A New Bujinkan 初段 Shodan in my Dojo

Richard chats with Peter Crocoll
I went to Arizona last weekend for training. This was more than just a normal training trip. One of my long-time students, Richard, was going for his initiation to shodan.

In many dojos, a Bujinkan 初段 shodan  is not really treated as such a big deal. In most of the Bujinkan it requires at least a few years of study and a proficiency with the basics. But in my dojo and my teacher's dojo, we see it as an important event in a student's journey. So we approach this threshold with certain key ideas.
Peter Uses a Ninja-to on Richard
To begin with, skill and technical ability are important. Richard had to demonstrate this, but by the time I put any student up for shodan, I already know very well what he is capable of. So we only look at technique to make sure the student knows for himself what he is AND is not capable of.

The next part has to do with the personal journey. How or why did you start? Why do you keep going? For most of us, these reasons change as we grow in the art. Richard's path to his shodan was not straight or direct, but it was natural like life.
Peter Disarms Richard
Then there is the connection to our history. The student should be able to trace a direct line from his own training back through his teachers to Hatsumi Sensei and the history of the art in Japan. The more direct this connection the better. Lucky for Richard, he was surrounded by many people who have trained with Hatsumi Sensei in Japan directly and some who have been doing so for decades.

The importance of 忍 nin in our study cannot be overestimated. We often think of nin as perseverance. And it is.
Peter Cuts Richard Down
But some deeper meanings arise as you advance in training. The character for nin has the sword over the heart. This has been suggested to mean that even under the threat of the sword, the heart will persevere.

You may also find your heart reflected in the polish of the sword. It might be a way to hold your own blade or you may find it reflected in your enemy's weapon. But your heart can be made clear by the polishing done in the dojo.
Richard relaxed and happy before the storm
When you have completely polished the mirror (your heart) it is absolutely clear of dirt or imperfections. So then perseverance is easy, because there is nothing there. You reflect your enemies back to themselves. You embody nothingness and you are not a target. There is nothing to attack or defend and endurance is a matter of sutemi.

This idea takes us well beyond shodan. But this weekend all of us who were there to help Richard were there to be nothing but a mirror for him. Our job was to remove our agendas or egos from the process so that he would only find himself reflected back.
Michael Glenn and Richard with his new shodan
Congratulations Richard! Thank you for training with me all these years.


Gregory Alan Rutchik

What an incredible accomplishment for both of you. You being a great teacher and Richard for his nin, his perseverance (and those steel toed tabis). Omedetou Gozaimasu.

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