Reflections of ShoDan”


Adam Ciarlariello

ShoDan The Dayton Gi Yu Honbu Dojo


Shodan (Black-Belt) Test Preparation Reflections

A couple weeks after the 8th annual seminar, my wife, my children, and I took our first family vacation in a year and a half. For the first time in 13 years, I returned to the ocean as we traveled to the gulf coast of Florida. It was the first time in my children’s life that they were going to be on a beach and in the ocean. The vacation was long overdue. It has been a busy, but productive, couple of years and we all deserved the break. We have been on vacation before but we typically travel to a big city where we have engaged in what we have coined “high-intensity tourism” - no time for rest and relaxation. This vacation was different. We had no itineraries, no agendas. We were going to relax, recharge, and reflect.

For the last year, I trained and focused on the material for the Shodan rank testing at the Gi Yu Dojo. In addition to training, like many others who train with us, I worked at being a good father and husband, worked countless hours at my job, and finished another post-graduate program at the University of Dayton. As I juggled each of these responsibilities with my training, I began to realize many things about my learning.

Koku (Empty Space) is a technique on the Shodan test. There are three versions of Koku for various ranges/distances that you must demonstrate on the Shodan test. Each version is slightly different from the other. This makes the technique difficult, in that, you cannot rely on strict muscle memory when learning the technique because of the variation. For months, I practiced these techniques with Matt and Brittany; and with about a month to go before my test, I was still far from comfortable or confident in the technique. As I sought more advice from Dan level students, I became more frustrated with my inability to perform the technique or make adjustments in the moment.

As a long-time coach, I used to discuss the benefits of mental repetitions with my athletes. I was always amazed at my athletes’ ability to process and perform at the level that they did during those years. They would tell me the benefits of going through mental exercises and how it slowed the game down for them. Whether it is the hustle and bustle of life or the years removed from coaching, I seemed to have forgotten my own emphasis on the importance of these mental repetitions. This is different than simply reflecting on the technique (although still beneficial). Actual mental repetitions of the technique, in first person and/or third person, truly helped me in the last month of training. It led to me physically performing the technique with greater efficiency and effectiveness. It also led to deeper reflections about the technique itself.

In the end, I was confident in my technique and I performed the three versions of Koku at a level that allowed me to pass my test; but it was the lessons that I learned while practicing Koku that will continue to impact my training into the future.

  1. Not getting the technique in the moment is okay. We cannot pick up everything right then and there – or for a while. Sometimes we must go through a process, struggle, reflect, and persevere before things make sense.

  2. Thought can often have a physical impact – positive and negative.

  3. Mental repetitions about anything we do in life can be very beneficial and don’t require stretching, a partner, or much time.

  4. Grit and patience are the yin and yang of success.

The impact of the lessons we learn in the dojo reach farther than just the matted walls of our training areas. Those lessons resonate in our daily lives and I thank The Gi Yu Dojo for showing me those pathways.