View Full Version : Frustration about testing

Please visit our sponsor:

David Paul
05-24-2007, 09:25 AM
Hi- this is actually my first post on AikiWeb. So hello to all. I actually joined so I could seek some advice from fellow aikdoka on a growing frustration that I am dealing with regarding rank.

First a little history--insert appropriate audio flashback sounds here--I began training in aikido roughly 4-5 years ago. I was there for nearly two years, tested for 6th kyu in that time and ultimately discontinued at the dojo because the dojo lost its lease and had to relocate. The move made it too difficult for me to continue there so I found a new dojo-that was under a different governing organization- -with a good reputation and a very well known Sensei. I studied there for roughly a year--about halfway through that year I wanted to test for 5th kyu.

The dojo's governing body suggests a minimum of 60 class hours to test. I had just over that with a few weeks to go before the test. I asked a sempai about testing and upon hearing that I had just over 60 hours; I was advised to not submit an application and not to test. I was told that the 60 hour threshold was an absolute minimum and that you should have well over that number to test.

So-after a few more months of training I started to get into a rut, picked up some good nagging but minor injuries and decided to discontinue my training. I took about a 2 and a half year layoff and decided I wanted to go back to aikido. So in November I did just that.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I am at a new dojo--which has an affiliation with the previous dojo I attended. Testing time has come upon us--I have just over 60 hours and once again I will not be testing, although I will be taking uke for another student testing out of our dojo.

Needless to say this is a little frustrating for me. It wouldn't be so bad if this was my first dojo and first test--but with roughly 3 years of aikido experience and basically no rank whatsoever to show for it-I am a little discouraged.

Even more discouraging is the fact that the next test offered wont be until the end of the year. So--by the time I have 3 and half years of experience I will be eligible to test for the lowest possible rank. It kind of makes me wonder if I should continue here, find a new dojo, stop altogether or perhaps just continue to train and simply not worry about testing at all--if ever.

I've promised myself that I am not going to make any decisions about my aikido future until after the test—as I am trying hard to focus on my ukemi and working on my attacks so that I can be a well prepared uke for the test. That being said-any insight would be welcome.

05-24-2007, 09:42 AM

I too had a similar history in aikido. I started in one dojo, moved and then started in another, and then moved and started in another and moved again and started in another. Each dojo was in a different organization and although my rank transfered, my time in did not. Each time I had to start the clock again, so to speak.

What I can tell you from that experience is that I would not trade it. I have settled down at my current dojo (7 years) and this marks the beginning of my 14th year in aikido. The experience that I have in the art is both wide and varied. It has made it difficult for me sometimes to remember what the kihon waza (basic technique) is because I know at least four version of the basic technique, but on the other hand, it has given my a wide range of skills.

Did I rise in rank with my contemporaries? No. Did people "less experienced" then me get rank before me? Yes. Does it matter? No. In one sense rank gives you a measure of you progress, but in another its just an arbitrary sign post along the path.

Don't fixate on rank, but on progress. If you are improving and you ukemi is getting better, you are advancing regardless of the belt color. Don't worry. Stay the course.

Now, as I prepare for my sandan test, people seek me out to get alternative points of view and see technique that is not quite the same as everyone else.

Your curse is really a blessing. Make the most of it.

David Paul
05-24-2007, 11:51 AM
Thanks Derek. I didn't figure that I was the first person to struggle with this and it is helpful to hear of your expereinces. Thanks for the advice!

Pauliina Lievonen
05-24-2007, 01:21 PM
Don't fixate on rank, but on progress. If you are improving and you ukemi is getting better, you are advancing regardless of the belt color. Don't worry. Stay the course.

What Derek said. And welcome on Aikiweb! .)

Rank isn't really about your experience in the art of aikido... it's about your experience in a particular group. You can almost always expect to have to start from zero again if you change dojo, or at the very least, it will take a long time to get to test for the first test at a new dojo.

I changed dojo when I was fourth kyu, and though I was allowed to keep my rank, I had to wait longer than usual to test for third kyu. Our dojo has quite a few students with previous experience, and they all have had to go through this. It ensures that everybody knows what our syllabus is like and is on the same page about the basics.

One thing you can be sure of - anybody with a little bit of experience themselves will know exactly how much you know once they've trained with you a couple times, regardless of what rank you are. So if you do your best to train sincerely, that will show. If you don't, that will show too, however high your rank might be. :)


05-25-2007, 12:06 PM
Each time you changed dojos, the new Sensei wants you to start the time over to make sure that you know the techniques their way. However, since the last switch was still affiliated with the previous dojo, doing it their way is not the reason but maybe getting off the rust or maybe getting up to snuff for that particular Sensei is the reason for the extra delay. I had a 14 yr. layoff when I started Aikido again and in a different style yet one of the instructors said that I should have started to test for 3rd or 2nd kyu but I wanted to start at the beginning. It all depends on the dojo or Sensei.

