The translation of “DAI ICHI”, according to wikianswers.com is:

Firstly… / First of all…
Number one. The first one.
Coloquially: The best one.

I’m partial to the last definition, preferring to think that what we were just did was, indeed, THE BEST ONE. Truthfully, I don’t know if it was the best one, but it was a hard one. In the 2 weeks leading up to the exam, we prepared 6 hours a day at a consistently ridiculous level of intensity…repeating the Kihon Dosa (Basic movements) and the 23 Waza (take-down techinques), attacking the training from every angle possible – high speed, slow motion, breaking it down into microscopic detail, changing partners, changing the order, fine tuning all of the details of each movement, getting lower, getting deeper, and pushing ourselves past our limits…all in preparation for a 30 minute test. Actually, I’m not sure it even lasted a full 30 minutes. But anyways, here’s 30 minutes to demonstrate 300 hours of training…No pressure, ok? We were forewarned that whatever anxiety we felt during our mock tests would only be a fraction of what we’d feel in the actual test. And so we prepared with as much Kenshusei spirit as we could. Some days I’d get home from training and just want to collapse, but stop short of that in order to ice my knees and back, and to enjoy our ritualistic afternoon coffee and toast. In the mornings I’d curse at my alarm clock, when I’d have to command my creaky knees to get me off my futon on the floor, and limp with sore feet, ankles, and knees into the kitchen for coffee with my fellow soldiers Alex aka “Machine”, and Herve aka “Houdini”. We’d exchange morning greetings in Japanese, mocking both our poor Japanese skills and the polite tone of a female supermarket clerk simultaneously. By the end of these two weeks of rigorous test preparation, my body was a pile of mush, but a pile of mush that would feign strength and preparedness for Tuesday morning’s exam.

“SHOMEN!” We made a perfect line at the front of the dojo, facing the Kamidana (Shrine), awaiting Payet Sensei’s orders to commence the exam, in complete silence. I heard the confident shuffle of his feet on the tatami and the ruffling of his hakama as he approached our line from the rear. He turned to face us, Kitamura aka “Gorilla”, bellowed out “Payet Sensei ni REI!!!” “OSU!!” we all replied in unison as we bowed. The on command, we bolted into our ready positions for instruction. For the first part of the exam, we performed all of the basic movements or “Kihon Dosa”, plus seiza ho, and my all time favorite, “shikoho” or knee walking. As we performed them with careful attention to every detail of our movements, our 3 senseis, donning hakamas and clipboards, paced around the room looking us over like moving sculptures at an art museum. “YAME!”

“MUKAYATE!” We turned to face out partners, and the waza began. We alternated between one another as the waza were called out at random for us to execute. I remember experiencing a strange sensation that my body was actually moving before I could mentally process the command being given. One after the next, like on autopilot, we knocked them out. And then,“KAMAE NORI” (Ready position) was called out. It was over. We were herded out of the Dojo and into the kitchen, while our senseis huddled to make a decision about our performances. 4th Kyu for all of us – the highest rank possible! I was happy, and relieved, as we all were I’m sure. In addition to receiving my new rank, I also took away a lesson. I’ve perhaps never been as prepared for something in my entire life as I was for this test. To feel what it’s like to prepare for something until it seeps into every pore of your body…to the point that you’re no longer working at a cognitive level, but at a primitive neurological level, is something of a unique experience. The idea behind such intense and repetitive training is to work towards integrating a more spontaneous ability to respond to a movement; to develop muscle memory, reflexes, and ultimately, self-control.

Now…how to generalize this to life outside the dojo…hrrrrmmm.




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