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Grading felt different this year. I felt confident and ready. At several times during the day, I got a little nervous, but I was able to calm myself down. I was also able to force myself to be present rather than imagining frightful scenarios.
During the seminar portion, I merely listened to the tips being given to others. Specifically, I listened for things like how they preferred we treat the tape line. They wanted us to keep ourselves behind the line during etiquette and have our sword on the other side of the line as we bowed to it. They also wanted us to look at the sword when we bowed to it. Placement wise, I always try to practice in a way that keeps my knees behind the line. I hadn’t heard of the other bit about looking at my sword before though.
I received a message from someone earlier in the day that had me in a bit of a mood, but I was able to get myself to focus and channel my emotions into an intensity once I stepped onto the grading floor. I told myself I needed to be present and I could think about other things after.
The hardest part was all of the waiting. We were graded in groups of 3. With 17 of us challenging 2nd Dan, it took a while. There was a side section we milled about in while the 1st Kyu and 1st Dan challengers graded. Then they gradually brought us out to line up behind the chair we would eventually sit on. There was a lot of standing with our sheathed swords in hand. We were allowed to hold it comfortably rather than formally up until we reached the chair. Every time the line moved closer to the chairs, my heart raced. I told it to calm down because we weren’t really under attack.
Another aspect to the waiting is that it was very warm in there and my palm was sweating as I tried to used my sword. The floor was also stickier than normal, which did trip some people up.
Last year while in the line, I allowed my mind to wander. This year I practiced stoicism to detach myself some from the hoped for results and focus only on the present.
Now, the chair is quite an uncomfortable place to be. You’re sitting, but you have to be very upright and your back cannot touch the back of the chair. You have to hold your sword a specific way, which was extra challenging as the chairs had arms on them. And you have someone else doing their grading in front of you. I try not to watch the person in front, but instead look above them at the wall because sometimes you see someone messing up or you see someone doing a different style and think they’re messing up and then it’s easy to psych yourself out.
My friends told me I looked like a fierce warrior this year. I was skeptical. I had started a touch early and I briefly second-guessed whether or not my sword tip was in the exact right location after o-chiburi on sanpo giri. I also learned later that I’m still having some trouble blending two sets together. It felt much better than last year’s attempt though.
It WAS better than last year. I was given a pass and now I have at least two years of hard work ahead of me to prepare for the next one. I wanted to get started right away, but I have school things over the next couple of weeks that make that difficult.
I felt bad for a few people. One lady messed up worse than I did last year. She had the USB problem with her sword where it wouldn’t go into the sheath, so she tried to turn the sheath over to see if it was the wrong way. That didn’t work and she tried the first way again. When we have problems like that, we’re supposed to stay calm and start that piece at the end of the kata over. She was trying to jam it into the sheath in a way that could lead to serious injury with a sharp sword some day. Some of the cringes on the faces of those watching brought a sick feeling to my tummy. I also felt really bad because I knew it was probably just nerves getting to her as they did to me the previous year. Then she restarted that first kata instead of going onto the next one. She wasn’t the only one that had sheath issues, but at least one of the others overcame their problem with grace.
Weird things happen when people get nervous. They forget whole katas or mix up the order of them. Their confidence deflates and they look like they are surrendering.
Only a couple of my friends didn’t succeed this year. Hopefully they can learn whatever they need to in order to make it happen the next time.
There is always more to learn in this art and it’s easy to get too caught up in the rank. I think the most important thing is whether or not this is something you love to do. I know I do. This weekend made me love it even more.
I took a lot of video during the tournament the next day as I was working on some homework while watching others compete. I focused on taking video of people who do my art in ways I like, so I can learn from them.
I also got some video of the only 9th Dan female who happens to also be the first non-Japanese person to be awarded the rank: Pam Parker Sensei from the U.S. I have no idea if I will ever get close to 9th Dan, but she was fantastic to watch. I don’t think she ever made even one mistake.
I have my grading on video and I’m hoping to have time soon to join the two file halves together and put it up somewhere. I might even have last year’s fail video, which could be interesting to see the difference.
Anyway, I could probably go on about iaido all day, but school awaits.
Guid cheerio the nou,