Iaido Journal June 2008
Reflections on Failing my Shodan
copyright © 2008 Sohail Thaker, all
This year I went to Guelph and failed
the Shodan Grading. This was initially very hard to take. Naturally
I was disappointed and upset and wanted to blame somebody, anybody
but myself. I took some time in my room for about an hour then went
to hang out with some of the members of my dojo. We went for a walk
in the Arboretum and we discussed what had happened and what it meant
to me. I appreciate their support and compassion and this helped me
to get into a better, more reflective headspace. Here are some of
the thoughts that developed….
As I went into the grading I was
feeling good, a little nervous, but overall I was calm and centered. My
Iaido felt good, I managed to get through my set of katas without
any errors that I was aware of. So why did I fail? What is this
experience trying to teach me?
I believe I went into the grading with
an Ikkyu state of mind. This is not meant as a slight against
Ikkyu’s (I am one too), what I am trying to say is that I was not
mentally at a Shodan level and that showed in my Iai, and in the
mistakes that I made. I also realize that getting a passing grade is
not simply about putting in the time. Doing 2 to 3 years of Iaido
does not make me a Shodan.
This failure is a reminder of the focus
on detail that Iaido demands. As we progress in our rankings, the
focus on detail increases. As an Ikkyu, the judges can have some
leeway with mistakes, but as we progress this leeway is reduced. A
Shodan cannot approach kata the way an Ikkyu would. The technique
needs to be crisper; the understanding of the target and the purpose
of the kata must be crystal clear.
The judging panel of Sensei have
provided me with an opportunity to reflect on my Iai, to take the
time to not only improve my technique, but also look at the mental
space that I approach this higher rank of Shodan.
I am not used to failing, the last time
I remember failing any sort of official test is in first year
university, over 20 years ago. So why does this happen now, at this
stage in my life? I think, for me, a pass would have reinforced some
of my misconceptions around my practice of Iaido. The fail will help
me to re-focus my efforts, drop any arrogance that was running, and
re-approach Iaido with a new mindset. I must see myself as a Shodan,
become more proficient in my technique, and not get complacent that I
am simply better than I used to be a year ago.
The measurement is not against my last
examination as an Ikkyu. I see that I must be a Shodan in practice
before I can be recognized as such by a judging panel. This weekend
I heard a Sensei say that our mindset shows up in our Iaido and I
will take that to heart. I will take the feedback provided by the
Sensei and make the necessary corrections. I appreciate that they
grade to a high standard and that makes the rank really mean
something. I will also start making the mental shift towards Shodan,
so that the next time I challenge the exam, I will step into the
grading hall in a Shodan state of mind.
I read somewhere that success can be a
reflection of hard work or sometimes all it reflects is luck. I also
read that to recognize one’s ignorance is the beginning of wisdom.
I choose to see this failed exam as an
opportunity to look inside and adjust those parts of myself that need
to be adjusted. I remain committed to Iaido and look forward to
building a more solid foundation for this wonderful and demanding