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I was rummaging through some boxes in the dojo after our move to a bigger building and came across this old gem. Its my Shodan (first degree black belt) certificate that I received from Toyoda Sensei back in 1993. For those of you who know me, these kinds of things are not a big deal to me. I don't place much value in pieces of paper with fancy writing on it regardless of where it came from or whose signature is on it. The only reason its framed is because it was given (back) to me as a gift from my students several years after starting my first dojo. I have three other certificates that have never seen the light of day still wrapped up awkwardly in the poster tube they're sent in from Hombu Dojo.
Not that I advocate this attitude for anybody else, I mean its typically a big deal when one receives recognition of an achievement like attaining a black belt, I've just never been big on collecting things and find little value in "the thing" and much more value in the act, or memory of the act, as well as the journey I took on my way there.
What struck me, however, when I pulled this dusty relic out of the box it had been sleeping in was how the ink used to write my name, the date, and rank was fading (likely a permanent Sharpie marker, how ironic!) . The once strong and bold black ink was now a pitiful yellowish orange hue and on its way to becoming roughly the same color as the paper it was written on.
I realized as I looked over the certificate (and remembered fondly the day, the test, the smells, sounds, and people who were there that day) that the writing would likely one day be unrecognizable and unreadable. Shit! What would I do once that happened?! How would people know that I had obtained a first degree black belt under the world renowned Shihan Fumio Toyoda? Would my Aikido be null and void once the last of the ink disappears? Is it going to be like the movie Back to The Future where, as Michael J. Fox's family begins to fade from his pictures, he realizes that history itself is being altered?
The answer is a simple no... nothing is going to change when the ink finally disappears from the piece of paper. The ink disappearing, in fact, is a recognition to me that things have already changed... a long time ago. When I saw the disappearing ink I was instantly reminded that the person I was back when I took that first black belt test is long gone. That person, good or bad, is merely a shadow and a memory. I have been training continuously since then and have had many more accomplishments, black belt tests (several of my own and many more of my students), many setbacks and failures, a few regrets (yes, regrets too), and many more experiences that make us who we are on any given day.
To be sure, I'll be sad on the day when I can no longer read my name on that certificate. But it will remind me that I am no longer that person and that its time to go to the dojo and train. Another day, another class, another throw, another challenge, another uke, another goal... just another day. All things fade and that's a good thing...it forces us to renew the commitment or move on to something else. The piece of paper, like an old photograph, is just a reminder of how we were on that one day...way back when.