Journey to Nidan - Why?

I mentioned to my wife Amy that Sensei had said that it may be time for me to think about prepping for Nidan and that it would be a solid 6 month commitment. The last three months being filled with training 5 to 6 times per week with many days consisting of 4 plus hours of training time. Amy asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks, “Why do you want to go through that – isn’t being a Black belt good enough?” In other words, what does the rank of Nidan really mean to me?

Now there are a number of ways to answer this question depending on how you look at rank and the process leading up to it. I have never trained in Aikido with a focus of moving up in rank as the primary reason for training (maybe that is way Shodan took me 9 years). But Amy’s question actually went right to the heart of the matter as why we submit ourselves to months of extreme physical effort, mental and emotional anguish and worst of all crushing self-analysis and awareness!

To answer my lovely wife’s question I decided to first go down the philosophical route. So my first attempt at an answer was “In Aikido, black belt is really viewed as just the beginning of your training and that one’s path is really just starting” – her reply – “So that means that you will be training more after the test!? OK – I thought – let’s try a more logical approach, “Sensei mentioned that I may have more opportunity to teach and that having my Nidan would be useful for that”. Response - “OH, I see where this is going now - so you might not be training more - but you will be teeaaaching more. Damn – strike two.

So being a good aikidoist, I did my best energetic tenkan to blend and said “you know honey– you asked a really good question that I can’t seem to answer just yet (Obviously). Why don’t I go through the Nidan process and then I will be able to give a well thought-out answer? No comeback on that one – I am in!

As the training process progressed I was very surprised by Amy’s gracious and positive attitude towards my now much enhanced training schedule. She would ask how class went every night, ask me if she could get me a beer when I got home at 10pm from training, she even washed my gi for me a couple of times!

This was really freaking me out! I was the Aikido person who was trained to blend with things. Amy, who is very sweet and loving but can have more of a direct Karate personality at times, was so calm about me being gone most every night, not mowing the yard, etc – who was this person?

So one Sunday night after being gone all weekend at a seminar I just could not take the encouraging and caring attitude anymore. I thought ok, I will draw out some fire about me being gone all weekend. So I said, “Amy – you have been so great about me training so much and you have been so encouraging, that after my test you need to plan a nice vacation somewhere with your friends and I will stay home with the kids and catch up on all of my household duties”. Her reply “I think you are the one that needs to take a long vacation after all the hard training you have been doing”. What was this? I was total crushed – she just made the perfect blend and threw me in a crushing high-fall. Totally defeated, I went to pet Rocco!

A couple of weeks later after a stretch of five nights of training in a row – my new found Aikido blending wife finally came around. At breakfast the next day she asked “so – are you going to grace the family with your presence tonight?” Ha – perfect - this was something I could deal with, this was more like it. Of course I responded with a perfect blend myself (wrong!) I am still not sure why – but out of my mouth came these words – “I might show up tonight – you know my aikido training takes up a lot less time than your yoga and personal trainer – all done while I am working all day”. This was my mock test all over again – total failure. How could this happen after all of my extra training?

So here we are the night before my test. The last months have been a blur of Cliff Bars, Gatorade and empty Advil bottles. It has been a grueling but rewarding process. The last three months were very intense. I have not physically pushed myself this much since my days of college football. I was totally amazed at the level of concentration it took in an effort to elevate my skill level in all of the areas that Nidan demands.

Now comes the moment of truth to answer Amy’s question of six months ago “Why go through all of this training – isn’t being a black belt good enough”?

Now I would answer – if it is only rank that someone is concerned about then yes – shodan is good enough. I have read that in many martial arts the largest dropout rate is after the rank of black belt has been reached.

What matters to me is the journey and how aikido has been integrated into my daily life. I will probably never use aikido in a physical way to protect myself, at least I hope not. But I have found that I constantly use aikido in my daily life in a very meaningful way.

To blend and bond with my adventuresome family, to lead and create in my business and to be able to deeply touch and connect with my aligning dad as he struggles with Alzheimer's.

The process of Nidan has enlivened these positive elements in me and I look forward to the next journey.

Dan Murnan