Rokudan shinsa?

Since the members of HY have previously written about passing their shodan, sandan, and godan exams, after some discussion with Félix, I figured that maybe I should write something about passing the first kodansha grade.1 It was almost a year ago, so I guess it is about time….

Hopefully you will find this post useful, whether you ended up reading this because you are preparing for your own shinsa, or because you accidentally stumbled upon this.

When I passed my yondan exam some years ago, I had a pretty long discussion about the shinsa with my sensei, Kibe Atsuo. Kibe sensei took a look at my exam, and told me that “…it’s not bad, but you did too many strikes….” – loosely quoted, along these lines. Then, he explained to me his views on the different grades, and his take on the differences between these grades, and the “meaning” they carry. Without getting too much into detail, I will stick to what he told me about rokudan then. I cannot quote his exact words, but essentially, he explained to me that rokudan is a grade, that is quite a big step away from godan. It of course, requires the practitioner to acquire correct basics, including the proper reiho, the proper way of wearing the dogi and the bogu, and of coursei, the correct technique. More importantly, however, as he explained, becoming rokudan puts the kendoka into the position of being an instructor almost anywhere they go.2

The way I thought about my rokudan shinsa was by-and-large centered around with the things what Kibe sensei told me back then, with the invaluable (technical) feedback I have received from not from him back then, but also from my current senseis and peers.3

I thought I would try to collect some bullet points on the things I tried to keep in mind before the shinsa (and in general in my kendo throughout the years). Disclaimer: I need to mention here, that at the point of my shinsa, I actually have felt I have been struggling with my kendo quite a bit. Nevertheless, when it comes to the preparation for the shinsa, and the actual shinsa itself, I am fairly confident that I did not invent warm water – as you will see in a split of a second.

Before getting into the two points I want to make, I’ll give a mini-lecture – now that I have the platform for it, I will let it all out. Every single time I watch shinsa (either as a member of a jury, or just watching it from the outside) I am utterly struck by some the fact that (in my opinion) a surprisingly huge number of people – even those trying kodansha grades – are lacking the following:

  1. Proper and clean gear: I personally think that when a person gets to the level of trying a rokudan shinsa, 20 years – give or take – have passed since they started kendo. That should have been a long enough time for making a bit of an effort – and/or investment – into their equipment. Whilst I do not think that the gear defines the kendoka, I do believe that it contributes to the overall image we may get of them. Salty “taco-men,” sloppily worn and bleached dogi do not particularly give the impression of a person who has intentionally prepared for attempting a high level dan examination, or who wishes to showcase a good example to their peers and/or “students.”
  2. Proper reiho: Whilst this is the first thing we hear when we step into the first class of the beginners’ course in kendo, clearly, some people tend to forget its importance over time. Fairly often, we see people, whose reiho (starting from the angle of their rei, to the way they go down to sonkyo) is very far from what one would like to see from a future instructor.

And now, the two points I thought I would tell about what I tried to keep in mind when preparing for and when doing the exam:

  1. No-rush: This is something I should keep on repeating to myself more and more. Essentially, what it means here and what it means to me in general is that (in a shinsa situation) there is absolutely no need to attempt an excessive amount of strikes. The key perhaps is rather to keep the pressure consistent, observe and invite the opponent, and to strike in the right moment.
  2. Seme-foot, tame-foot: This is pretty much the “mini-mantra” I told to myself before the shinsa. Still, and again: no shocking piece of information. To break it down: whilst my right foot is responsible for “attacking,” and moving forward, it is actually my left that is responsible for staying “composed” and ready to move forward when in the right moment. This is of course, a super simplified explanation of seme and tame, but I think you get the point.

This is it – pretty much. As I said, I did not invent warm water, nor did I prepare in some “exceptional” or “weird” way. Needless to say, there are many layers to these matters, and to each and every element of them. I could write about the importance on how to execute a strike (e.g., shin-ki-ryoku-icchi, that is, “with a unified and strong intention”), but well, this post would never end, so I decided to wrap it up here, and leave it simple.

This is the story of how Henri Korkalainen and I became the youngest rokudans in Finland. Or well, my part of it anyways (this is the self-merch part of the post). Maybe I’ll ask Henri to write a guest-post, so stay tuned!

Henri and Merci after their rokudan exam in Beauvais

  1. “High” grades, that is 6th dan and above. ↩︎
  2. Outside Japan it is of course not uncommon to have kendo instructors leading clubs and practices with e.g. 2nd dan already. Of course, the overall level of kendo outside Japan has changed a lot, and this is also shifting. ↩︎
  3. Writing a complete list is of course, not possible, but I would like to thank to Markus Frey (7th dan kyoshi), Mikko Salonen (7th dan kyoshi), Susanna Porevuo (6ht dan renshi), and Henri Jokinen (5th dan) for giving me invaluable advice on my (then) upcoming shinsa. ↩︎

One response

  1. Thank you for your insights into 6th dan Czimbalmos Sensei! Words to remember and put into practice. 🙂 Young

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