This past weekend was one of the culminating events of my time here at Sophia University. The past month my Aikido friends and I have been training much harder than usual for our brown and black belt tests. I’m only a first year, so I was training for a brown belt. Even still, however, it’s the first belt I’ve ever gotten in any martial art, and all the training I’ve gone through to get it gives me a whole new respect for what those belts represent.
The test itself felt really special, and at the same time a little bit ordinary, as the brown belt test took place in the same dojo that we practice in all the time. The Sensei’s presence sets the tone though. When my turn came, it felt like such a serious matter that there was no room for nervousness. You just gotta do what you’re supposed to do. Since Aikido is a self-defense martial art, there isn’t really sparring per se, but rather we practice forms, and we’re evaluated based on how well we remember and perform these forms. For me as a foreigner, trying to hear the Japanese and to process it after only hearing it once, and at the same speed that the Japanese were was a bit of a challenge, but that too, I was able to practice beforehand, and thankfully, I was able to keep up this time.
And before I knew it, the test was over, and I was sitting down with my partner, watching our friends in the next round. On the outside we were still as stone, but inside, my heart was still thumping, blood rushing. In the course of a few minutes, a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I felt freedom, and amazement that so much meaning could be packed into such a short moment of time. Afterwards, we gathered to hear the critique of our Sensei.
The next day we celebrated with a nomikai, in our suits like usual (suits are so much nicer to wear when it’s not the summer : P ). There was lots of good food and drink and fun. At one point during the night, the Sensei presented us with our belts and the certificates authenticating them. In handwritten Japanese with hanko stamps to certify its authenticity, it felt pretty real, a strong contrast to the shiny plastic T-Ball trophies I received in my preschool days. At the end of the nomikai, as we were preparing to leave, one of the graduated sempai whom I wasn’t familiar with came up to me and told me he was surprised at how Japanese I seemed. We thanked each other.
When I got home that night, set my belt and certificate down and got ready for bed, I went to sleep feeling a little bit more Japanese than usual.