In the weeks before my shodan grading, YS had worn me down to a nub. Of course, I knew what was happening; I've been taught by the best before.
In Columbia J-School, certain "old school" professors are famous for their breaking of the toughest students, and we won't go into that, but it is a rite of passage in that school in Columbia anyway. I do remember a hot tear finally breaking out about 11 weeks in and four nights of no sleep, having my ?th rewrite scrunched up and thrown at me with the comment "this is shit, do it again..!"
And you know when you are being toyed with when you are built up and knocked down (both psychologically and physically) and just when you think you are through, being pushed to a state of being a humiliated blob.
First it was oi-zuki, then it was Bassai-Dai, then it was mae-geri, then it was shuto, then it was mawashi-geri, then it was every single bit of Bassai dai (writing up YS teaching me of points to improve on Bassai Dai, one night I counted 43 points, which is how many more than there are actual moves in the kata), then it was parts within each move...as I would learn one thing, another would drop out.
Gradually, week after week I would be out there in front of the black belts, feeling like a useless lump of putty, the spotlight on me, having each part spotlighted and told to do it again, and again.
About a month before my grading, the nightmares started....just before dawn a huge gray death mask YS face would appear in the ShotoKan dojo staring at me out of the black, and a huge booming voice would start the mantra....DAME! MO IKKAI....DAME!!! MO IKKAI.....DAME!!! MO IKKAI
DAME! MO IKKAI!!!
MO IKKAI....MO IKKAI...! DAME!!
I would dream that I would be dripping with sweat and hoping it was just a nightmare, and wake up bolt upright in the futon covered in a sheen of sweat realizing that the nightmare in the dojo was haunting me at home....
As the weeks drew nearer I started to secretly hope that I would get knocked off my bike and miss the grading, or get struck down with some serious but not too painful disease that would mean I'd miss the grading...
....I'd turn up in the dojo and just after kihon finished, those words I had been praying would never come came, as they always did...."Paul san, to the front...."....
....and 20 minutes later...."What are you doing?" or some other put down.
I think it was one day practicing a part of Bassai Dai for something like the 15th or 20th time in the 15th or 20th time I'd had to do the kata in front of everyone, something snapped. Or rather, it sagged. I just remember wilting to the floor, melting into my own puddle of sweat. And that was it...I won't forget the comment..."Ah Paul san, you know what...your karate, it make me laugh...." as he lightly stepped over me and got on with teaching the others.
A few minutes later I was sitting there in seiza at the end of the line thinking, "that's it...I've had enough...I'll never make it...."
Already in my own mind I was beginning the rationalization of giving up. I'd been knocked out twice, had my nose broken twice, and my ribs cracked and bandaged what, three times over the last year....the physical pain I could take, but the mental pain of all this? Time to go. Knock it on the head. Put it down to experience. I guess getting black belt was just going to be too hard.
But there was no escape; after the bow, YS told everyone not to move and asked me, "Paul san, how do you feel?"
I couldn't help it, of course...I said: "I feel totally humiliated and useless. I am sorry."
At this point YS looked at everyone carefully and said, "Paul does not understand. He feels like this because of his vanity and his pride. He cares about what other people think about his Karate, and this is a burden on his learning."
And then he looked at me and said, "Paul, you must understand that your thinking is wrong. You only feel embarrassed because you care too much about your image. This is wrong. You should not feel embarrassed at all. You have made great progress and you should be very proud that as a man you try your best and that you improve. These are the most important elements."
The next day he ordered me early to the dojo...it was my special responsibility to go hard on Oshima, the Japanese industrialist who donated the KWF Shotokan for us. I tell you that if you are an ordinary guy like me, there is something of a treat involved by asked to mark up one of Japan's most powerful men, and that's a different story in itself!
Anyway, after all that YS was his usual polite and charming self and bought me a huge lunch.
We were there in the Deux Magot in Bunkamura with Ohtsuka Sensei, and he said..."Paul san, tomorrow is your grading. You'd better relax." So he turned round to the waiter and said with a huge grin, "Three beers for him, just line them up!"
Next day, I was "officially" a black belt.