Few events are as a mind blowing, mystical, and life changing in Ninjutsu training as when the time comes for a student to pass the Sakki test to achieve Godan. It’s a rite of passage that culminates after a decade of studying our art. I came to a realization about the science about such a meta-physical type of event after passing mine in September of 2012.

But what is the Sakki test, and how does it work?

The Sakki Test

“Sakki” loosely translates to “ominous intention” and is based around the concept of developing the ability to sense someone’s dangerous intention to hurt you. It involves you kneeling – eyes closed – in front of the person administering the test. The person administering the test stands behind you holding a sword over your head with their eyes closed as well.

It is up to the student to determine the moment that the persom gives the intention to hit the student and swings down on their head, signified by rolling out of the way of the sword just in time.

Preparing for the Test

I went to Japan in September last year. It was the first time I had traveled there with out my teacher nor anyone from our school.

I was promoted to Yondan by Shiraishi Sensei – in itself a high compliment. I was very proud that I was able to reflect so highly upon my teacher, Shihan Matthew Woodard. Shiraishi Sensei then said he would be happy to help me prepare for passing the Sakki/Godan test. In truth, Shihan Woodard over the years had also done quite a bit of training focusing on being able to feel this intention.

So I arrive to one of Shirashi Sensei’s classes a bit early, and he offers to show me a few things to help prepare. He corrected a few things with my ukemi to more effectively roll, my posture when waiting for the hit, and a few things to consider to better sense the moment. At the end of the lesson he said “I think you take test tonight”.

My heart stopped. I have been studying for only 7+ years, just got promoted to Yondan less than 24 hours ago, and now I face the sword (granted they use a bokken – not a real sword) in the Godan test. Overwhelming would have been an understatement. Confused and afraid to offend the teacher, I tried to politely refuse. I said I think I need to come back in a year so that I could practice what I learned. Shiraishi Sensei, smiling as always, said “no you take tonight.” I said,” I think I may need to talk to my teacher Shihan Woodard.” Still smiling Shiraishi Sensei said “he is my friend – I know him. You can ask but it’s okay.” At the end of class, Shiraishi Sensei decided to drop another bombshell on me: “Tonight in Soke class I will be your training partner, that way you’re not so nervous.” Of course, because training with the teacher (and one of Soke’s uke) is not nerve-racking at all (insert sarcasm here).

Due to the time difference, I couldn’t get a hold of Shihan Woodard. After sending several texts, Soke’s class arrives. I figure, maybe, I can slip by unnoticed and wait for next trip to take the test. As soon as I walk in, Shirashi-sensei finds me. And he comes bearing more news: “One of the Japanese Shihan may give you the test.” Okay – now I am really nervous. Typically, a Shihan from your country gives the test – and I have never seen a Japanese Shihan give a foreigner the test. More pressure please.

Test Time

The class commences, and I’m trying to keep up with Shiraishi-Sensei. He of course takes it easy on me, and having someone of his caliber helping me through Soke’s class was nothing short of amazing. I was able to gain a peak deeper into what Soke was doing, as though Shirashi-Sensei was pulling back the curtain a bit. It was very much like trips to Japan with Shihan Woodard; classes that I had the opportunity to train with him when our group went were when I gained the greatest depth of understanding. During the break, they ask if anyone is taking the Godan test tonight. I glance at Shiraishi-Sensei who gives me a firm, yet reassuring nod, and I raise my hand. The person counts and says “just two?”, then quickly walks away.

Finally the end of class comes, and I am completely exhausted. I have a thought that they may forget to administer the test. No such luck. They ask for those taking to test to line up. The other person taking the test either didn’t exist, or decided not to: it’s just me. The class lines up and I see Noguchi-Sensei holding the bokken – it’s time.

I kneel in front of him. I decide I don’t care if I get hit. I then run through the check list in my head comprised of lessons of both Shiraishi-Sensei and Shihan Woodard

Shiraishi’s Voice ” Clench teeth lightly and lead with your chin when you roll. Sit straight.”

Then Woodard’s Voice “Relax. When you feel ready, think in your head to ask to be hit. Wait until it feels like you can’t wait anymore.”

I try to stay still as I feel the bokken raise up. I keep repeating the above things in my head, and remind myself that who cares if I get hit. Then I think, “Okay – please hit me”. Silence. Then the ever so slight crinkle of hands gripping. “Wait until you can’t anymore”. Then it feels like a freight train is a foot behind me. “MOVE NOW!” I roll, come up, and here Soke shout “Hai OK!” Then applause, handshakes, and it’s over. What just happened?

The Process Explained…

I am a scientific-minded person, yet I find it difficult to explain what I felt, and why I felt it. I don’t quite believe in “Ki/Chi” but rather think it’s a means of expressing something more complex. I kept replaying things in my mind asking myself “how did it happen?”

