SHODAN AT 51
Several years ago I passed my Shodan examination in Seibukan Jujutsu at Seibukan Headquarters Dojo in Monterey, California. I was 51 years old. Preparing for this test was a difficult and profoundly useful ordeal for me. I was humbled by self understanding, and gained a new respect for the power of the warrior tradition. When used rightly, form and tradition can be powerful tools for self development and spiritual growth.
For many years I have been a student of spirituality and Eastern religion. For me the study of martial arts was linked to spiritual practice. My study of martial arts ranged over twenty years on and off. I trained in arts from China, Japan and the Philippines, taking some of what I learned to a level of real proficiency. However, I had always been rather cynical about ranking in the arts, and was never really willing to submit myself to all the traditional requirements.
I had even been somewhat of a dilettante, studying here and there, picking up knowledge and techniques from various systems, them moving on when I became bored or dissatisfied with the "imperfections" of each art or teacher. I probably wasted a lot of time in search of the "perfect martial art".
When I heard about Seibukan Jujutsu, I was immediately attracted to the art. The principles of Awareness, Assessment, and Action based on No Challenge, No Resistance and No Injury exactly reflected my own personal philosophy on self defense.
As it turned out, Julio Toribio Sensei, the founder of Seibukan Jujutsu and I had a mutual friend, Matt Thomas. Matt and I were writing a book together (since published by North Atlantic Books entitled "Protecting Children from Danger"). Matt connected me with Toribio Sensei, and I was invited to Monterey to visit the Seibukan Headquarters Dojo.
After my first visit, I was sold! I knew I wanted to learn the art. But the logistics of learning, given I didn't live in the Monterey area, seemed too difficult. However, Toribio Sensei said that if I could find someone to train with near home, he could teach me in concentrated sessions since I already had a martial arts background. I could take notes, practice what I learned with my training partner, and return to Monterey on a regular basis for further instruction and testing. A good friend of mine agreed to train with me on a regular basis, and so I decided to give it a shot.
What started out as an enjoyable pastime soon became an egoic obsession, and then an ordeal of transcending difficulties of all kinds. Along the way I suffered painful injuries and many setbacks. My left shoulder was injured several times, and became discouraged and thought about quitting several times.
However, each time I went to Monterey to train I was newly inspired to continue. Toribio Sensei and I became good friends. And I watched him pass through difficulties in his own life, but in the dojo he was always the Sensei. I was impressed on many occasions, even when he was physically ill, with how he would drop everything once he was on the training mat, and give complete attention to his students. He always did his best to accommodate my training needs, no matter what was happening.
Fortunately, I was able to keep going and made my way through the kyu ranks despite injuries. When I started to prepare for the Shodan level, things in my life altogether began to intensify. Because of job related stress and my own emotional limitations, I developed insomnia and a related crisis in my physical and mental well being. In plain words, I was really messed up.
All sorts of emotions came up for me. Self doubt, fear of failure and losing face, anger and frustration at my own body for weakening and getting old, and even basic fear for my own inevitable death. Somehow this "little old black belt test" was really getting to me in ways I had never anticipated.
At one point, just weeks before the test, I realized I had to let go of everything and yield to whatever mysterious process was occurring in my case. The ego was no longer in control. Once I let go, I began an emotional purification of repressed childhood memories--painful events that scarred me and berated my emotional response to life altogether. Despite the painfulness of this process, I prayed to God for it to continue as I realized the importance of this occurrence.
And so, in the midst of all this, I stepped on the mat to take my test. It was difficult for me physically and emotionally. I was cut during a knife attack, and I inadvertently injured a fellow student. However, I have great appreciation for Toribio Shihan and all the Yudansha present. They were supportive, as were my family and training partner who were sending me positive energy from the sidelines...................... and I made it through......
When Toribio Sensei ceremonially presented me with my black belt, I was very emotional. However, there was no sense of elation and triumph as I had anticipated. Instead, something much more profound was given. I felt grateful and very humbled by the self understanding that had occurred in relation to this event.
Thus, for me, the sacred power of tradition had become obvious. By submitting to the formal training and testing required, a process of healing and growth was initiated. It seemed to be a "rite of passage" that I might have gone through as a youth in a traditional spiritually-oriented culture.
Some years later, I trained my own young son to the level of first degree black belt. That story is entitled 'Rite of Passage" and is another essay included in this section of the website. Although I no longer train in Seibukan Jujutsu, my "training" continues from a different perspective. I welcome the mysterious unfolding process of life altogether in ways I could not appreciate before.