a Nidan, as hot as a French fry stand

by Dylan Vellut

Never would a grade change have been so significant: Shodan since 2019, it will have taken 2 years and 6 months of covid before having the first opportunity to pass the Nidan. I took my pain in patience, so much time devoted to my mastery of the naginata.

The fateful day is approaching, my girlfriend Virginie and I have prepared everything 6 weeks in advance: I took the nearest hotel and she took care of the trip: 40€ round trip Brussels, Brussels South station to Paris-Bercy, the day of my 29th birthday. A nervous day started as soon as we woke up, like any departure for a long trip. We arrived a little bit early at the South station, where we were warned that our bus was postponed to 4:10 pm instead of the agreed 3:30 pm… without any e-mail or sms beforehand? My distrust grew with my impatience. The bus was still not in sight. At 5pm a driver showed up with a booklet in his hand. We showed him our tickets, but he sent the 30 or so angry commuters back to the sidewalk and a helpline that was just as helpless as he was.

I grabbed the 3 suitcases; mine, my girlfriend’s and my bogu’s. With a determined step I went to the trainstation to pick up my suitcase. With a decided step I approached the ticket office of the station, asking him for the first train ticket to Paris, 125€ for a last minute trip, the departure of 5pm and 6pm full, remaining 7pm whose arrival time will be much too late for us to reach the hotel in time. I decide to go back home, take the car and cross the north of France with only a CD of a comedy rock band and the charades of my half. It is with the will and determination of the greatest conquerors that I crossed the plains of Wallonia and Haut-de-France to defend my level and glorify my dojo.

The next day, after a short and deserved sleep, we listened to the teachings of our Senseis David, Alain Guillaume and Cécile Hamot under a scorching heat. The sun rays fell on the dome of the gym like heat waves against a sheet metal reef. Not a single breeze to dry our sweaty foreheads. The 1st kyu have refined their mastery, the shodan have learned to understand their kohais according to their level, their defects and their expectations and needs. This is a very special moment. Soon 7 years of learning to master the art I love so much… and here I am on the one hand observing and diagnosing the needs of others, and on the other hand reflecting on my know-how and skills as a Senpai and Motodashi. It is a moment that is a bit disturbing, as if we were looking at ourselves between two parallel mirrors. We shortened this day, which was already a physical and mental challenge for all the practitioners, in order to have the most optimal conditions to take the written exam.

The night was painful, the heat was suffocating us all night long. Three times I had to take a cold shower to cool down. Even though the morning thunderstorm had lowered the temperature, we were still sweating profusely. No one was in good shape during this practice test. Our minds were clouded by the heavy atmosphere, to the point of showing some negligible clumsiness, but it was with merit and pride that we all came out of the course with one more rank. We ended our meeting with a collective ji geiko, facing Alain and David. Cécile’s advice is precious and I will remember it for the next events: when a Sensei puts on his armor, let’s take the time to measure ourselves against him. In competition, the only chance to meet him would be to climb to his level.