I stumbled upon what I believe is the answer in a book that has absolutely zero to do with Martial Arts. The book is “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell.

Essentially, Malcolm Gladwell explains, people make rapid decisions by a process he refers to as “thin slicing”. This slicing is where someone uses a thin slice of experience and information to make a subconscious decision. Interestingly enough, experts create a better slice by experience in their field. He also postulates when we try to consciously get involved in the process, we throw it off (although experts become better at being able to tap into it). In the book he gives countless examples of this and how very accurate it is.

Training gives us information to use to thin slice: when someone does A you do B. After training a long-time, things become reactionary. And eventually, our cumulative experience enables us to effectively “thin slice” a situation. It’s also why Soke constantly talks about focusing on the feeling; when you’re attacked and you have to make split second decisions, you’re not going to be thinking about steps of a technique, but are rather going to be moving based on what’s in grained, by thin slicing your training according to the moment.

Rewind to the test. The feeling that pushed me to move was my unconscious mind was telling me that danger was coming. It arrived to this conclusion based on the inputs it was receiving – the sounds in the room, the feeling of weight shifting on the mats, etc. etc. to determine the attack was happening. Where we mess up is when we either disregard this feeling, or try to over-analyze or interfere with this process. So instead of a Sixth sense, it’s really 5 senses uninterrupted. In fact, being so exhausted for the test actually helped me pass, since it kept me from over thinking things.

Beyond the Test

In truth, this process isn’t tied to just Bujinkan or Martial Arts training. We use it every day, and it’s a key component to human communication (we read facial expressions in context of someone talking to gain better understanding of what’s being communicated). Odds are, if you’re an expert in your field, you already have experienced this on some level.

So while the metaphysical explanation of sensing a person’s thought or energy isn’t quite accurate – or at least what I believe, it is an easy way to explain a very real phenomenon that comes with experience and training.

So what do you think about the Sakki test? Let us know your opinion in the comments below.

Shidoshi Hamilton

<p>Scott Hamilton is an 8th degree black belt in the Bujinkan, and travels regularly to Japan to train. In addition to being the owner and head instructor of Todai Dojo, Scott is also the CEO of a national manufacturing company. He has also received training in other martial arts, and in-depth modern weapons training.</p>

11 thoughts on “Passing the Godan

  1. chadsnetwork says:

    Amazing Shidoshi. What a great accomplishment. Congratulations and thank you for sharing your insightful experience. I felt like I was there in a way (by your descriptive writing). Thinking about the Sakki test makes me nervous. I don’t know why since I’m a green belt. However, after reading your article I learned two important techniques that I’m committing to memory so that one day… I’m dreaming of a Godan test…
    Another great article. Domo Arigato Gozaimashita.

  2. Matthew Woodard says:

    That was such a good day for you. I was so proud. The funnier moment was when your call came and the first words out of my mouth were, “Congratulations. How did it feel?” Hahaha

    • S. Hamilton says:

      Actually, when I answered the first thing you said was “so did you pass?” I remember saying “Huh? How did you know?!” I owe it all to you sir. Domo arigato gozaimashita!

  3. ejs says:

    Excellent beat ! I would like to apprentice even as you amend your web site, how could i subscribe for a weblog site?
    The account aided me a acceptable deal. I were a little bit acquainted of this your broadcast offered shiny transparent idea

  4. www says:

    With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues of
    plagorism or copyright infringement? My site has a lot
    of exclusive content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it looks like a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my permission. Do you know any ways to help reduce content from being stolen? I’d really appreciate it.

    • Shidoshi Hamilton says:

      I just find their IP Address and send a team of Ninja to their home. J/K

      I haven’t noticed any plagiarism. I think it might be because most of what I write is a fairly personal narrative, which makes it a bit more difficult to just copy and paste to a site. As my audience builds, it may be something I run into more though. From a legal perspective, just having on your site a statement of copyright helps, since it establishes that your content is indeed protected. Also google frowns heavily on taking other’s content, and punishes it with poor site ranking. If you find that someone has stole your content, you should contact them and inform them that the work they used has a copyright, and either have them remove it or at least site you as the source.

  5. Pingback: Todai Bujinkan Dojo | The Bujinkan Martial Arts Instructors of Japan

  6. Ira says:

    I enjoyed your accounts of the test. I myself received my sandan in a very similar manner from Shiraishi Sensei a few years ago. In fact, the reason I even looked up this page is because I’m testing for Godan tommorrow. I’ve used it in real life, so I know I can, but I am still quite nervous as you described. Thank you for posting your experience.

    • Shidoshi Hamilton says:

      My pleasure – by the time you get this you’ve already probably taken the test. Let me know how my experiences compared to yours. Thanks again – Gambatte Kudasai!

  7. Pingback: Gregory Smith

  8. Pingback: Vanessa Smith

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *