Ni Kyu and Ichi Kyu Reflections

Adam Ciarlariello


Ichi Kyu—The Gi Yu Dayton Dojo


“Are you guys like an MMA group or something?”


It was a little after 2:00am Sunday morning.  The conversations and celebration of the 7th annual GiYu Dojo seminar spilled into the parking lot of the third establishment of the night. 


I guess it was a legitimate question.  I don’t know what cues my new flat-billed-hat-wearing, oversized-shorts-rocking, thug-4-life buddy from inside the bar had picked up on, but in some ways, he was in the ballpark with his question.  I don’t recall talking about training with anyone or hearing anyone else discussing martial arts while inside, so I wondered how he had worked out that observation.  What added to the impressiveness of his awareness was the fact that he was stabilizing his female friend in her four-inch heels (who he had just resuscitated from the bar minutes earlier) as she wobbled like a newly born fawn into the parking lot.  Are we an MMA group?  Yeah, I guess in some sense we are, but his actual question lacked enough depth to entice an answer that would be truly understood so we all kind of kept walking, talking, and saying our goodbyes.   


Nine hours earlier, I was presented with my second rank promotion in three months by Sukh Sensei and the rest of the attending Dan-level members.  Humbled and exhausted, I was overcome with emotion while looking around the room and seeing so many of the people who had worked so hard with me to achieve this.  Sharing this moment with them and thinking of my wife and children, who had sacrificed many hours with me so that I could train to better myself; I literally fought back tears.  The moment was the culmination of many people’s efforts. 


One should never underestimate the impact of their presence in others’ lives no matter how big or small they perceive it to be. 


Five months ago, I was not confident in my skills or material for my Ni Kyu test.  When Sukh Sensei informed us that we would get a rare opportunity to test in March, I was on the fence about challenging myself.  I have many people in my life to thank who have pushed me in my journey with the dojo so far - my wife, children, and family for their undying support of all my endeavors, Sensei and the Dan-level members for their guidance and encouragement – but it would be wrong of me to not reflect on the impact that two of my fellow Kyu ranks, Brittany Mooney and Matt Wooten, have had on me over the last five months. 


For my Ni Kyu test in March, Brittany Mooney, a fellow student and friend, approached me about testing.  Early February is the busiest time of the year for my job. I knew it would be very difficult with my commitments at work to commit to the level of training I felt I needed to be successful.  I initially agreed to simply uke for Brittany so she could test.  We began working together after class.  I began making it more of a priority to make it to class despite having little time in my schedule.  I found ways to train outside of the dojo.  I did not want to let my training partner down and I wasn’t going to let my schedule be an excuse for any type of failure.  As we trained, I gained more confidence.  One night at the dojo, Aman Sensei saw Brittany and me training. His encouraging words gave me the last bit of confidence I needed and I chose to challenge the test.  Over those couple months, Brittany helped me gain confidence by working many extra hours preparing for my test - even meeting at odd times and places outside of the dojo.  She never said that she didn’t want to hear my excuses, but her perseverance and her drive to better herself pulled me along. For that, I am very thankful.


Shortly after passing my Ni Kyu test, I found myself in a similar situation when I was then approached by Matt Wooten, another student and friend at the dojo, about being his uke for his Ichi Kyu test in June.  It was déjà vu.  In the same way that Brittany did for my Ni Kyu test, Matt pushed, pulled, and threw me (literally) towards my goals.  We met after class and on Sunday mornings getting ready for my Ichi Kyu test.  It was clear from the beginning that Matt was not going to allow me to be just an uke.  I wasn’t just there to be thrown around, twisted, and contorted.  Matt was genuinely concerned about making me better.  He took time with me to go over the details of the techniques that he understood.  A couple times in our first training session I thought, “Wait, you’re the one testing, right?”  As I began to train with him more, I again gained confidence and committed myself to challenging another rank test.  I made it to training every chance I had and continued to meet with Matt on Sundays.  At one point, I believe I was at the dojo ten straight days training.  During that time, Chuck Senpai and Jaye Senpai were able to lend us their guidance by discussing their observations and answering any of the questions that Matt and I had.  Their knowledge and Matt’s persistence again gave me the confidence to succeed in my second rank test in three months.   


Over my years at the dojo, I have talked to a number of visitors or new students.  They are always quick to point out how impressed they are with the way everyone at the dojo is so willing to help each other get better.  What many of these casual observers aren’t able to see is how this virtue extends well beyond the constraints of physically training and class time.  Over the last several months, I have directly benefitted from the generosity, perseverance, and guidance at our dojo that these observers have witnessed, but I have also continue to be impacted in ways that they could not see.  It is what makes this school and community special.  I have mentioned a number of people at the dojo who helped me tremendously in the last 5 months, but there are many more.  Every rep, every rei, every “how are things going?” has pushed me along and helped me better myself.   So yes, my flat-billed friend, we are a group of people who study mixed martial arts, but I believe - we believe - we are much more.