Thursday, April 5, 2012


March 17th marked the official end of the 2011/2012 Budo Specialization Course at the International Budo University. This day coincided with the University’s regular graduation ceremony, in which the bekkasei (us scholarship students) were also recognized.

Three weeks prior to graduation, I received a summons from the university’s international office. I have to admit that I was a little nervous. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact the Japanese so frequently sound darkly grim over the phone or perhaps it is a result of my fear that all persons in authority can read my mind. As it turned out, however, the summons was simply to inform me that I had been selected by Kashiwazaki Sensei as the Bekkasei 代表 [daihyou] or representative. This meant that I would be the one student who, at graduation, walked forward to symbolically accept the diplomas for our entire group. This is actually a very clever way of speeding up what could be a very long and tedious process. One member is selected from each of the faculties as representative students. At graduation, while the entire faculty will stand up when their group is recognized, only one member walks forward to receive a diploma. Afterwards, in smaller ceremonies, each individual student receives his or her diploma.

I was also informed that on March 16th there would be a rehearsal graduation ceremony. The secretaries of the international office stressed the importance that I attend this rehearsal. I had no clue what to expect. Would I have to say anything? Make a speech? Demonstrate a Judo kata in front of four thousand people to prove my worthiness to graduate?
Nothing of the sort. In fact, on March 16th I was the only person to show up at the rehearsal other than the men who were testing the microphones and arranging the chairs. The “rehearsal” was simply to insure that I could precisely walk the five meters from my chair to the stage, bow three times, climb the three steps to the stage, bow again, receive my diploma, bow again, turn, descend the steps, turn again, bow three more times but now in reverse and walk the five meters back to my chair. (Eight bows, in case you weren’t counting)
Sound complicated? No, I didn’t think so either. But nothing, *nothing*, is simple in a Japanese ceremony. The University’s president as well as the Master of Ceremony was insistent that my movements be exact to the centimeter. They were so insistent, in fact, that they never thought to ask me my opinion on what would be the best way to remember the distance from my chair to the stage. After all, what would I know about walking around alone… it’s not like I walk around alone every day.
IN typical Japanese fashion, a large amount of tape was applied to the floor to make a yellow line which I might follow with my cane. Never mind that five-meters are about eight normal steps… we were going to tape the floor. “What about the carpet? Could he just follow the edge of the carpet?” “Yes, but how would he know where to stop and turn?“ In the end, it was decided that I would follow the edge of the carpet with my cane and a small pile of tape would be placed at the point in front of the stage where I should stop. As an added failsafe, the person seated behind me in line would be told to whisper my name if it looked likely that I careen off course and, heaven forbid, walk a step past my chair on the return.
During the majority of this discussion, I sat in my assigned seat, board and wondering when someone would ask my opinion. After I had stood up, sat down, walked five meters back and forth and climbed the steps any number of times, someone thought to question the safety of the steps… “Should he just stay on the floor?” No, I assured them, I could climb the stairs. “Oh, by the way, bow left, middle, right before you climb the stairs and right, middle, left when you’ve come down. And lower your head when you bow. And tomorrow, before graduation, please come again so we can practice one more time…”

Saturday the Seventeenth dawned rainy and cold, but the graduation ceremony went flawlessly. While I considered messing things up on purpose—falling down the stairs, walking past my chair and out of the room—I have felt Kashiwazaki Sensei’s shime-waza (choking techniques). I have no doubt that, had I messed up, he would have applied the Japanese method of “teaching by abuse”. After the ceremony we all moved into the kendo dojo where tables had been set up with some drinks and snacks. Kashiwazaki Sensei, with his characteristic sense of humor, grabbed me and said, “I was really worried you’d mess things up.” Wait… wasn’t it Kashiwazaki Sensei who chose me for this?

After mingling and saying farewell to many of the Japanese students who were also graduating, the fifteen of us Bekkasei returned to our dormitory where Kashiwazaki himself passed out our diplomas in a more intimate ceremony. We were each asked to make a small speech in Japanese and, with that… we were graduated! Done and done.

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