Godan – My Test for 5th dan


December 29, 2011
Yossi Sheriff

By Yossi Sheriff

In the early 90s, Masaaki Hatsumi arrived to Israel for the second time. Masaaki Hatsumi, the teacher of my teacher Doron Navon, arrived with the Japanese shihans.

It was a great Ninjutsu seminar; but I missed it. I got sick a day before the seminar. My fever was so high that most of the time I was hallucinating, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t watch TV,  just lied in bed for a few days and looked out of the window.

At the last day of the seminar all the veterans met for late dinner. Moshe Kastiel called me on the phone: “Sheriff, we are having dinner for the sensei before he flies back to Japan, maybe you can come over?”.

“Forget it Kastiel,” I told him, “I’m terribly sick, I can’t sit through dinner and chat in Japanese”.

“Sheriff, stop bickering. Tonight at seven we’ll be in restaurant ‘Turquoise’ in old Jaffa. Don’t miss sensei, be there.”

Moshe was right – I was there. My spouse helped me get my clothes on, put on a formal jacket and a tie and then she drove me to Jaffa. I sat in the restaurant next to her, still feverish. Everybody ate fish and shish kabab. Me, I was slowly sipping mint tea and wiping the sweat off my face.

Throughout the dinner the sensei made jokes and had drinks with everybody. All of a sudden he looked at me, pointed and said: “Godan!”
I didn’t get it.
The Japanese and all the Israeli instructors were there so I thought he’s pointing at someone next to me. Doron said: “You’ll do Godan now”.

“Godan” in Japanese means “5th Dan”, a test that’s also called “Sakki” – testing the killer intention. Sensei is standing behind the person who’s taking the test, raising a sword made of bamboo called “Shinai”, closing his eyes and striking down with it. The person taking the test is supposed to dodge it.
I told Doron I can’t do it, I’m sick, next time. Doron heard me and said: “Your Godan is tonight”.

Everybody paid the bill, put on their jackets and coats and started walking to the ruined houses, between the restaurant and the Arab neighbourhood.
There was a piece of bare ground there, next to some broken-down walls, and the rising moon lit it beautifully.

I gave my spouse my jacket, loosened the tie and set in Seiza.

There was a small problem, the sensei’s Shinai was already packed in the van that should have taken them to the airport, so Uri T- a student of Doron’s, ran to a pine tree, near one of the houses, clung to a big branch and broke it from the trunk. Then he cleaned it off all the small branches and gave it to Hatsumi sensei.

There was another problem- the neighborhood was near-by and we were a big group of Japanese and Israelis – a strange sight. I kept sitting and the Shihans, my spouse and the Israeli instructors formed a circle around me so no one could see through. Hatsumi sensei burst out laughing seeing the huge branch Uri handed him. He gave the branch to Doron and walked behind me while talking and laughing with Doron. I already closed my eyes, sitting down, and thought that I should have opened the top button in my collar. I was sitting on the sand in seiza.

For years I’ve trained for this test. Even though Doron said there is no way to prepare for it. I’ve always tried to sharpen the senses in order to hear or feel the strike and the intent behind it. That’s what I did that night, sitting in old Jaffa. I sat with my senses sharp – preparing for everything. At some point I felt something and jumped to the side, on the ground – when I turned around I saw that nothing happened yet the test did not start – Doron and Hatsumi stood far from me, looking at me silently.

I jumped because I thought I felt them. Then it got very quiet. I sat in Seiza and the sensei, behind me said: “Leave everything”.

I don’t know what happened to me – suddenly, after many years, after many fists fights and one real war, I stopped being prepared – I suddenly found myself to the side on the ground and everybody clapping.

While I’m writing this I’m thinking about what Dan, one of Akban’s veterans, said to me. A good summery for every method and practice.

He said: “If you’ll prepare for everything, you’ll be ready for nothing- so prepare for nothing”.

The next morning I woke up healthy.