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Thanks to Tarik for asking this question, in the comments.
I started thinking about my test shortly after Sensei told me of her decision, around November. When I think back on the actual preparation: it's all connected, in the beginning, to events going on in the dojo, around January.
On January 1st (around 10AM), our dojo did a "New Year's Misogi," consisting of a half hour class on the beach (mostly with weapons), followed by a misogi exercise thigh-to-waist-high, in the ocean. Brrr!
I lost a sandal in the tide.
Misogi mostly consisted of "shaking hands," Rowing exercise, etc. I remember how cold it was, with the sky dramatic with threatening rain-clouds. As the misogi progressed, the rainclouds came up on us, and right when Linda Sensei yelled "Happy New Year!" the sky opened up and rain down on us all. I got out of the water, fast. The next half-hour was taken up with a very long, hot shower.
This event ties into my test-preparation on several levels. I was barely conscious on Jan 1st, but I managed to show up. My attendance was the most important thing--what I did after that was all secondary.
But, my commitment to simply be present, in all aspects of the term, cemented my commitment to my training (and test, which, in this sense, is the same thing).
I upped my level of commitment with the next big event: Kangeiko. On January 20 for one week, our dojo engages in a Japanese Aikido tradition of "cold training," in which Aikidoists train in Japan at 6:30 AM every day for 2 weeks, in the coldest part of the year.
Of course, over HERE in balmy Santa Cruz, the temperature plays less of a role in kangeiko, but the commitment to simply BE there at such an ungodly hour is still evident (also, our kangeiko only trains for one week, instead of two). After kangeiko, I started coming to the dojo a lot more: sometimes 5 times a week (not counting the classes I teach up at SF).
Sandan means different things in different dojo's, and Aikido organizations. Linda likes to refer to Sandan as a "pillar of the community." During January, I thought a lot about what this definition means. Concurrently, Linda also asked me to co-organize the raffle that takes place during kangeiko.
Now, if you know me personally: you'd understand what a stretch this is...I tend to be a little introverted, with a small group of close friends. "Selling" a raffle is not my idea of a joyous good time, initially. But, over the years I saw what a unifying pull to the community, the raffle was. People got to donate their services (I won a killer pizza, in the raffle), and the money earned from the raffle went to support the dojo. And so, I overcame my shyness and made the raffle-effort my own.
Attempting to answer exactly what is a "community" does not render any simple, comprehensive answers. But, one thing significant in all communities is the aspect of "giving." Humanity, IMO, is defined by "giving," by offering service to a person or group for their benefit, over your own. One's service to the community strengthens the ties that connect the individuals, and the group is stronger for it. My efforts in the raffle were steps in the process of better understanding what Sensei meant by Sandan being a "pillar."
Shortly before kangeiko began, I started to consider the aspects of weapons more carefully. As I mentioned earlier, I had wanted to do a "weapons randori," but I was still a mudansha through most of my time training under Saotame Sensei. But, the desire never left.
The internet and video's helped a lot. I watched a '03 Summer Retreat video where Anno Sensei demonstrated bo nikyo (and ikkyo) over and over, copying the moves (and smashing a few lampshades and glasses that dared try to intercede) until I could do them independently. After I felt competent enough, I worked with my uke (Aimen) to firm up elements that you cannot ascertain so well from video-practice: footwork, weight-balancing, and the subtle differences between a jo and a bo (where the hands are placed, etc).
Linda Sensei's one-on-one class was/is an immesurable help, as well. In it, she showed me some further, valuable pointers on footwork, and striking with the bo.
For the jo (ikkyo-yonkyo), I relied upon memory and "feeling my way" through the techniques I learned from Kato-Sensei.
How do you get to Carnagie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. It's the same with weapons. Anno Sensei said something in the video in '03 that stuck with me. He said that you have to train "until the bo becomes 'inside of' you." Much of this journey in beginning to understand the bo (as I still have a long way to go, well past my Sandan test) is in "absorbing" what the bo has to teach me, to make the bo "a part of" me. I wish I could explain this concept better, but it makes a lot of sense, when I am swinging the bo around.
In the end, this Saturday will be just another day of training, on one level. I show up, I try to be present, I have a pretty good idea of how I'd like it to go, but anything could happen. But the most important thing that my preparation has so far taught me is that showing up and being present are the most important aspects of this test. IMO, the rest is what the community in which you are training expects of you, and gives back to you.