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Half way to the start line?

By Myoken Dojo, May 27 2015 12:38PM

Transferred from previous website

Originally posted on 22 december 2014

Most people who care to read this will understand the term Shu-Ha-Ri. Basically it describes a 3 part (3 very unequal part) process of learning. Shu represents the stage of following your teacher and learning his way, Ha means looking around to see what other people do, and how they do it, Ri means going it alone once you’ve learned enough to be considered a master of your method.

Recently I was reading an article by Ishido Sensei in which he listed a number of attributes required for passing 8th dan. One of them stated that at the level of [passing] hachidan there is only Shu. So by this I should deduce that to pass hachidan one doesn’t need to consider anything other than the way your teacher teaches it. I have to say here, as an aside, that I struggle to understand and follow what my teacher is teaching me, I have no time to look elsewhere for additional information and guidance, so I can easily accept that in real rather than theoretical terms.

The second thread of my thinking refers back to a conversation I had with Morita Sensei a few years ago. I’ve related this conversation before, but I’ll repeat it here as it is essential to my topic. He said, looking at the wall opposite, that if hachidan is the top of the wall, then on that scale, 7th dan is half way up, 6th dan is only half way to 7th dan, 5th dan half way to 6th and so on. (The point he was getting to was that a strict 6 division kyu grade system when shodan is barely 2cm off the floor is ridiculous, but that is not why I am recounting it now). Once that had sunk in a bit, I asked him what is after 8th dan, and he said take off the roof and it is everything that is above!

These two points taken together indicate quite clearly that hachidan is barely significant when considering the levels of competence and understanding that can be achieved. Watching my teacher since he passed his hachidan a few years ago I see him surge relentlessly forward, and I have no doubt he will continue to do so as long as his body allows him to.

This means that us mere 7th dans are only half way to the starting line.

The journey of budo is an endless one, and there never comes a point where one can rest and say that we know it all. The difficulty for some people, I believe, is that the journey is so long, the distance between the upper grades so vast, that it is impossible to perceive the distance that has to be traversed to get from 5th to 6th dan for example. It is not just 5 years of training, but 5 years of intense learning that is required to have any hope of making the jump. To achieve 7th dan in 6 years after 6th dan is, I believe virtually impossible without the regular intensive input of a senior. I took 13 years to make the jump, and I am now beginning to realise that really, getting to 7th dan after 25 years of training was only scratching the surface.

There is no room for arrogance at any grade, no time to stop and rest. I have been virtually resting for a year now, and feel the time wasted has to somehow be regained. 8th dan in 10 years? I doubt it. But if these things become too heavy, the scale too immense to ponder, then we must return to the simple pleasure of training and learning for its own sake. This is what many of us forget to do, I certainly am guilty of it: to enjoy the practice, to learn like a beginner, to remain humble in the face of an almost impossible task: the task of struggling to reach the start line.

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