Up the Ladder – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

Everyone wants to improve, it’s a natural human inclination to want to rise lot in the world. I think that’s why kids like grading in the martial arts, they like to get that next level because it means they’re learning stuff. (Funny they don’t usually get that same enthusiasm for tests in school… )

Improvement is good, mileposts are nice reminders of that improvement and maybe even incentive to work a bit harder but we should always remind ourselves that counting mileposts as they pass is not usually the reason for a trip. Whether out on a Sunday drive to enjoy the ride or trying to get to a destination, getting your attention caught by the roadsigns is counterproductive.

Think of ranks as rungs on a ladder. You go up a ladder for a reason, to fix a roof maybe or to get to a better view. In gyms full of silly exercise equipment I have in fact, seen endless ladders that are there “just for the journey” but ignore those for the moment, I want to talk about old wooden ladders with round rungs, the kind you never see any more.

Got one in mind? Now think about taking a hammer and knocking out all the rungs above the one you’re standing on. Are you now on the top rung? Sure you are. Badmouth and tear down in your mind all the folks who rank above you in your martial art. Good, they are all worthless now. Does that mean you’re top dog? Sure you are, there’s nobody above you and if you figure that being the top rank is a good thing, you’ve accomplished a worthy goal.

Is the point of rank to be on top? Maybe. Is a ladder with three rungs a useful ladder? Perhaps if all we want to do is paint the kitchen ceiling it is. Lord help us if the roof starts leaking, we can patch the ceiling all we want, it won’t stop the leak. Some things just have to be done from the top down and for that we need ten or fifteen rungs and a lot of work to climb them. Once we get up there we aren’t done yet, we have to hump all the shingles up there too, then place them correctly so that everyone below is nice and dry. Being on the top rung of the ladder just means you’re working out in the weather trying to keep it all from falling down due to the leaks.

You know, Musashi said a ryu was a house, as in being the same structure as a clan, and then he compared a ryu to the physical house, with the members of the ryu being carpenters working on the house. A ladder to the roof is not the house, just a way to build the house, and rank is not the ryu, just the way to keep track of who’s working on what job. You up a few rungs working on the drywall? That’s good, and it’s a comfortable job because someone went all the way up to build and shingle the roof. Your job is important but you couldn’t do it unless someone had gone before and got onto that top rung. Maybe you figure it’s a crappy job, maybe the walls are out of square, maybe the roof is ugly. Is that any reason to rip holes in it and chop the walls down to half height? Leave them alone and do a good job on your own. If the walls will support the roof shim them out and make them square with your drywall. If the roof shingles are a bit crooked but keep the rain out don’t worry about it. Very few people get all the way up that ladder to see it anyway.

Still think the roof is crappy? Don’t knock out all those upper rungs (so you can’t see the crooked lines of shingles), instead be content in the knowledge that all roofs need to be reshingled eventually and when you finally get up to the top of those rungs you can do a much better job than was done before.

Unless of course you figure being on the top rung is the point, and you have a hammer in your hand.

Kim Taylor
Oct 7, 2014


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