In battle, if you you make your opponent flinch, you have already won.

On Saturday, April 7th, I took my first kendo ranking test–1kyu–and I passed. It was one of the most terrifying and nerve wracking things I have done in a long time. I felt so out of my element. I was putting myself far, far out of my comfort zone.

Kumamoto is known within the Kendo world as being a great place to study the practice. So many great high schools here who have won many national championships; so many individuals here who have one championships as well. Kumamoto is the very city where Miyamoto Musashi lived a good portion of his life and wrote The Book of Five Rings. The teaching here is strict and even the test, which varies from prefecture to prefecture, is a little different than other places where things are usually the same. I have been to Miyamoto Musashi’s grave and I have been to the very place he meditated and wrote his book–all here in Kumamoto City.

The day of my 1kyu test came about and I was a nervous wreck. Heck, the day before I was nervous. I understand that it may not be a good reason, but I was to be the only foreigner there at the testing–and I didn’t want to be the only foreigner. The moment I arrived on the day of the test and made my way down to the floor anyone who was able to see me on my way stopped in surprise, some even stopped whatever conversation they were having and just stared in surprise. Being the only foreigner there kind of puts a lot of pressure on you. People want to see how you do and are curious of how you do it. I was nervous. Very nervous. I wanted to do well, and I made many mistakes, but I passed.

The first part of the test had something called kirikaeshi which we had to perform twice, after that was something called uchikomi where the other person opens up specific hits on their body and the other is supposed to properly go for those openings and hit them. After those two things you recenter yourself and you start the shiai (match). In 1kyu it doesn’t matter who wins or loses. You just want to attempt to properly make cuts and hold your ground with good form.

If you pass that portion of the test you are allowed to move on to the second part of the test: the kihon kendo kata. In this portion of the test you are placed up against another person and perform specific kata. There are two sides to these techniques. One person is motodachi (loser) and the other is kakarite (winner). I got lucky in that sense because I ended up being motodachi. Motodachi actually started off being the hardest one out of the kata for me to learn, but in the end became the easiest. I performed my kata without any mistakes and that felt great.

The process was long. I was able to enter the budokan at 8am, things started around 9am and I sat around waiting to go on for almost three hours. I was #81 of 82 people! All in all, I finished around 2:30pm. My teacher was there watching, which made me even more nervous, but I tried. After the last part of the test was finished and while everyone was waiting for the results my teacher congratulated me on passing shodan before the results had even been posted.

After everything was said and done Kevin, Yuji and I went and got ramen and followed up with some ice cream to celebrate. It was a good day and I was very glad when it was over. My teacher is already pushing towards shodan which is in a month. I am already afraid, but if I really do intend to do shodan I will have to push myself harder and harder.

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