RITE OF PASSAGE
Bob & Chorus John Bishop
When my son, Chorus was in the sixth grade, his mother and I were divorced. No one suffered this parting of ways more than he, for whomit was so painful to see his parents separate permanently. I knew something was necessary to heal this wound, but for quite some time I wasn't sure what that could be.
When he entered the seventh grade, my son confided in me with strong emotion how difficult it was for him at school. Smaller than most of his classmates, and feeling that no one liked him, Chorus suffered from low self-esteem and extreme sensitivity to his schoolmate's opinions. According to Chorus, looking back on that time, "I was extremely shy, small, and easily intimidated. I didn't want to be any of these things, but I didn't know a way to get around them. I wanted to be outgoing and powerful in my actions, but it was as ifI had a weight on my chest, holding me down."
On my son's behalf, I began to investigate vision quests and other rites of passage in traditional cultures, and decided that some sort of transitional ceremony might serve Chorus's confidence and maturation. I wanted my son to experience a rite of passage that would have real meaning for him, and test his mettle. Training in the martial arts seemed a natural solution, since I was an experienced martial artist and an instructor of Seibukan Jujutsu.
My son had been interested in martial arts for some time, but it was mostly relegated to the flash and slam-bang movie fight scenes characterized in action films, rather than any interest in authentic training. So it required a leap of awareness and maturity even to consider formal training.
I gave him the choice of just learning some self-defense tactics, or committing to a serious training process that might one day lead to black belt ranking and becoming an instructor himself. Much to my delight, he agreed to the latter and his training began. Chorus remembers, "When I began training, I realized that with a little help from my instructors, I could lift that weight of feeling powerless off my chest for good."
Over time, Chorus persisted through the peaks and valleys of training.
There were many points of discouragement when progress was slow and difficult, with all the sweat and discomfort that are part of such a process.
During two years of diligent and faithful training, I watched my son mature into a fine young man. With growing confidence and physical ease, his martial arts ability improved greatly. It was quite a transition each time we stepped on the mat, and I became "Sensei" to him rather than "Dad".
I remember days when he was sullen and punky with me - ready to collapse and quit the training altogether. I remember other days when he was too tired and sick to train but still wanted to do so. And I remember him getting hurt during training but insisting that we keep on going despite a painful injury. Chorus remembers that "There were quite a few places where I was on shaky ground in terms of sticking with my training and with the martial arts altogether".
When Chorus progressed to the brown belt level, Sensei Julio Toribio,
the Chief Instructor of Seibukan Jujutsu, and I planned more intensive training for him, including several trips to Seibukan headquarters in Monterey, California.
There, he trained in every aspect of the art required for the Shodan level (first degree black belt). Chorus recalls "During this time in Monterey - training and relating to people a lot older than I, was where I first noticed changes in my personality. I started speaking to people more, and making my own decisions.
I noticed that I wasn't as shy as I used to be."
On one weekend in May shortly after his 14th birthday, Chorus and I traveled to Monterey for him to take his black belt test. It was very significant, and also unusual, for one so young to have advanced in the art as he had done, but I knew he was ready. He spent all day Saturday practicing with some of the most advanced students, and getting feedback from the instructors there, including me.
On Sunday morning Chorus was called by Sensei Toribio to a gathering of men. He was asked to sit in the middle of a circle of men much older and more mature than he. We were asked to tell Chorus about two events in our respective lives; one in which we were proud of our response to a difficult situation, and another where, in our own eyes, we failed and felt shame or regret about how we had behaved.
Each man spoke his truth openly and honestly, sometimes with great emotion--stories ranged from heroics to cowardice in violent situations, from abuse experienced as a child to the pain of losing a loved one to death or parting of the ways. It seemed extraordinary to see a group of men make themselves so vulnerable for the sake of a young man's development. This truly was a sacred event that had significant impact upon my son.
Following the circle, Chorus was instructed to clean the "dojo" (school) in a traditional manner, and prepare for his test.
On Sunday afternoon, Chorus stepped on the mat to perform his black-belt demonstration. As his father, I was pleased that, despite everyone's obvious affection for my son, they did not go easy on him during this ordeal. It was a full-out test at the black-belt level with attacks by individual and multiple assailants empty-handed and with live, bladed weapons. It was an exhausting trial for him both physically and emotionally. I knew, because I had passed through it myself years earlier.
After his successful demonstration, there were tears in my eyes reflecting the great pride I felt for my son. When he received his black belt ceremonially, Chorus said "I cannot tell you all how grateful I am to my father and to all those who helped me complete this process and attain the rank of black belt. This has been, and continues to be, the most important learning experience of my life."
Something changed for us both during this entire process. The healing that I hoped for had certainly occurred, but even more, there was a new level of closeness between us. We agreed that there would never be secrets between us, and established a deep level of trust that is, unfortunately, rare between father and son in these modern times.
Since this time, I have watched my son pass further testing for advanced levels of black belt ranking which exceeded my own. These are always proud and happy days for us both. My boy has truly become a man.
Bob & Chorus John Bishop (9-99)