The 8th dan examination has for many years been heralded as one of the most difficult examinations in Japan, not just compared with other budo grading tests, but more difficult even than the Tokyo Bar Exam. Candidates therefore need to possess exemplary kendo and be supremely self-confident. Either that, or be totally deluded about the level of their own ability.
Many professional police and university teachers try tens of times before they make the grade. Most amateur kendoka never fulfil their ambition, yet they try their luck year after year. I excitedly wrote about the success of my friend and sempai Hayashi Kozo sensei who passed this year’s spring grading. Whilst I know several of the non-professional kenshi who have achieved hachidan, he is the only one whose kendo career path has entwined with my own over a long period of time, hence my delight in his success. However people like him who have reached that level whilst holding down a full time job outside kendo are very much in the minority.
The now well-known NHK Video, from which I have taken the title of this article showed the progress of two candidates; one a police professional and former All Japan Champion and an older amateur kendoka, in the time leading up to and during the examination. Ishida sensei, a teacher at Osaka Fukei police dojo passed, the amateur, Miyamoto sensei failed, and to the best of my knowledge continued to so over many years successive examinations. This documentary did a lot to promote an understanding of the true value of 8th dan in kendo, particularly when compared to other martial arts where the higher dan grades are “awarded” for contribution to the governing body.
This year amongst the short list of passes was the name of a 74 year old sensei from Osaka. This is truly impressive. In most years the younger candidates tend to have the most success, so for someone to demonstrate the necessary fortitude and physical ability in his mid-seventies is a lesson to us all.
For most of us average journeymen 7th dans, the big question is “why bother?” Perhaps I have already given the answer with my suggestion of delusion; however in two years’ time I will be eligible to take the exam and subject to health and air fare will probably try. Not because I have even the faintest hope of succeeding, but for the pure pleasure of taking part in one of kendo’s greatest events.