Janet Rosen
05-25-2007, 06:52 PM
I agree w/ Derek.
I took ages to get/advance rank, due to starting off in a "start up" dojo that didn't offer testing for 18 months, changing dojos a couple of times, time off due to injuries....at 10 yrs of training I was a 2nd kyu but know what? who cares! During those yrs I had also attended many seminars around the country, made many aikifriends, learned tons of stuff, and frankly whether I "know more" or "know less" than folks with higher or lower rank has been of no importance to me.

05-25-2007, 08:55 PM
Why ask sempai - I would have gone directly to your teacher.

The 60 hour minimums are guidlines designed as much to slow the over-enthusiastic as to ensure the accumulation of more skill and knowledge beyond what's being tested for specifically.

I would think with the amount of background you stated the minimum would be fine but if your teacher says no - perhaps its not.

No matter - the next time around set your sites on giving the best test that dojo has ever seen.

05-26-2007, 11:21 AM
Pauliina wrote:

"I changed dojo when I was fourth kyu, and though I was allowed to keep my rank, I had to wait longer than usual to test for third kyu. "

Now that I am yudansha and take part in the day to day activities at the dojo, I often find myself speaking with prospective students. When they enter the dojo for the first time, people who have practiced other martial arts or even aikido at another school are often worried about keeping rank. We generally "allow" a person to keep rank (as if we had any way of not alllowing), but do not test a person for the next rank until we are satisified that they are ready. I don't mean that if you come in at 3rd kyu and put in the amount of time you test. I mean if you come in at 3rd kyu we work with you until we are in fact convinced you are 3rd kyu and are then ready for 2nd kyu.

A previous sensei discussed this very problem with me when we had a prospective student come in to the dojo. He insisted he had studied elsewhere and was ready to test for shodan. My instructor nodded his head and said that we would of course "allow" him his rank and as soon as he had mastered the techniques in the manner we performed them he could of course test. The student was pleased and left. My sensei explained that you should be able to tell "what color their belt is" even when they are not wearing it, even when they are not doing a martial art. You should be able to tell the prospective shodan when they walk in the door. And you should certainly be able to tell their rank when they step on the mat. He explained that the student that had just come in was not a prospective shodan, but that you cannot explain that to the student, they can only learn it for themselves. The student did sign up and take classes with us. He was loud about explaining that he was just waiting to take his shodan test for the first week or so, but then it was obvious to him, and everyone else that the 7th kyu knew more aikido than he did. Eventually he approached the sensei again and asked to start over as a white belt.

On theflip side, I have travelled to other dojo to work out and I never take my rank for granted. Most recently I went to a karate dojo with my step father. He wanted me to come in and see what how they practiced and introduce me to his sensei. We arrived early one Sunday morning, before the sensei, and got dressed. I left my black belt and hakama in my bag and donned a white belt, as I felt was proper. The sensei came in and class started immediately, with no introductions. We were barely through the warm ups, when he came over to me and said, "Are you a white belt?" I said, "in karate perhaps I am even less." He then told me it as obvious I was not a white belt, and that I should go and change to my black belt and rejoin class. After class he explained that he appreciated the gesture of the white belt, but he also felt that rank should be celebrated, even if it was a different art.

In our dojo, we have several people who have rank in other arts, and we try to acknowledge their rank, not from a kiss a$$ sort of way, but to acknowledge their experience and potential use to the dojo. I trained in TKD for a long time and have rank there. No one cares what color belt I have in TKD in my aikido dojo, but they know the can depend on me if the need someone to kick them. We try to embrace other styles as much as possible within the confines of aikido, but a black belt in shotokan may have no knowledge of the kind of blending, rolling and throwing we do in aikido, so when they are learning aikido they start at white belt.

Pauliina Lievonen
05-26-2007, 07:33 PM
I don't mean that if you come in at 3rd kyu and put in the amount of time you test. I mean if you come in at 3rd kyu we work with you until we are in fact convinced you are 3rd kyu and are then ready for 2nd kyu.
This is the same in our dojo. And it's like I said, if someone has previous experience either from aikido or another martial art, it becomes obvious very quickly. So it's not that people need to worry about their skill not being recognised. It's just that they need to be able to show the skills and knowledge that's in our particular testing syllabus, if they want to be testing with us. Which seems kinda logical to me. :)


05-27-2007, 10:17 AM
In my dojo we have some black belts who got there in 5 years and kind of disappoint you when you practice with them, and we have 2 black belts who took about 15 years to get to their shodan because they started over in several different dojos (one of them got to 1st kyu in two different places), and they clearly kick arse.
I understand your frustration with these delays, but take solace in the fact that when you do get your rank, you'll have more experience and diverse knowledge than your co-ranked peers :)

One final thought - Is prior, similar knowledge a hindrance when starting in a new place? If so, I can understand how holding back a student with previous knowledge, even throwing them back to the lowest rank, makes sense by making them remember that they should approach the new system humbly and with a clear mind.

