Many, most, probably even all dōjō, use some kind of ranking system. The Ittō Tenshin-ryū and Yamate-ryū certainly do. Don’t worry. I’m not going to deliver a long history lesson on the particularities of our art. This is rather more of a congratulatory essay. Or, more honestly, an essay using an occasion where congratulations are warranted to provide information that potential martial arts students might find of great use. I found it of great use. I’m just passing it along…
John Butz of Itten Dōjō located in Mechanicsburg Pennsylvania recently received a promotion to chūkyu. Chūkyu can be roughly thought of as halfway to what roughly equates to a black belt in Ittō Tenshin-ryū Kenjutsu, a Japanese martial art primarily focused on the use of a long sword. He did what his sensei has been asking of him, so he got promoted. Promotions are expected, and to be honest we’re never amazed when another of our students does what the curriculum of the art is designed to do. We’re not surprised because the teaching curriculum is meant to be approachable, which it is. And in all the dōjō across the country in our art there are always members of the dōjō who’s nearly entire job at that time is to help usher you along your path onward and upward.
So the promotion itself isn’t surprising. The interesting thing to note is that Mr. Butz has a Sandan in the Yamate-ryū. Sandan is a 3rd level black belt. John’s been training for a while now. Sandan promotions don’t fall out of the sky. They only grow out of sustained years of long hard work. Despite this he’s been able to set aside ideas about the rather deep lessons he’s learned on his journey in the Yamate-ryū and be a beginner in the Ittō Tenshin-ryū. A real, honest to goodness, beginner. And what’s more he’s joyfully and happily done so. His ability to do this is what’s allowed him to make progress. Without being able to “wipe the slate clean” when he shows up to sword class he’d never have made the grade.
Really this “beginner’s” mindset is one of those rare things in life that doesn’t come with any disadvantages. Here’s one of the major advantages to this mindset on your way to black belt: The system will take you where you need to go, and you’ll let it. Look, it’s not magic, but it seems that way. Generations of people have put effort into the Ittō Tenshin-ryū, and those generations of effort were essentially a way to accumulate and transfer knowledge. A lot of this knowledge was often the result of painful error. The system combines this knowledge and then creates, tests, and updates the curriculum. You getting out of the way, by giving in to the system, allows this combined knowledge to, unimpeded, have an effect on you.
A piece of 2” wide black cloth tied around someone’s waist certainly doesn’t change a person… but the work on the way to that milestone certainly does. And the work most effectively does its job when you’re not an impediment to it doing so. This is as applicable to advanced training as it is to your first day. In fact it might even be more applicable the longer you train.
Good job, Mr. Butz!