|Train 'em young!|
I am not the head of our group in DNBK. That's my long time friend in, Bill Sensei. Our group was going to have eight of us and we prepared our demo. I wasn't able to make many of the practices, but I knew what we were going to do and it was no problem filling my spot. One of our team was also certifying for the rank of Ni dan (second degree black belt).
The unusally nasty weather this winter altered our guy's mid-term schedule in college so he was unable to make the event. Bill Sensei was going to find out how we would procede with that once we got to the event. That was the first problem.
The second problem came on Friday evening when we found out Bill Sensei was on the way to hospital with bad abdominal pains. It became evident that we were now down to six and our head man was not one of them. I then looked at his daughter (one of the remaining six) and declared her to be in charge. She declared me to be in charge. After a grueling bettle of rock-paper-scissors it was determined that I was in charge. (I was going to be in charge anyways, but it was fun to pick on her.)
Saturday was just a meet and greet bit with a viewing of footage from an event in England and dinner. Upon arrival, I ran into Zingg Sensei who I hadn't seen in six or seven years. We adjourned to a room to wait and traded some stories, and caught up. Then came time to watch the footage. We got a speech from Hanshi Hamada. So far, so good.
Then it was time to eat and the team leaders were to have dinner with Hanshi. Well, that was when I had to break the news that Bill was sick and I was standing in for him and Anthony. Seemed like it wasn't that big of a deal, and they sent me on into the dinner with the rest of the leadership. I spent the time trading stories with folks and trying to be as pleasant as possible. I was feeling like the little kid suddenly being put at the adult table. Still, it seemed to go alright.
On Sunday, that was when things were going to get physical. These events are big on protocol and ceremony. They are also very loud and spirited. We warm up by rushing across the gym at each other screaming like maniacs and hoping not to crash headlong into someone. Its actually a lot of fun. Then came our demonstration. Every team did one. It then became obvious that Hanshi was aware of Bill's absense was was aware that I was replacing him for the day. The demo went fine, but I think we were expected to make it a bit longer. We're used to having tight time constraints and being as quick and to the point as possible. We'll plan for that next time.
The rest to demos were really fun to watch and after a brief break, mats were rolled out for the Aikido and Jui-Jitsu demonstrations. After those were over, names started to get called.
I mentioned before that Anthony was supposed to be going for Nidan and couldn't make it. I said I would stand in for him. His father was with our team, but is recovering from shoulder surgury, so he's a bit limited. Now, when I certified I got freaking destroyed. River of sweat, and a couple of blank spots in my memory. Last time we had guys from our group get certified, the demonstration we did was the test and it was no problem. I figured since we were in the first crop of our guys to get certified that we really need to prove ourselves and now it wouldn't be so bad.
And then my name got called out to head out on the mat.
I then felt a burning desire to kill Anthony for not being there.
I yelled "HAI!" and hauled ass out to where I was directed. A black belt with a rubber kife was placed in front of me. We both knelt to formal seize sitting position. Hanshi explained what we were going to do and managed to mention "seppuku" which would be the moment a sane person would have jumped up and fled. However, I wasn't there to be sane. I was there to stand in for those who could not be there. The exercise commenced. The guy lunged at me with both of us kneeling with the knife. This happened twice, for the warm up. Then they put him behind me to lunge at me from behind whenever he wanted to. I had to defend. I'm pretty sure I got killed about a doxen time. I may have survived twice. Maybe. I don't have an excuse. I could hear him breathing behind me, and had a split second warning of when he was coming. It wasn't enough, so obviously I need to train harder.
Eventually (after dying repeatedly), Hanshi walked by and tapped me on the shoulder and told me "Its over." and I'm think, "Yeah, it sure is." This is called "receiving the knowledge". Then I got a rubber knife, along with everyone else who had spent the last few minutes getting stabbed horribly, and we all found partners to share the lasson with. I found a fairly big guy, we knelt, and I attacked him repeatedly, but from the front. He did great, but did slip and slug me a couple times. His eyes would get big, but before he could apologize, I'd smile and nod, and tell him good job. He did pull the punches, so no harm done. I did get him with the knife once and he paused. I told him "Even if I stab you, strike. Karatemen die fighting." He smiled. He liked that. We were both really enjoying ourselves now.
That being over, we got back to our groups. Zingg asked me "How many times did you die?"
"Think I survived two of them. Three if there's a hospital close by."
So we're back in our lines by groups. I'm in front of our line. People are getting called out for individual achievements and my name is called. This I expect. I run out and take my place. I go down on one knee and take a good long look at the floor. This is familiar territory. This where he awards ranks. Hanshi will tap you with his sword, shinai, or bokken and you get your rank. He gets to me. Now, I'm expecting him to call my name, say I'm representing for Anthony, and give me the tap for Ni Dan. Nope.
"Marty Nozzarella, RENSHI!"
Renshi is a samurai title. Its at this point that I want to raise my head and tell him there's been some sort of mistake, but he's got a stick in his hand, having your head come up can be very dangerous. This is a huge honor! How can they not know that I'm a knuckle-dragging moron?! Has there been a clerical error somewhere?
It really did take a while for me to process this whole thing. I was not persuing getting a title. I was caught completely flatfooted. My cousin, who is a Kyoshi (next level up from Renshi), says its something I deserve. I called my father, and he said it was something I deserve. I don't see it myself, but I've always viewed myself as labor and not management. Dad did say its better to asked to the big table than to sit at the big table and be asked to leave.
To my knowledge, no one put me up to be given the title. The word "samurai" means "one who serves". As mear as I can figure it was my willingness to stand in for Bill and Anthony at the last minute and be of service to them and our team that got me the title.
I think I'm still processing this a bit.
I think the best processing is going to be more training.