Amir Krause
05-28-2007, 02:46 AM
Welcome to Aikiweb David

Only one simple thing to say: you are putting way too much importance on rank. Instead of thinking of skill and knowledge, which are the more important issues.

The Belt is only meant to hold your Gi. The color of the belt is not important. People respect the person they train with, and his level of skill, not his belt.
As a somewhat veteran BB, the thing that frustrates me the most is a new person seeing my belt color and responding to it, rather then to my actions. Once a student stays for a few months, I will find the opportunity to show him I can fumble too, and he should act to my actions and not the color of my belt.
So, do not count the number of years you practice and compare belt colors, that is a child behavior.


Kieran Barrett
05-28-2007, 03:31 AM
Hi David, Kieran here from Cork, Ireland. I am currently 2nd Dan [Aiki No Michi] and opened my own club last year. The issue you bring up brings up lots of memories for me when I started Aikido 11 years ago. I was so nervous about gradings I didnt partake in my first one for 3 years and watched all my contempories move forward. But the interesting thing is that I am possibly the only one left training after all this time. What I am trying to say is that it is not the grade that matters it is the work that YOU put in. Gradings for me are not to let others see how much you know, but instead to show yourself what you know inside.
Hope that helps, Kieran

05-28-2007, 09:50 AM
David Paul:
I would stick with it if I were you. In dojo #2 you quit just before you would have tested, it seems, so don't make that mistake this time!
In Aikido, even three years is a relatively short period. I don't think you were unfairly treated if you were advised not to test with just over the minimum. Also, I think it's inevitable to lose some ability with a 1+ year break, you were on break for a long time.

This is not a race, you know. Frustration over testing is normal. Some of the best students look back and say they were not tested as soon as they wished. To quit because you were not advised to test with only the minimum requirements, to lose your enjoyment of the sport because of not testing hurts only yourself.

You probably need a full year to train before your next test, in my opinion. Imagine you are starting from the beginning, and really apply yourself. Forget your bitterness about how long you've been practicing and how little you have to show for it. Maybe you'll be tested faster than normal the next time. Maybe not, but if you are really good, no one can take that away from you.

George S. Ledyard
06-01-2007, 07:31 AM
Even more discouraging is the fact that the next test offered wont be until the end of the year. So--by the time I have 3 and half years of experience I will be eligible to test for the lowest possible rank. It kind of makes me wonder if I should continue here, find a new dojo,

Jumping around from dojo to dojo won't help. You'll always be the new guy. New folks with previous experience show up at my dojo and I wait to see what commitment they make to the dojo. If they are there consistently for six months or so I start to think they may actually stay. After that I start thinking about how to take care of them over the longer run.

stop altogether

Well, if your reason for training is about moving up in rank, you won't go the distance anyway... you'll either quit at the standard 1st Kyu crisis when you realize that continuing to train will result in some changes you don't want to make or you will stick it out just long enough to get that Shodan certificate and then quit (you'd be in good company since 90% of the students that make it that far don't make it to nidan). Why go through all the effort to get to a place at which it is now worth the time for the Shihan level folks to start to take notice of you when you are going to stop there? Quit now and find something you REALLY want to do, something you are really passionate about. If it's about the rank, just save yourself the trouble.

or perhaps just continue to train and simply not worry about testing at all--if ever.

This is a pretty negative phrasing... Why not continue to train joyfully and passionately and simply let the testing happen when it does? If it's Aikido you care about, the other things take care of themselves. Be the best damned student in the dojo... teachers do notice stuff like that. A student who stands out like that, doesn't have to ask me to test, I'll be pushing him (or her) along...

06-01-2007, 02:40 PM
Wow, I spent a lot of years at one dojo, got rank.
Relocated, they asked me to wear white again. I did.
Went to another dojo. They wouldn't let me wear white. I don't.

Derek is a wsie man. He must train at a good school.

Shut up and train. If you want rank, stay put.

Don't worry about rank, with any luck it will change.

06-01-2007, 03:01 PM
I've been shodan for about 11 years now.
I am dojo-cho.
You see how everybody's path is different?
That's why it is said, "it's the journey, not the destination that is important."
Relax and enjoy the ride.

David Paul
06-04-2007, 10:15 AM
Just wanted to thank everyone for their input and advice.