In a sense, this was the climax, the pinnacle of the Kenshusei course. I think it’s hard as a Kenshusei not to feel something really special about this event….the Shodan test I mean. When we started out (As what now feels like children), this point in the course seemed like a distant, almost unreachable goal. Especially on the days when I felt truly exhausted, frustrated, and hopeless. And there were many days like this for me in Dai Ichi. No joke. It kicked my ass. I never thought I was a tough guy, but I also never thought I was an out-of-shape weakling…but one day of “Hell Week” in the kenshusei course was enough to prove me wrong. As the days, weeks, and months have passed, I’ve become stronger, more resilient, more “tough”. But then, so has the course. I mean, it never ends. As our Senseis, in particular Payet Sensei, points out, we’re pushing our limits, adding onto the layers that we’ve already built up…Dai ichi, Dai Ni, Dai San. So in a sense, I don’t really feel stronger than I was in the beginning of the course. It’s a paradox, a really crazy paradox. Much like so many things about this course and Aikido in general. I am constantly slapped in the face with one paradox after another. I can’t describe it in words, but I guarantee you if you do the course (or have done it) you will know exactly what I mean. Relax, but be strong and heavy. Have a good time, but take care of everyone and everything around you. Work yourself to the bone (Blood, sweat, and injuries required) in training, but enjoy it! Work your ass off for Shodan, but realize immediately that you have just started…AGAIN! Yes, that’s right. The black belt is everything and nothing at the same time. It is a very significant point in the Kenshusei Course. A time to demonstrate everything that we’ve learned in the nearly 1000 hours of training we’ve put in to it…but a time to immediately be humbled and to humble oneself. I’m not saying that I don’t feel proud of myself and of my Kenshusei brothers for having reached this goal…because I do. And I think it’s important to embrace what we’ve accomplished. Where we’ve come from and where we are now. I mean, how many people can say they’ve done something like this? Who has spent over a thousand hours of their lives in ONE YEAR pouring out their blood, sweat, and (Well, sorry I can’t complete the cliche because there really weren’t any tears shed, but the pain, frustration, anger, hopelessness, fear, etc etc were there – in mass doses) for something like this?? I talk about it now, trying to express the feelings I have for having come so far. But the truth is that I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. And I don’t mean that just for my Aikido, I mean it also for myself. For Aikido is really just a projection of our lives in general. It really is. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the course, in my hours, days, weeks, and months of training, its that. All of my challenges, frustrations, weaknesses, and obstacles during the training are nothing more than microcosms of my life in general. I believe that if one were able to truly express everything about what they do in Aikido, they would essentially be talking about what their life is about. And if one chooses to apply this (whether through Aikido or not – and I say or not because I don’t think it’s the only way) to their life, it can be a path to happiness. Payet Sensei said in the “Aikido is Life” video “Finally Aikido is a way to be happy, to be happier in your life”. It’s a phrase from a very wise man that drew me into Mugenjuku like a magnet 9 months ago. It sent shivers of joy down my spine and brought tears to my eyes. And it still has that effect on me today…black belt or not.