After our last practice at Kita Matsu where the various sensei clustered around each of us and argued in Japanese- I assumed it was about how atrocious our technique was- I was given to Otseka Sensei (the senior member of Esaka dojo under Esaka himself. Two hours later all he could say to me as I bowed profusely in thanks was"Gambate". (Do your best.)
We trudged home on our various train connections, all of us looking a little bleary and worried. The next day we were to meet at 7am to get to Kamata on the 8:11 train.
That night we were awoken by a pretty substantial earthquake. When I finally got back to sleep I had this strange dream that took place in a kennel. The guy running the place said "You probably want to keep your shoes on."
I said "It's too late now."
The dream was vivid. I could feel the mud between my toes. We came to a fenced in area. There was crazy person doing iaido with a steak knife. He was clearly deranged. I kept my distance until one of the orderlies tried to stop him and he started slashing madly. Blood. Fingers. I woke up shaking, my own blood pumping.
I Finally fell asleep again and woke up with a start at 6:55. If I missed the others I would never find the school where we were testing which was 45 minutes and multiple train transfers away.
I grabbed my sword and gi and ran. Luckily I met up with the rest of the “Gang of Gai-jin” at the convenience store on the corner of Namidabashi Chome. We made it to the testing sight, a school gymnasium. Since we are members of Esaka dojo we had to help set up all the chairs and tables.
More than a hundred people were testing. They began to arrive. A hundred people with swords on their shoulders. Mostly men, a few women.
It began. There were speeches. We sang the National Anthem, (me faking it.) Esaka Sensei spoke. We did the written test.(the only thing I was sure about- I can memorize.)
We were given our numbers. I was 213. The 2 denotes I was going for Nidan. The 13 meant I was the thirteenth oldest person testing for that dan. (213 also happens to be the sail number I had for my Helmsman test in Boston!) I was pleased to note there were a few older than I. Including the fellow I had been practicing with at Esaka dojo, an elegant gentleman- his street clothes were of the finest quality- he even wore an ascot- like Esaka Sensei. I later found out he lived in Indonesia
The Shodans tested first, then came my turn. It is very quiet- except the whistle of swords. Each person bows in on the side and then the groups of 5 march out to their prescribed lines and start their wazas. You must begin and end each one behind the line but under no circumstance are you to look at the line.
I started with Zengogiri, of course, and moved thru Mae and (surprise surprise) Yaegaki. Yaegaki seemed so long.
I then did Junto sono ni and began Shihoto sono ni. Somewhere in my mind I realized my group were all finished and I still had the full waza yet to do. So for three minutes or so, I was the only person moving in this room filled with swordsmen. "At least I didn't rush." I told myself.
The other dans tested after that. Some incredible Godans, most of them already Sensei at their own dojos.
Then we wait. The judges deliberate. We are called back in for more bowing and speeches.
The results are announced. Many did not pass. Mostly people going for Yondan and above. They serve us nice little bento boxes which we devour.
The "Gang of Gai Jin" take a couple of trains to Yoyoji Park and drink beer and play frisbee with some other gai-jin English teachers. We head home.
In fact in his closing speech Esaka Sensei gave commendations to all us gai jin for coming all this way and having our technique be so good- I think he was guilt-tripping the Japanese and he apparently singled me out for my "calmness". He gave no commendations to anyone else publicly.
Luke told me that one sensei even leaned over to his wife during my test, pointed to me and said in English "Perfect."
That Sensei later introduced himself to me and asked how long I'd been practicing. When I said "Seven years." he shook his head in disbelief. I'm not sure what that meant but I think it was good.
So I'm now a "recognized beginner."