The ‘Sho’ in Shodan

Shodan kanji
Shodan kanji

I recently hung the certificates that I received for earning my first and second level black belts. They are beautiful certificates, filled with Japanese kanji, and look like artwork.

As I hung them, I wondered why the first level black belt is referred to as sho and not ichi since ichi is the number one in Japanese. All the other ranks are done by number: ni, san, yon, and so on. What is special about the first one?

I discovered that one meaning for sho is “first” which makes sense.

But another meaning is “beginner.” This says so much to me, because that is how I felt when I earned that degree—like a beginner. The test itself was like a birthing process, a coming-of-age. It was difficult. I broke down on the mat. I was pushed to my limit both physically and emotionally.

When I completed the testing and earned my belt and new rank, I felt like I was just starting on my journey as an Aikidoka. I felt like my Aikido journey up to that point had been a walk on a level path. It had some peaks and valleys, of course, but I could see where I was going.

As a new black belt I had a vision that I was standing at the base of a mountain looking up. I’d made it that far, but the hard part had begun. I had to climb the mountain.

Thinking of this as a beginning rank also reminded me of all that I don’t know. The more I travel on my Aikido path, the more I discover all I have yet to discover.


Attaining a black belt was by no means an attainment of some ultimate goal. It was the beginning of a new path.


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