Thursday, May 28, 2009

An unwelcome promotion

This past week I hosted 2 guests from Okinawa, Japan. They were visiting the Kodokai Dojo in North Smithfield to provide us with some instruction in a form of martial arts called Motobu Udundi. They were only able to visit for three days, but it was a great experience for everyone involved. Several people from our dojo have visited Okinawa in the past to learn techniques in this martial art and we've been practicing for a few years now, so it was a great opportunity for us to show our teachers what we've accomplished and get some much needed correction on details.

When I visited Okinawa this past December / January, I was dreading one aspect of the trip - the potential of being given a rank in Motobu Undundi. Even though I've been practicing this style for a few years, I don't feel confident that I know what I'm doing or that my techniques are very good. So, the last thing I wanted was to be given a black belt and then have people look at me as an example of how something is supposed to be done. Much to my relief, I was not promoted in January. My teachers had mentioned they were going to promote me, and they had me wear a black belt while taking classes at their dojo, but nothing official was ever done (again, much to my relief). So, I was quite content to return home and continue to wear my white belt and blend in with the crowd.

And I almost made it through this visit last week. While driving the two senseis back to the airport, I was asked what my current rank was in Motodbu Udundi. I said that I didn't have a rank. A discussion then ensued in Japanese between the two teachers and the end result was I was told I was being promoted to Shodan (the starting black belt rank). I was then asked what I thought of it. I explained I didn't think I was good enough to deserve it. He said that was good. The sensei then explained that he didn't think he was good enough to be called an 8th degree black belt, and that his sensei didn't feel he was good enough to be called master (10th degree - highest black belt rank), yet that was their titles.

He further explained that the point of the rank is people will now expect more of me - I will need set a good example - and this will force me to work to a higher standard. In his profession, he is a public speaker. People look to him to know what he is talking about, they expect an expert speaker, yet he doesn't feel he really is an expert. Instead, he must make sure he learns more and thoroughly knows the topic he is presenting so people have the impression he is the expert. He said, as a teacher, you end up learning a lot more than the people you are teaching.

The same applies to rank in martial arts. Being given a "promotion" in not an award - you are now being asked to do more, to live up to a higher standard than you are currently setting. It's a big responsibility and that's one of the reasons I've been trying to avoid it for so long. And I almost avoided it this time - if only the drive to the airport had been a bit shorter...

So now, like my sensei said tonight at class, it's up to me what I do with this new responsibility. Hopefully I won't disappoint anyone.