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18 years ago I began the study of Aikido and throughout that time I've studied pretty poorly overall. When I'm training, I try to be as present as possible, and to apply myself as wholly as possible. But as others have written about more eloquently than I feel I can do, it is easy to find excuses, or to get caught up in other things. I get that there is a balance to be had and that each person must decide for his or herself where the lines should be drawn. As for myself, I've not applied myself as well as I would have liked, in retrospect. However, the nice thing about the "20/20" vision of hindsight is that we can apply it toward the future, and in a nutshell, that's what training is to begin with: to do things and pay attention so that when we do more things we might do them better. And perhaps, as members of whatever communities we are connected to, we can help others in some way, too.
Last week I was fortunate enough to be promoted to shodan, and I've been fascinated by my feelings over it. I've gone from nervous and feeling completely unprepared, to feeling frustrated that I have wasted so much time, to feeling grateful I passed. I went from feeling like it wasn't really anything more than recognition of time spent, to feeling proud and amused that I get to call myself a "black belt." Now I feel determined to make it count as much as possible, and to make it signal a turning point, one more in a long line of life events, which I hope will add weight and levity to my actions on the mat and off.
I am of course extremely grateful to my teacher and my sempai and kohai (many of whom have become de facto sempai), and I am also grateful to the many highly experienced voices I've been fortunate enough to learn from here. Thank you for your kindness and dedication. We don't have to agree on anything; only to do our best and care for each other as well as ourselves. So cut yourself some slack and tighten things down; enjoy the sublime and endure difficulty; gambarimashou.
Matthew J Gano