachers and they have offered their guidance countless times.  I could only blame myself if I failed.  The test reinforced this understanding in me. 

    Randori was next.  I looked forward to this part of the test.  As a police officer, I have on occasion had to use physical force to subdue aggressors.  The saying “You don’t get paid to lose” comes to my mind.  Each round of  randori opened my eyes a little further.  I knew going into it I was going to get hit and possibly suffer injuries.  I did.  To me this was another life and death battle and I would fight through the pain and injury to win. 

    My intention was not to survive the encounter.  I wanted to defeat my opponent or die trying.  With that in mind, I was struck with training weapons many times by what I am sure would be lethal blows.  But I also know that lethal blows do not always end a fight immediately.  I say this because many people think that an injury will keep them from completing the task at hand.  Days after the test, I still feel the pain of a yari strike to my right foot.  I hardly noticed this injury during the randori and I was not about to let it interfere with my fight. 

    Some schools do not believe in randori.  Even in law enforcement, training that requires physical contact is going by the wayside.  Generally this is due to law suits and the fear that an employee will be injured and unable to work.  This is unfortunate.  You learn many things about yourself when you face a threat that has the potential of harming you, even in a training environment.  There are people out there that may never have to defend themselves, their family, their community or their country.  If you are the person responsible either by job and/ or moral obligation to protect, I recommend this type of training.

    Sensei Sandhu asked me to write this article giving my impression on the test.  I will sum it up by saying this:  Before the test, I had heard many times that in this school you had to earn your rank.  After the test I realized that it was worth earning.