Shinsa

December 16, 2010

Every year countless kendoka have to prepare for their shinsa and everyone begins their preparations at different times. Some start only a few months ahead while others start an entire year or more before. Beginning kendoka can afford to start this process a few months ahead but the higher up you go, the more time is needed, and this is reinforced by the waiting period required for each rank.

While preparations for each shinsa are arguably the primary focus of each kendoka when they become eligible for the next rank, there’s always that one persistent question: am I truly ready? Some say if their Sensei says they’re ready, then there’s nothing left to do but prepare and most are satisfied with that. Others have lingering doubts and/or questions all the way up to the day of the shinsa. This could be attributed to people being their own worst critic and for the most part, it is. As much as you may feel you aren’t ready, if your Sensei is willing to stake their reputation on you testing, then there’s no doubt in their mind that you are ready. After all, he/she has enough experience to see that in you. That being said, we are only human and it is only natural to have a little bit of concern whether or not you will pass. What separates those who pass and those who fail is, in my opinion, depends one’s ability to silence these doubts and enter the shinsa with a clear and calm mind.

Another aspect of shinsa that seems to not be discussed as much is the outcome. If you fail, most have one of two general reactions: they may become discouraged and feel they wasted their time or they look at it as a sign there was something they overlooked and will attack that area harder in preparing for the next shinsa. If you pass, some will say, “that’s great, ok, back to training,” whereas others may think, “wait, I passed? Am I really at that level?” Hopefully no one who passes will allow it to get to their heads and allow their ego to get huge but if it does, we can only hope they have a good Sensei and sempai to help shrink it down to size. For now, I will focus on the latter of the if-you-pass trains of thought.

We all know what is required to pass for a certain level but can we really perform at that level each and every day after passing? Is each rank a set bar that we must perform at and/or above each and every day thereafter? Some see passing each rank as a level that, though you may not be at that level everyday, the pressure of passing helps push you to that level and beyond. Still others see it as more of a cloud that shows a general approximation of where your skill level is at that moment; you will drift up and down from time to time but for the most part, that’s where you are.

No matter how you look at shinsa and passing/failing, what happens after tends to fall into one of two camps: if you pass, you will most definitely be performing at that level very soon (if not immediately) and if you fail, you will work harder to pass the next time around. Speaking from my own experience, there’s something about shinsa that brings out the best in a kendoka and they either feel that push and perform at their expected level or miss it entirely.


East Coast Iaido Seminar and Shinsa 2009

March 18, 2009

Originally written on February 2, 2009.

So this pas Sunday was the East Coast Iaido Seminar and Shinsa and for those of you who don’t know, I started practicing iaido last summer and this was my first time testing.  Iaido is a Japanese sword martial art that focuses on drawing the sword from the scabbard, cutting down a certain number of opponents, and returning the sword to the scabbard.  Currently, I am just practicing the Seitei Gata, a set of 12 forms that were made by the All Japan Kendo Federation to help propagate iaido and is a standard by which people can be tested for rank.  They were also created from several different traditional sword schools and as a result, each form is very subtly different in terms of their reasoning behind certain movements.  But I digress.

The day began at 5 AM and I was on the road at 6, getting to the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute around 8.  After getting changed and settled in the gym, the seminar began by dividing everyone based on their current rank.  For me, since I didn’t have any, I was all the way at the far end.  Due to space constraints and the large number of people, two groups took turns practicing the forms and this went up to lunch and continued after we ate until mid-afternoon.  By then we began to get set up for the shinsa and I got my number (based on age and current rank if held).

Thankfully I had a low number so I was able to go in the second round.  I finished my forms without any serious mistakes but was still very nervous.  I found out a little later that I was selected to go a second time to try for 1st kyu.  I was able to maintain my composure but while doing ganmenatte, I ended up sliding my saya down my hakama!  I didn’t panic but I’m sure my heart skipped a beat and my eyes had to have noticeably gotten wider.  In any event, I finished the cuts but when it came down to doing noto, I had to take a little extra time to pull the saya out far enough to pop it out of my hakama.  From there everything went without a hitch but when I finished and stepped out of the gym I was really frustrated with myself.  I took a small comfort in hearing someone else did the same thing but theirs got stuck.

The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur as I watched the remaining people take their test and after waiting anxiously after packing up, the results were posted on the wall.  I found my name and saw that I was given the rank of 2nd kyu.  I was relieved that I made it at least that far and that my mistake hadn’t cost me too dearly but I would still like to know if I hadn’t made that mistake would I have gotten 1st kyu?  I’ll try to figure that out later but I’m just happy I didn’t completely fail.  Time to get back to training the basics.