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Archive 2020 - 2023


January 13 2024

Journey to Shodan


Journeys often begin from a distance further than we think they do.

In this case, my journey, the journey to achieving Shodan, began in my early years, in the year 1985.

I attended The London Oratory School in Fulham, London, England. This is a Secondary school, the equivalent of High School. In my third year of school, I started walking a specific route to High Street Kensington Station, along North End Road, where I would catch the train home. I passed a thrift store on the way. One day, as I passed, there was a beautiful katana displayed in the window. I stopped and stood in awe, marveling at the workmanship and craftsmanship of the weapon. My mind raced through adventures, too fast to be made conscious, however, the impact was great. My first short story was inspired from this meeting.

Years later, around 2004, I had the urge to learn Iaido. I hunted around for a school and teacher, however, my search proved fruitless. Many months later, I was then contacted by a Mr. Tony Giles who emailed me and said he could teach me the basics. Coincidentally, he lived on North End Road, the same route I had walked in years previous. He first served me as a guide, and later, through the years, became my very close friend. He sadly passed in 2014.

During this time, Tony bought me a hakama. However, I never felt I deserved to wear it as I hadn't learned even the basics. Our training sessions were short. Tony guided me more than anything. It was up to me to apply myself. I didn't have the self-mastery I possess now in my older years, and I definitely wasn't ready to begin this most important journey.


More years passed and I met my magnificent and extraordinary wife Cindy Higginson. I married her and moved to the United States in August 2017.

Around February 2018, after I was settled in a bit, I shared with Cindy how I really wanted to find a place to learn martial arts. She fully supported my idea and suggested I do a Google search.

The first place that showed up for me was The Gi Yu Dojo. I was wholly inspired by Sukh Sensei's message, with the video showcasing students at the dojo. I got in contact and received an invitation to come observe class. I recall with fondness talking with Doug Sensei.


I was accepted into our marvelous and supportive dojo community.

Starting out as a white belt, I had a fairly steep learning curve, in getting to know my own body. Left and right were confusing to me. I felt I was all over the place, with little coordination. Also, I was terrified of being thrown to the ground. After training for three weeks, I would come home and complain to Cindy that I'm rubbish, "I'm never going to get this!" She has always been lovingly supportive and would say "You've only been training for three weeks! You'll get it, stick with it." Very wise words.

The first hurdle that I successfully jumped over was my San Kyu (green belt) rank test in December 2018. Bryan Strait was my uke. We trained for our test at the dojo and privately in his basement at home. I recall being very excited and feeling I was prepared in a good way. I spent every evening leading up to the test for weeks going over my techniques solo at home in our tiny kitchen. The space was sufficient for training.

My Ni Kyu (purple belt) rank test was a little tougher, taking place in December 2019. My uke was Bryan. There were a few techniques I had difficulty with. Yoko Nagare (Side Body Drop), Gan Seki Nage (Throwing the Big Rock) and Musha Dori (Warrior's Catch) didn't come easy, but not impossible to make better.

I was grateful to have passed and remember affirming to Sensei that I would keep on training and developing. In fact sitting here while I'm writing this, I have a smile on my face.


The next few years were particularly challenging because of Covid. Cindy and myself had moved into our new home. The dojo stayed closed for most of 2020. Not being in training was difficult, especially when time passed. However, one crucial positive aspect came out of it: I realized how much our dojo means to me. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, which is very true.

I think often on what Sensei says about folks who have "given up" on their training because of X, Y or Z. I see everyone as an individual with their unique journey and judge in no way people's choices. The only soul I can judge is myself. I am very grateful that I overcame this hurdle (if there even was such a thing in this particular instance.) The dojo is my personal "temple" in the exterior world. We all have our inner temple which reflects into the physical.

It was fantastic to return back to the dojo in 2021. I continued my efforts in preparing for my Ichi Kyu (brown belt) rank test. Ron Houck and I tested in December 2021 and earned our belt. Techniques which were more challenging were Tate Nagare (Standing Flowing Body Drop), Ippon Seo Nage (One Shoulder Throw) and Muso Dori (Empty Catch). From the beginning of my training, I had a fear of being thrown to the ground. I had overcome this by the time my brown belt test came around. Changing your thinking and your relationships with the world around you takes time, and is entirely possible.


It was around the early Spring of 2022 when I started thinking about testing and preparing for Shodan. I was confident that with enough training I would be ready to test at the end of that year. I spent the time training when my health permitted me to with my good friend Jeremy Penn as my uke. As December started to get closer, I was caught in between two places in my mind. On the one hand I didn't feel prepared at all, and on the other hand my ego demanded that I test no matter what. The result ended in me not testing, as during the time around the DaiKoMyoSai my health took a downward spiral.

The next opportunity to test came in the Summer of 2023. Having continued training and preparing, I was set to test with Lucas Bumgarner. However, once again my health took a downturn, and I missed the opportunity.

They say everything comes in threes. I finally was well enough and prepared enough to test at the end of 2023. Both my good friends Bryan Strait and Jeremy Penn trained with me as my ukes. I tested and passed my Shodan with Jeremy as my uke on December 2nd. A very proud moment for me in achieving a new waypoint. A few days later I also became a United States Citizen, an American.


During training, an individual's soul is bared fully with no hiding in shadows. I am grateful to have been shown many facets of myself that I continue to work on and fix. This is important work in dealing with personal ghosts and demons.

I want to thank Sukh Sensei and all the wonderful members of our Gi Yu Dojo Community for their time, support, patience and friendship. Thank You.

Thank you to W.S. Sensei, Aman Sensei, Jaye Sensei, Doug Sensei.

Thank you to Brittney, Sam, Todd, Don, James, John, Michael, Chris, Adam, Mary Ellen, Andreas, Bryan, Jeremy, Lucas, Ron, Gabe, Neal, Holly, Victoria, Cameron, Trevor, Brittney, Mira, Ahna, Nina, Sean, Dwight, Sandeep, Scott, Bryan, Jeremy.

Thank you to all our predecessors and ancestors for gifting these martial arts for our continued study.

Thank the most important person in my life for her continued support, love and compassion. To my dear wife Cindy Higginson. Thank You.