Is there anything in the world more useful than a fourth dan. More knowledeable, more precise, more, and this is important, more conservative.
Fourth dans are magical. Sometimes they don’t have that actual rank name, depends on the system, but they are a couple years past the place where they know it all and not quite to the place where they convince themselves they don’t.
For a fourth dan there’s enough ego to believe they can, and enough of a feeling that life is a test of what they can, that they work extra hard to meet their own expectations. No mushin here, no “I’ll probably come up with something if someone does something”, just a rock solid memory of the names and numbers, the calling of the kihon, wearing of the dress, the weighing of the weapons. And an eager desire to share.
In short, a fourth dan is the most useful rank there is. Without them the kata would end up renamed, forgotten or jumbled up. Without them sensei couldn’t shift his eyes, looking for what comes next, only to hear the title blurted out or, depending on the crowd, whispered behind a hand.
When sensei starts to go into one of his famous “improvizations” of this or that kata, who is it that wrinkles the forehead and says “but sensei, surely it goes this way…. or am I misremembering it”? Of course they are not, they are diplomatically telling sensei he’s wrong, that he’s making stuff up again and this class needs the real thing. “Oops, no you’re perfectly correct, that is indeed the way it goes”. Of course it is, a fourth dan will not be wrong, you can trust a fourth dan to know the way and the name, the order and the origins. They’ll know the variations too, if you let them, all the sanctioned kaewaza and henkawaza, all the alternate names and who uses them. Oh, that variation was invented by so and so sensei in 1934 and was passed down through so and so to our line!
Sponges, that’s what they are, stuff goes in and never leaks out. They are a special sept within the clan and without them life would be confusing. On a trip, who would carry our bags, make sure we get where we’re going, have the weapons we need? The tickets for the next train?
Who would remember the stories of “what sensei did the time he lost his luggage” or “the time he met the pickpocket and dragged him all over the countryside”?
Bless their decade-old hearts, they are the rock-solid core of the curriculum, the compass, the blue line on the map. Don’t mess with them, making up imaginary kata, telling them of “alternate names” or invented ancestors. You wouldn’t write stupid stuff in the encyclopedia would you?
It’s soon enough the fourth dans will move over the tipping point into self-doubt, searching, and the grey mists of relativity, leaving the solid ground of certainty for the slippery slopes leading down to the sea where everything is the same. Where all you can do is swim, trying to keep your head above water.
Cherish the little beggers, they are the true keepers of the lineage, the safety rope of standardization that runs from us all the way back to the founder of the art. Without them we drift where the winds take us. Who keeps the traditions better than the converted? Who teaches the newbies the way of the world, in the certain understanding that this is the way, just like this, no not like that, like this.
The life ring that keeps sensei afloat and drags him back to shore when he wanders too far out into the lake.
Nov 12, 2017
Nov 17-19 Jodo Grading and Seitei/Koryu Seminar, Shiiya sensei and Kurogo sensei, past and present heads, jodo section ZNKR. Etobicoke, near the airport. http://seidokai.ca/jodo_fallseminar2017.html
And how do you get to be a 4dan? By getting your information from the source, like at the seminar next weekend where you will study with two of the heads of the Japanese Kendo Federation jodo section. I mean, you don’t get any more direct than the guys who say “what it is”. We need another 15 folks signed up for two or three days of amazing stuff to break even, time to step up for your half-year infusion of enthusiasm to take you through the snowy days of winter.