In December of 2003, when Sensei Pantanovitz officially accepted me as a student, he invited me to join the International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate Federation (IOGKF). Membership would allow me to participate in training camps and take exams for the next level of black belt. His wife Norma looked up from her desk where she presided over administrative matters and said, “Oh, but you’re not interested in grading, are you?”
Sensei looked at me and I raised my eyebrows. “Well, uh…” One of the tenets of the martial arts is that you don’t chase after honor and recognition. So it might not be modest for me to say out loud what I was thinking, which was ‘Geez, I haven’t been promoted since 1989. It would be nice, someday…’ That was 14 years ago!
Sensei understood from the look on my face that, yes, I was indeed interested in attaining the next rank. So he broke into a story. “When I joined the IOGKF I was a 5th dan. I trained for several years with Sensei Higaonna before he recognized my 5th dan and it was many more years before I was tested for 6th dan.” I fully understood the point. Don’t expect to be promoted anytime soon. Honestly, that was fine with me. I just wanted to keep progressing and learning. For now, the excitement of the training was enough.
“What rank are you, anyway?” Sensei asked.
“Sandan.” Third degree. Sensei looked surprised, then the grasped my bicep.
“Okay, we’ll start you training for your 4th dan.” I think he expected me to say 5th or 6th dan. Given that I had begun training in 1974 – 29 years - that would have made sense. He didn’t realize that I was on the “Mommy Track.”