This post is strictly for therapy...
Yesterday I was awarded my sandan, or third degree black belt for the martial arts uninitiated. It was sweet. Nearly nine years of work amounting to a new milestone. 3 years of hard work, discovery, new avenues of progress, all came to a head yesterday when I received that certificate. It was even better because I received it in my hometown and in my home dojo...not *my* dojo, mind you, but the dojo that I poured out a lot of sweat and blood in. The place that formed me as a karate-ka. Some important lessons were formed in that gymnasium...some great friendships were forged there too. In fact, I met the love of my life, my life partner & wife, in that room.
I stood there at attention, and as the first degree promotions came to an end, I figured out that my promotion would be the next to last given out. I was not the next to last person in line. This was a home game, so to speak, so I figured that would only make sense. Mrs. B. was being promoted to yandan...the last sandan certificate awarded had to have been mine.
Now, being promoted in my home dojo is nothing new. I've taken each of my dan tests at the same annual organization event -Winter Camp- and our tournament is always the next event after Winter Camp. I've received all three dan promotions in the Team Atlanta dojo.
Trivia item - I've taken all three dan tests at the same annual event, in the same state, and (I'm fairly certain) in the same month...but not all in the same city. :)
...but I digress...
Sure enough, my "sandan buddy" Miss H was called as the next to last sandan promotion, and then I heard my name.
As with every other promotion, I patted my side, bowed and bellowed a loud, but short...almost staccato kiyah --"OSU!" -- stepped behind my line, ran down the line to my left, turned the corner and headed to the front of the dojo...I patted my side again, came to attention,bowed and bellowed another kiyah in front of Hu-Kaicho T.
I received my certificate, thanked Hu-Kaicho, but I could not smile. I looked to my right and I saw my beautiful wife taking pictures and my sweet son in his gi...I couldn't. Crack. A. Smile. I couldn't muster it because in my peripheral vision, I could see Shihan L and immediately to his right, I was given another reminder that my Sensei was no longer with us. To put it mildly...it hurt. I should at least accept it and move on, otherwise this blog could get pretty clogged with posts like this one.
I bowed, stepped back and ran back to my place in line. Nearly step for step, the identical route I took to get there. I made eye contact with Mrs. B...still couldn't muster that smile...
When it was all said and done, the newly promoted students all shook hands with the Shihans...that's when it really hit. There would be no exchanging of glances designed to make the other person bust out in laughter; there would be no shenanigans before or after the pictures...none of that. Nothing but another reminder. I shook my Sensei's sensei's hand and it got just that much harder. Then again to Shihan L, the last shihan in line and I think it broke my mood for the day.
Fast forward a few hours...it had been a busy day. I didn't compete (which, is also a milestone for my Yoshukai career --prior to yesterday, I'd never been to a Yoshukai tournament having not competed...thanks pollen and allergy season). I spent the day assisting Hu-Kaicho C with keeping things moving along; getting judges to rings, timekeepers & scorekeepers to rings and even finding someone to make a lunch run. Shihan G pulled me aside at one point and said "Are you OK?"
I said I did...then I blamed it on the pollen...then I tried to assure him I was fine. He saw through all of that. He could tell something was up, whether I was willing to admit it or not. He did stop probing, but I don't think he was convinced that I was OK. All of that said, I do appreciate his concern. :-)
In many ways, I felt like I spent the rest of the day trying to prop my mood up with a stick..no dice. I laid in bed last night, my wife taking her shower, and I caved. I am human, right? I think it's fair to say that few people understand. It's not the typical student/teacher relationship; he was a friend, a good friend. Few people can and will understand because I myself didn't quite grasp the depth of our friendship/relationship until he was gone. I can honestly say very few days go by when I don't think about him or laugh when I hear something he would have found funny. I do, however, feel fortunate that I do still feel a little of his presence in that gymnasium --God, how I hope that never fades....
Until next time, my friend.