“Shu Ha Ri”

W.S. Bumgarner


Dojo-cho Atlanta Gi Yu Dojo


After thinking about the test for a few months I have come to some important points about my training and my future in this art.  To begin with, training for the Godan test was not unlike training for anything else that is important in your life.  It was not unlike training for Nikyu or Shodan or Yondan. You have a group of requirements, you practice them day and night and then you challenge yourself to the test.  I literally spent every day doing something associated with my rank material for 30 minutes for almost 2 years.  Some days I was sick, some days I got up early and some days I stayed up late but I always got in my 30 minutes.  Although Godan may be very important it is still the result of lots of hard work and sacrifice.  We all marvel at people who are able to do amazing things in martial arts and other endeavors, but it should come as no surprise to us, that skill in anything is the culmination of years of dedication.  While others chose to spend their time doing other things, a few chose to focus on kobudo.  It is really that easy.

Now, I read a quote once from a famous judoka named Yoshimi Osawa 10th Dan (that I will paraphrase) that has made more sense to me since the Godan test.  He said there were three different types of martial artists.  One is the recreational.  He enjoys the training somewhat but the art will never be more than a hobby.  It is incidental to his life and not really a part of it.  He could stop tomorrow and never think twice about it.  The second type is the competitive.  His focus is on winning and testing his skill against others.  He trains fast and hard and pushes his body to the edge.  His career lasts only a few years and is over as quickly as it began.  The third and final type is the technical.  This person trains his whole life trying to perfect his skills.  It is not just a hobby but a part of his life, a big part, and others who know him associate him with his training.  It is not enough to gain rank or skill because it is not satisfying.  After passing the Godan exam,  I know who I am… I am the technical type, with a desire to do whatever I can… to do more and do it better in this art. 

The reason why I know this…the feeling I had in heart after the test.  My feeling was more subdued than I had thought it would be.  After studying and training for years it was more of a relief to pass my test not excitement or elation of passing the test.  It was a validation of years of hard work and diligence but there was no rainbow or brilliant white light.  I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble but don’t be expecting to pass your Godan and suddenly you’ll be able to see the future or some golden scrolls  will magically appear with all the secrets to kobudo, or the secrets to anything else.  After passing the test I still had a whole weekend of training to get through.  My handling of the yari was lacking and my tatami cutting makes me think I have some form of nervous disorder.  So, in the end, Godan was a step in the right direction but still one of many and hopefully not the last step.  There is no finish line to cross only endless hurdles to overcome.  And, in an odd twist, if you do it right there is no end.  For some that might be too much to take and if that is so, I am afraid that your martial arts career will eventually stall out and die.  I think most people have quit because they come to the realization that there is no payoff equal to the work.  I think this explains why even though the martial arts are obviously a physical challenge the primary goal is in taming the mind. 

Finally, Sensei Sandhu told me that now that I have reached Godan I have to train even harder and make the art mine.  After thinking about it for a few months after the test I think I understand a little of what he was saying.  Where I go from here with my training is up to me.  I understand the path I am on is totally unique to me.  Mine is the culmination of everything that has made me who I am today – my DNA, my strengths, my weaknesses, my friends, my community, my parents, my wife and children, my desire to train, my ability to keep training a priority in my life.  All of these elements and hundreds more, influence my training.  But, even though these elements are often battling each other, my ability to mold those elements into a cohesive path is unique to me.  Sensei Sandhu can teach all of us many wonderful things but his guidance is only a reflection of all of the distinctive personal elements that have allowed him to reach his own level of mastery.  I cannot take his path any more than I can steal his reflection.  At Godan our paths must diverge.  That doesn’t mean I am through learning from Sensei Sandhu.  Just because our paths are independent does not mean they can’t run side by side.  But even though they may be similar they will never be the same and will meander according to their own destiny.  There are many paths up a mountain but not all paths are equal in ease or length.  So, I will learn from Sensei as long as he is willing to have me as a student.  But, with the Godan test I (and Aman) have demonstrated the ability to take the pieces in the art and put it into something that is whole.  I feel I am no longer a baby bird sitting with my mouth open waiting to be fed.  It is time for me to feed myself.