Promotions galore

It's been a busy couple of days in the morning class. We had a shodan demonstration yesterday in aikido and then in judo today, we handed out a yonkyu and a sankyu. This morning's judo class in particular was a pretty fast-paced affair =) Let's just say I like to run the boys through the ringer when it comes time for judo promotions [cackles evilly]. (Okay, truth be told, I never turned up the volume quite as much as I might normally, but we still got a lot done).

Rank demonstrations in both arts are always interesting and for a variety of reasons.

Everyone's different
For example, with the aikido shodan demo, the uke was over 40 and the ikkyu demonstrating was over 50. Yet, while neither are exactly spring chickens, I'm always surprised at what someone can accomplish at any stage in life. I was proud of both of them for their skill and commitment.

The two judo advancements, meanwhile, came from a couple of young fellows. I'm amazed at how quickly the younger students assimilate material, even things they've seen only once several weeks ago. Plus, they're just fun to throw around =)

You learn what's being taught well
As a teacher, you can't help but take a little personal pride in the accomplishments of your students. It's almost patriarchal, really. Even though some of the students may be older than me, I'm almost feel fatherly when it comes to their progress: I want them to do their best, and I'm thrilled for them when they succeed; I'm proud when they not only internalize what I've tried to teach them, but also when they come up with something I'd never thought of, "outsmarting their old man"; I also empathize when someone struggles or gets frustrated, and I want nothing more than to comfort and encourage them.

And you see what needs to be taught a little better
Seeing students demonstrate what they have learned thus far will also, obviously, show you what they need to work on. And when the same weakness crops up with more than one student, then it becomes glaringly obvious what I need to work on. For a moment, I feel bad, like I haven't been doing my job. But then my determination is usually rekindled and I set about devising a way to fortify those weak areas.

A palpable sense of brotherhood is suddenly very evident
When all is said and done, the demonstration is over, everyone is sweating, students are holding their new belts, it's time to begin the process of congratulations. Emotions are running high, for sure.

Tori's are extremely grateful for their uke's, who allowed themselves to be thrown around just to make the other guy look good. Arguably, his has the harder job, and he is not the one who benefits from it (not directly, at least). And a wise tori, despite earning a higher rank, is usually humbled by it; rightfully so. Interestingly, this kind of selfless act cannot help but strengthen bonds between not only the participants, but the class as a whole. It's amazing to me how everyone in a room can benefit from one person's sacrifice, even without participating in it, just by witnessing it.

And somehow, I think everyone feels proud when another person accomplishes something. It's a tribal sort of feeling, I think, or like a sports team in one of those feel-good, underdog movies. Even though what we do is not team-oriented, our training is largely self-directed, I think everyone's attitude, progression and the overall spirit of the dojo and the art improves when we approach it as a team.

In judo, we have an interesting little tradition where everyone in class gets to throw the person who has just been promoted. I suppose this sort of hazing might sound somewhat mean, but I have never, ever seen it degenerate into something ugly. On the contrary, it has always been good natured and ultimately builds on the camaraderie. Chalk it up to the same reason why men can never say "I love you" or give a hug, but just punch each other on the shoulder. It's our silly macho way of saying, "Good job, I'm proud of you." I won't go so far as to say it means "I love you", because guys would bristle at the mere idea, but I will say that it is, in the end, a big part of the reason why Ueshiba said "budo is love" and leave it at that.

I rather wish we had a similar tradition in aikido. Instead, our reaction to promotions remains almost Victorian by comparison. Sure, we're pretty fond of each other, and we'll shake hands afterward (or maybe some will do the ol' shake with one hand and do the half-hug with the other). I'm not too worried about it. But there is something about that congratulatory throw that brings an extra little dimension of brotherhood.

At any rate, I am happy for these fine men and all that they do, I am happy for the dojo, for the arts, and for The Path.

Good job, boys. Now hit the showers.