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The Way to Japan


Most of us cast ourselves as heroes in our life stories. To achieve this exalted status usually requires us to ignore some inconvenient truths and put a spin on others.

I usually present my decision to test for my 6th degree black belt in Japan like this: Sakamoto-Sensei had just finished an embukai (demonstration) where he displayed his mastery of technique. Following this, he gave two of his shihan in Japan long-overdue promotions to sixth dan. Then he e-mailed me and asked if I wanted to make a request for "special promotion."

Following the examination in October, 2007, we took a road trip to see the bridges of Amakusa. From right: Jun Suzuki, the writer, Ken Sakamoto, Kazutaka Okashita and Peter Zehr.

But I didn’t want to be “given” my belt. Instead I insisted that I should do a physical test to prove my worthiness.

It makes for a good story but the truth is more mundane.

I would have gladly accepted my promotion if it had been clearly offered to me. I had been doing karate a long time and felt I deserved it. Other people were getting high ranks; why couldn’t I have one, too?

I was puzzled by the instruction that I should make a request for special promotion. I didn’t understand what Sakamoto-Sensei wanted. If he thought I was deserving, why didn't he just give me the belt? Did I need to beg?

My irritation turned to anger and I sent an e-mail saying that I rejected the idea of asking for promotion.  I requested permission to go to Kumamoto for a physical test, to demonstrate my technique. Sakamoto-Sensei called my bluff and a date was set for a year later, in October 2007.

Pride goeth before the fall trip.



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