Thursday, November 21, 2013

The power of community

 This past weekend we had a promotion. One of the many things I realized about our school is our sense of community. Every rank that advanced demonstrated a strong spirit, perseverance, determination and courage. We had some moments of levity especially with the children, because children will give some of the most creative answers. The promotion took place over two days. Initially we did them all in one day  and ended up with very tired children and wilted parents. Going through the requirements for several ranks in one day makes for one long day a very tired students. We decided to separate the ranks and test them individually. Also the children and adults test on two different days. It makes for two very long days for the seniors but they support the test because of their commitment to the school and the students. 

The pictures you see in this post were taken by two seniors I would like to acknowledge ( Senpai Elena and Senpai Joshua). Thank you for your great photos! (Scroll to bottom to see pictures)
This is only a few out of 400 pictures that were taken over two days. I tried to show the overall spirit of unity we have in the pictures. Picking the ones to showcase was difficult because every picture showed something amazing. Some of the things the pictures do not show are the fortitude the students demonstrated when the test became difficult. One of our seniors-Senpai Mark make a comment which stayed with me. "Each rank is raising the bar- this is amazing!"   
 It was true, each rank kept amazing us. With their command of technique and precision. It was inspiring to see the progression skill. We started the morning with white belts and worked our way through the day until evening with the advanced yellow belts. In each group we could see the techniques get sharper. One of the things that came through the most was the intent behind the techniques. In the white belts we could see the idea start taking hold.

 By the time we were looking at advanced yellow belts there was no doubt in our minds that they had internalized the concept of intent behind the technique. 

 I want to express a heartfelt thanks to the Seniors who helped make this promotion the extraordinary event it was. Senpai Mark who made sure the intensity was ever present. Senpai Elena who made sure the precision was not forgotten.
Senpai Orlando who gave the students a sense of security and comfort.
Senpai Joshua who gave the students a map to follow during their kata making sure no one got lost.

 I also want to thank all of the parents who stand together with us in their children's lives as partners for their martial path.  
Thank you for taking the time out of your incredibly hectic schedules to make time to bring your child to class. I know that there may times its not easy, or convenient and yet you manage to make it. That is our community in action.

 The inception of most the groups started with tears. Even before they were on the floor, there was nervousness about knowing material and fear of the unknown. I had several conversations with members of each group and the recurring theme was the fear of the unknown. After a few moments and they had calmed down they would enter the dojo and they each excelled. 

To highlight the feeling of community one little boy said something very moving. He told me he didn't want to take promotion because he didn't want to ruin it for his group and give them extra push-ups. I assured him that there was no way his group would avoid push-ups. More importantly I stressed to him that the only thing that was expected from him or anyone testing that day was that they did their best. He put on his uniform and entered the dojo after that.

 That is what I always expect from the students. We set the bar high, they met and surpassed the bar. Each group moving it higher for the next.

 The other facet of promotion that they only experience on the day of is the breaking aspect-tameshiwari. We only do it during the promotion. For many of the parents it may seem like this is an easy task, break a quarter inch piece of wood with your hand or foot. For the students testing it may as well be a cinder block. Its not easy and they demonstrate an incredible amount of mental fortitude that leaves us speechless. 

There is a deep sense of accomplishment when they do manage to break that is palpable right after the break and they get their pieces of wood. The ones that don't manage to break their wood get to take it home. I always enjoy hearing the stories at the next class of how they went home and broke their boards. Most of the time they come back to the dojo holding their pieces of wood as evidence.

 Board breaking in itself is not indicative of great physical prowess. Although its not easy, by any stretch of the imagination. What it does is show them how much power they have in a visceral way. It shows them that they are getting stronger, not only physically but more importantly mentally. If you have any doubt as to the difficulty get yourself a few one inch pine boards and punch through them. It requires a certain kind of mindset to accomplish. 

The last group (advanced yellow) had one added dimension to their promotion. They had to spar. If the promotion is stressful fro the other ranks imagine that stress being ramped up ten times as much with the introduction of kumite or sparring. To say they did well would not do them justice. They fought exceptionally well. One young man had recently suffered a broken arm. We were taking precautions so he not re-injure the arm and in one exchange he fell on the arm that was recuperating. The fact that he came back in to finish even in the midst of fear and pain that he may hurt himself again is a testament to his strength of character. They fought  until they thought  they couldn't  stand  any longer and then they fought some more. When I tied their belts around their waists each one was beaming with a sense of having achieved something larger than themselves.

 The next day we had the adults and Senpai Mark prefaced the promotion by letting them know that the bar had been set by the children the previous day. It was a grueling and intensely physical promotion. They were tested beyond what they thought was possible. They withstood heat and exhaustion. The mental and physical fatigue was a constant throughout their test. Those that fought had to dig deep to find another reserve of strength after a four hours of testing. They found their reserves and surpassed any and all expectations.  You were all incredible.
I am humbled and honored to know you and to walk with you on this martial path.
strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando

Adults One dojo family
Adults new ranks (foggy lens!)

Blue/Adv Blue getting ready
Blue/Adv Blue push-ups

Adv Blue Kata

Blue belt seiza

Blue belt seiza

8am before we begin

White belt kata

White belt Tameshiwari

New Blue Belts!

New Adv Blue/ Yellow belts!!

Yellow belts ready

Yellow belt kata

Yellow belt tameshiwari

Yellow belt Tameshiwari

Yellow belt tameshiwari

New Adv Yellow belts!!

Adv Yellow kata

Adv Yellow Tameshiwari

New Green Belts!!

Adults ready!( Notice the smiles)


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