Faith

Go-dan

My ex-wife, A, is in Durham celebrating Greek Easter with her family. Her father recently turned 70 and they are celebrating  that as well. A, N, B and Thanos, happy Easter. 

 

Greek Easter isn't always in May, to be only somewhat imprecise, Greek Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal
equinox. Linked to a lunar calendar, the holiday floats and sometimes
 you get Easter in May. Surprising, but it fits with my  theme.

 

May has become an interesting month for me. For most of my life it has been fairly anonymous -- no birthdays, Bar-Mitzvahs or Jewish holidays. School doesn't start or end in May. There was Mother's day of course, but for the most part May had just been, well, May.

 

However, over the last 5 or so years, May has become something different for me: I was married in May; I was divorced in May; and, I attempted to pass my Go-dan test in May.

 

I'm incredibly grateful to have met my ex-wife as an adult and grateful that we were married. Of course I wish it had played out differently, but I wouldn't undo our marriage for anything. It was also very good to get divorced -- I wouldn't undo that either. I wouldn't be me if either of those events hadn't taken place,

 

The symmetry of both marriage and divorce happening in May feels good somehow -- it tickles my sense of aesthetic.

 

Today I attempted my Go-dan test. Lots of 5's there -- 05/05 and 5th degree black-belt test, I like that.

 

I have seen this test about 10 times and have witnessed only two successes.  In the old days a live (i.e., real and real sharp) sword was used. People who failed occasionally died and were frequently severely injured. In the modern world, killing students is frowned upon so a boken is used (a wooden version of a sword). In truth, a Shinai is often used (a bamboo version of a sword). No one dies, no one goes to the
hospital. I have mixed feelings about this.

 

I know the first person to pass the test after the live-blade was retired. It would sound more dramatic if I could say that I know the last person to take the test with the live-blade, but I would be lying. I do train with a number of people who passed the test with the live-blade, I just don't know which one of them was the last.

 

In any event, today I was the third person to sit in front of The Boss. The first two failed dramatically.  The word on the street has been that The Boss has been administering the test with a renewed vigor reminiscent of the old, live-blade days.

 

I sat on my knees (Seiza) with my back to him. He stood behind me, close enough so that he did not need  to step forward when he tried to slice me in half. Both of us had our eyes closed. I have no idea how long he stood with sword raised over his head. He was supposed to tap me on the shoulder before lifting the sword  - to let me know that the test had started. This time, he omitted the tap.

 

I swayed for a second trying to calm my mind, coming to terms with the fact that the test had started without the expected tap. I made no attempt to control, or listen, or guess, or anything. When I felt
 it,  I rolled. The sword slightly grazed my uniform as I found safety.

 

As I said, lots of 5's. The date 05/05, the Go-dan test is the 5th degree test. That's three 5's so far. I was the 1500 person to pass the test 3 x 500 is  1500, I am 35 which is 7 x 5... Okay, I'm pushing it a little.

 

So, I passed. Big deal, it's worthless. Truly, rank means nothing and this test means and proves absolutely nothing. I thought I understood that before  I came to Japan. Every day that I have been here, I've re-learned the truth behind this sentiment.

 

Passing a test, getting rank, getting married, getting divorced; these things do not guarantee anything. They cannot defend me or protect me,  they do not shape my future, they are not endings. Each of them is in  the past the very instant the event is over.

 

However, there is a flip-side to this. I think they "signify" something. All of my May events were acts of faith. A giving-up and a giving-over. A giving- up of expectations and control; and a giving-over to who I am, to my preparation as a person, to my community, to the irrational, to hope.

 

The Boss talks about finding "your Immovable Heart".  As I understand it, your "Heart" is that part of you which provides your sense of self and identity. Your sense of personal integrity, if you will.
Being "Immovable" means that no matter what life throws you, no matter what situation you find yourself in -- even if you are forced to pretend to be something you are not; inside you know your Heart.

 

He says we all have a duty to find our Immovable Heart, and I think that for me, finding my Immovable Heart is related to acts of faith... and May.

 

 

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