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On the week after my aikido belt changed from yellow-stripe to blue stripe, I tried on my new one before class started. Freshly freed from the flimsy paper bands that tied it, the belt uncoiled, stiff as cardboard, still bearing the crease marks of its packaging.
My two Sensei came over to comment. "Now you can recycle the old belt," one said to the other.
A look of protest crossed my face before my other Sensei responded, "They usually want to keep them, though. Daisy, you want to keep your old belt?"
"Yes, Sensei," I responded enthusiastically. "Please."
My first Sensei smiled good-naturedly as she walked away. "I don't know why you'd want them to pile up for."
I wanted to say, "But, Sensei--it means something to me." Where I used to practice aikido at SJSU, we didn't rank. I took those fitness classes over and over, long after my Human Performance units had been fulfilled, impossibly drawn to the art. My belt stayed white for the two-and-a-half years I first trained in aikido.
There are mixed feelings about rank in the aikido community. Some feel it goes against the non-competitive nature of this martial art; others think it's a good way to measure self progress, or for instructors and senior students to gauge skill level when working with a new student. I came in neutral to these arguments, simply accepting that different dojos do things in different ways, and as long as I still had fun and fueled my passion to train, it really didn't matter.
As the other students filtered in, putting on their gi and adjusting their garments in preparation for training, I wrapped the stiff new blue-striped belt around my abdomen, looping it neatly around itself and tying the double knot from years of muscle memory. I looked back on the white days. I looked forward to the days of solid blue and brown and black. I thought about how my basic movements had refined over time, wondered about the techniques and kata I have yet to learn. Lining up in seiza, the obi tight around my center to push my posture straight, I thought about my newly-earned color, and how I'd train going forward to deserve it.