Little House In Ise


A Meeting on a Bridge
November 26, 2010, 14:43
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , ,

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, “Stop! Don’t do it!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he asked.
I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”
He said, “Like what?”
I said, “Well… are you religious or atheist?”
He said, “Religious.”
I said, “Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?”
He said, “Christian.”
I said, “Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
He said, “Protestant.”
I said, “Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
He said, “Baptist!”
I said, “Wow! Me too!
Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
He said, “Baptist church of God!”
I said, “Me too! Are you original baptist church of God, or are you
reformed baptist church of God?”
He said, “Reformed baptist church of God!”
I said, “Me too! Are you reformed baptist church of God, reformation of
1879, or reformed baptist church of God, reformation of 1915?”
He said, “Reformed baptist church of God, reformation of 1915!”
I said, “Die, heretic scum”, and pushed him off.

– Emo Phillips
(NOTE: I first read this as an Isaac Asimov joke but the only internet reference I could find was for Philips.)

The more similar two groups are, the more their tiny differences seem to matter. That said, I recently met a man who has managed to put aside some extreme similarity between groups. In the process, he has also had to lay his ego aside in a way that I found even more impressive.

In order to preserve this fellow’s anonymity I won’t go into too much detail. Suffice it to say that while browsing through an Aikido blog I bumped into some videos that contained a familiar face. In the videos the familiar face was a black belt of the Yoshinkan and the person who I was aware of had an Aikikai white belt. This was almost enough to make me believe that the similarity was pure chance but when I saw him I asked. Sure enough, he admitted that he was the guy in the video.

My curiosity kicked into high-gear and I quizzed him all the way to the bicycle rack where we parted. Though I am also interested in the circumstances that caused him to switch to Aikikai, they are his and not the business of this blog. My interest is technical. It has been years since I have had a chance to study with a student of Shioda Sensei’s lineage and I am fascinated by the prospect of his perspective.

Even given my belief that everyone we train with has something to offer, I almost missed this opportunity because of the guy’s white belt. I don’t avoid white belts, I just tend to seek out sempai to train with. Please read this as a sign of selfishness rather than petty elitism. Because of that, I have been missing out on chances to work with someone with significant and different Aikido experience just because of the silly white belt and my perceptions! I hate it when trip over my ego!

It is this man’s defeat of ego that has most impressed me. It turns out that the guy not only had a black belt but he was a fourth dan. He chose to go from fourth dan to white belt… in the same art. Though pursuit of rank is not my reason for being, rank progression does have its importance. Ranks are useful for setting goals, can be handy for guesstimating energy level at which you can safely work with a new partner and are a fine way to honor effort and accomplishment. To be honest, I don’t know whether I could put down my own rank and start over from zero in another branch of Aikido. This guy did exactly that.

Pushing heretics off bridges is getting harder every day.

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4 Comments so far
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I’m mystified. Please explain the significance of the ‘white’ vs the ‘black’ belts. Its meaning whizzed by me so I need a tutorial.
Ita

Comment by Ita

People of entry level ranks wear white belts. People who have been around a bit longer wear black. In moving from one organization to another the guy I mentioned stopped wearing his black belt and started over at or near the beginning. That impressed me.

Comment by Eric Holcomb

Wow, that shows a lot of courage.

I trained with a fellow white-belt the other day, a Frenchman who has recently moved to Tokyo. His technique was very good (much better than mine) but slightly different from normal Hombu style. After the class I asked him how long he’d been doing Aikido; his repy – “16 years, in various dojos around the world”.

One of my friends thought that perhaps he could be a black-belt but wearing a white-belt because he was visting the dojo. Have you ever heard of that custom?

Comment by Andrew Parker

Hey Andrew,

There are a few fairly typical times when a person who has earned a black belt might choose to wear a white.

1) They might do it when they forgot their own belt and needed to borrow one from the desk. Don’t laugh, it happens.

2) When your hakama is at the cleaner or out for repairs, the custom at Honbu is to wear a white belt. Really, some people are sticklers about that one.

3) Their black belt is from a different art.

About the guy who had been a mudansha forever, that’s pretty common. I took forever to get mine. When you move around and have to switch dojo you may keep rank but starting over with a new sensei often means unlearning before learning new stuff. So 16 years as a white belt isn’t too surprising.

Comment by Eric Holcomb




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