Written by Greg Angus Sensei
As you may know, rank in Aikido is earned not through competition but rather by testing. Following the Hombu dojo curriculum at the Aikikai Foundation, students progress up the ranks starting with 5th kyu (gokyu) to 1st kyu (ikkyu), and then moving onto 1st dan (shodan) and up.
Learning the Basic Building Blocks through the Aikido Curriculum
Learning Aikido is like learning a new language. You start out with some basic words and phrases, and add simple grammar to form sentences. You then expand your vocabulary, and gradually you start having more complex conversations.
The Aikido curriculum from Hombu dojo is similar in that it starts with the basics for your 5th kyu test, and as you go up the ranks, more techniques are added. These techniques serve as the building blocks of your Aikido practice. Getting to 1st dan (first degree black belt) level is just the beginning of your studies. It means that you can now begin the serious study of Aikido. Getting your shodan is not the goal. You have just learned enough Aikido “grammar” to start having conversations, and perhaps to one day become poetry in motion.
Testing is part of the process to learning Aikido, and it is the student’s responsibility to learn the techniques required for your level. Often, these will be covered in regular class. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask Sensei or your sempais for help.
Testing in Aikido is an Ego Reduction Program
While testing is an important part of a student’s Aikido journey, it is however, not a show and should not cause anxiety or overwhelming stress to the Aikido practitioner and his/her partners.
Testing is also not about inflating your ego. This is insidious and hard for the individual to recognize. You might be thinking, “I’m doing my best to prepare for my test.” In reality, you are being overly concerned with yourself and how you appear to others.
It is important for practitioners of Aikido to differentiate between healthy ego and negative ego when preparing for tests. Healthy ego includes self-confidence but also incorporates gratitude and humility towards others. On the other hand, negative ego involves feelings such as insecurity, comparing yourself unfavorably with others, or having expectations of how you think you should perform.
What you need to do is to keep a beginner’s mind. This means that each time you practice, you should do so with the same curiosity and open-minded attitude as when you first began learning Aikido. This will help keep your focus on improving yourself rather than trying to show off or prove something to yourself or others.
Things to Focus on as you Progress Up the Ranks in Aikido
During the test, you will need to recognize the Japanese names for the attacks and techniques for your level and do both the nage and uke part of the technique. At each level in the Aikido curriculum, you are expected to learn and improve on various aspects, including:
Getting Ready for your Next Grading
Testing is a natural part of the Aikido learning process. The most important thing to do is train regularly at a moderate level of intensity. It is not possible to think your way through a test. On the day of the test, relax, do your best and trust in your training. Approach your test with a positive attitude, humility and respect for your partner and fellow students.
Once you have the basics, there is opportunity for even deeper exploration into what can truly be achieved in Aikido.