If you were training for shodan....

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If you were training for shodan....

Postby chernon » Mon Dec 13, 2010 11:10 pm

If you've trained for shodan in the past, and now have the wisdom of higher rank or longevity or experience....is there anything about your own shodan preparation that you would offer, as a pearl of wisdom...or funny story...or difficult journey, to those of us who, sensei-willing, may face this milestone in the future?
(just trying to generate some discussion...)
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Postby CANDANeh » Tue Dec 14, 2010 2:39 am

Consider achieving shodan as another beginning not a goal. So many stop training after they they reached "black belt".
The best part of the path is around the next bend

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Postby Bill Glasheen » Sat Dec 25, 2010 1:05 am


That's a nice invitation. I think I'll bite.

Back when I started martial arts in 1972, shodans were a rarity in the United States. It was a big deal to get one, and the general public usually treated the holders of this rank with some considerable respect.

Part of the reason why shodans were so rare is because there were so few good instructors in the United States back then. I wanted to study martial arts for many years. But it took until I had barely turned 17 before I located someone who would teach. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started with this very young but talented Japanese who was teaching out of William and Mary college. But it was karate, and I was good with that.

Hiroshi Hamada was born into the samurai class. His father was a martial artist, but young Hiro was a bit of a problem child. So he got put in a monastery at a young age where he picked up both discipline and some martial arts. He turned out to be an incredible talent, but it was talent with an edge. You had to have been there... Let's just say that I got the %#$@ beat out of me a lot. I was constantly learning in fear. Worse yet, you got treated more brutally if he thought you had promise. It's difficult for most to understand this kind of training. Only in distant hindsight can I appreciate the positives. (I think Van understands...) But there were some negatives as well (the whole potential cult thing).

At some point I had to interrupt my study there as I transferred to University of Virginia where I could continue on with my unusual medical/engineering path. So I had to start all over again. After being without anything for a semester that looked like karate to me (Sensei Hamada spoiled me...), a fellow by the name of Rad Smith started a school there. He was fresh out of Harvard, and came down to UVa to get his PhD in English. He had studied from some guy by the name of George Mattson (ahem), and also did some time with both Dave Finkelstine and an Asian guy by the name of Ryuko Tomoyose (double ahem). What Rad taught was VERY different from my Japanese karate. I didn't really care much for it. But there was something about Rad... He was smart, he was strong as a bull, and he was the fastest white guy I'd ever met in my life. Apparently he was a varsity swimmer AND sprinter at Harvard before taking karate in Boston and getting his shodan in a year (never done before, but recommended by Tomoyose). So I studied under him because something told me this was very rare and very special.

A year and a half later, Rad decided he wasn't going anywhere with a Phd in English. He applied to and got accepted in Harvard's MBA program. Hell... I certainly understood why he wanted to leave. You don't grow those opportunities on trees. So Rad left the club to a couple of us kyu-ranked flunkies who weren't (yet) that good, but had the hearts of lions. Within another two years, everyone who could teach at all left except for me.

I realized I needed some outside help. I drove up the east coast on my motorcycle, and did some dojo hopping. Along the way I met Dave Finkelstein in New York, and Bobby Campbell at the Cambridge and Hancock dojo in Boston. Dave agreed to take me on as an "off site" student. He had complimentary things to say about my fighting abilities (which came from Hamada) but saw I was a project with the kata and technique thing. But he had faith in me. That was June of 1977. He told me to show up for a shodan test in December.

I went back to U.Va. and got much more formal with my teaching operations. I let every new student know I wasn't yet a shodan, but I was working on it. Again... back then there weren't that many good instructors. I could put together a class of 30 people no problem. It was all new to them.

And so I did go up to my shodan test in December. I had worked very hard on all the things Dave told me to work on. The kata part went fine. A little rough around the edges, but OK. And the sparring? Let's just say that Hamada had taught me well. My only problem was that I threw this one punch towards the guy's head that had a bad outcome. MY punch was fine and with perfect control. But he flinched and put his hand in front of his face. My hand hit his hand with enough force that I split his lip wide open with HIS hand. Schit... I thought I had flunked. But they were good with it. I apologized, and all went well.

I went back to Virginia with my shodan. And I BEGAN to learn Uechi karate. Ultimately I got handed over from Dave Finkelstein to this George Mattson guy.

And as they say, the rest is history.

- Bill
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Postby chernon » Tue Mar 08, 2011 4:44 am

I don't know how I missed your story back when you wrote it--holidays, perhaps. Good story, Bill; interesting path to shodan, with some big names included. Thanks for sharing it!
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Postby gmattson » Tue Mar 08, 2011 10:39 am

How can anyone top Bill's history!!! :)
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