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Avedan Raggio
09-17-2007, 10:47 AM
Good morning. This has been on my mind for some time, and I would like your input: What is the significance of testing to you? The significance of higher (or any particular) belt rank?

One of the things that drew me to aikido in the first place was the lack of competition and the absence of tournaments and so forth. We try to keep our egos off the mat, because training with them becomes problematic. We generally train only with white or black belts, not with the entire rainbow. Often one cannot see whether the person which whom one is training is wearing a white or black belt under their hakama, and cannot further determine what kyu or dan rank the person has achieved anyways. I've never asked, because it seems a bit rude, and doesn't really seem important in the context of simply training-- which is what we should be doing on the mat anyways.

I have found (in my meager three years of training) that I can learn as much from a complete beginner as from someone who has a reputation in the dojo, and who I know has been training for some time; I just learn different things. We train to improve our own training, and to allow others to do the same.

So, really, why test? What does it mean to say 'I passed my ___ kyu or my ___ dan test, when the person with whom you train might not be able to tell, or might not care? Why do *you* test? What does your rank mean to you? What do you think it means to other people?

I do not mean to be derisive or offensive to anyone by questioning this; I am honestly open and curious, and would greatly appreciate any comments or insights you are willing to share.

gregstec
09-17-2007, 11:18 AM
Saotome Sensei once said at a seminar that rank in Aikido is not important - but that the amount of Aikido in your heart is (paraphrase)

Like you I have trained with ASU members where all wear hakama and there is no 'belt blindness' on the mat - your training is at the appropriate level of your partner at the time and there are no assumptions of skill based on a recognized belt level of rank - you and your partner just train and learn from each other.

In our independent dojo we follow the ASU practice of allowing all to wear the hakama just for this reason.

Greg

RBPierce
09-17-2007, 02:26 PM
Testing isn't (or shouldn't be!) about ego and rank. Rather, they serve as training aids, milestones. For the student testing, they provide some focus and structure to his training and gives him the opportunity and encouragement to really "dig in" to what a technique is all about.

For the senseis, they provide an opportunity to see a student at his best (hopefully!) They show the senseis where attention may need to be focussed in future training, and again provide some structure to teaching.

Tests are about growing and training- not about ego.

Ron Tisdale
09-17-2007, 03:30 PM
Rank in aikido usually seems to be a reflection of your relationship with your instructor, and the other members of your dojo/organization.

Personally, I try not to make too little, or too much out of it. It's a part of aikido, so when necessary, I test like everyone else.

Best,
Ron

G DiPierro
09-17-2007, 06:55 PM
So, really, why test? What does it mean to say 'I passed my ___ kyu or my ___ dan test, when the person with whom you train might not be able to tell, or might not care? Why do *you* test? What does your rank mean to you? What do you think it means to other people?Rank exists in martial arts for one reason, and one reason only: it is a very effective marketing and political tool (I'm not talking about teaching licenses; those have a few other purposes). Judo was the first art to use the numerical ranking system, and it was adapted from the Japanese board game go as a way of quantitatively measuring skill through competition. Other arts, including today many non-japanese arts, have subsequently discovered that numerical ranking and colored belts are very useful in creating, maintaining, and controlling a large membership base, so now most of them use some version of this system. (I've written about this previously at a bit more length in a few threads, including this one (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?p=180630#post180630).)

Most martial arts organizations (especially the big ones) are basically multi-level marketing schemes, and like other such entities they must work hard to motivate people to want to move up the hierarchy. Thus, they will put a lot of emphasis on rank, and encourage their member dojos to do the same. You will find a lot of people in aikido who believe that rank is very important, and this is usually because they have been repeatedly told it is important by people that they respect. Also, our culture in the US usually lends a lot of weight to rank in martial arts, which is to the advantage of those who would claim or issue it. Finally, those who are insecure about their own skill level, whether or not they should be (and in aikido, many of them rightly are), will tend to cling to something like rank as a measure of their accomplishment in martial arts, since it is all they really have. Of course, when asked people will come up all sorts of other reasons why rank is important to them, but all of them tend to some variation on these few basic themes.

Incidentally, I happen to know your teacher and I don't get the impression he cares much about rank. Last time I saw him he went on at length about how meaningless rank is as a measure of actual ability. However, he still operates within a system where rank is very important, and that system really is larger and more powerful than he is, so for the most part he still has to play by its rules. Since you train in his dojo, you do too, but luckily for you your job is much easier than his.

Ketsan
09-17-2007, 10:28 PM
Rank is in the eye of the beholder. What does my rank mean to me? That I'm closer to doing what I'm doing now in a hakama and black belt than I was at my previous grade. Hopefully I'll be doing it better but I don't see how changing my uniform or gaining a higher rank affects my daily training and therefore I see no point in it.

What does it mean to other people? Depends on the person. To my instructor it defines how picky and grumpy he should be when I do a technique :D
It doesn't mean much to the other people in my dojo, no-one can remember what rank I am, including my instructor. :D
What does it mean to anyone else? Probably nothing. To the uneducated eye I'm a total beginner because I wear a white belt, to the uneducated in general the term "2nd kyu" is totally meaningless. Women certainly aren't impressed :D .
To other Aikidoka it means that at best I tenkan without falling over, know which end of the bokken to hold and can occasionally do something right :D .

Why do I grade? Well I'm at HQ dojo during the gradings anyway so I may as well get up and grade. That may change when they ask me to take dan grade and pay up £500 to attend summer school for a week, get graded and have Doshu sign a certificate for me, all so I can get back to training the week after in a skirt and a black belt. :D

Shannon Frye
09-17-2007, 11:30 PM
Well said. :p

Shannon
:triangle: :circle: :triangle:

...
To other Aikidoka it means that at best I tenkan without falling over, know which end of the bokken to hold and can occasionally do something right :D .

:D

Boblyn Patton
09-18-2007, 03:31 AM
Grading is... an acknowledgement that you know more now than before, and that that means there's even more you don't know and have yet to learn? :hypno:

Pauliina Lievonen
09-18-2007, 03:58 AM
Inside our organization I can fairly accurately guess who's what rank, so it does say something meaningful about people's abilities, but only inside the organisation. We have a pretty clear grading syllabus with specific points that people should pay attention to at different grades, and in my experience preparing for a grading does seem to increase peoples skills. As to the question of ego - if sensei asks me to grade, to me the least "egoistic" thing to do is to do what I'm asked and not make too much of it either way.

I can see how if there were a lot of people grading who didn't seem to have the skills for that grade that would bother me, too. But in the end it's really none of my business, it's up to the teacher.

kvaak
Pauliina

grondahl
09-18-2007, 04:19 AM
In my experience; Generally students that focuses on achiving rank progresses faster than those who dont. Mostly because they set clear goals (learn new parts of the curriculum, improve aspects that are needed for higher ranks such as posture, awase etc) and train more.

Basia Halliop
09-18-2007, 10:59 AM
I like it... it gives you a kind of curriculum, gives you something more precise to aim for in terms of 'improvement', and the more tests you watch the more you have a sense of what is expected at each level...

This is all assuming that your dojo uses ranking that has some reasonable degree of objectiveness (I mean, ideally it shouldn't that matter much if you tell people your rank or not because if the system is reasonable, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise when you tell them anyway, at least within your dojo).

So personally, I can really see the use as an individual learning tool.

DonMagee
09-18-2007, 12:43 PM
I want to be an instructor some day with my own club. This is why I peruse rank. Nobody wants to train with a Sankyu instructor.

Of course I also want to make sure I'm technically as good as my rank suggests. I wouldn't want to be a judo black belt who can't throw anybody.

Mark Freeman
09-18-2007, 01:26 PM
In my run up through the kyu grades, I was heavily goal/grade focussed. I got to 1st Kyu before I realised that getting the next grade was not what aikido is about. It is a welcome relief when you realise this. You can just start to relax and just practice. Since then I have been awarded higher grades, they sort of just come, the longer I stay and just practice.

I like the grading system, it serves me well as a teacher for the benefit of my students, we have a highly structured and comprehensive curriculum, which revolves around the grading system. Many techniques are not taught until the student has reached a certain level. This provides a good learning model for students to progress, and moreover prepares them for some of the more demanding areas of practice e.g. weapons.

I have little doubt that aikido can be taught effectively without the grading system, however I'm glad to be a part of it.

regards,

Mark

G DiPierro
09-18-2007, 02:41 PM
I want to be an instructor some day with my own club. This is why I peruse rank. Nobody wants to train with a Sankyu instructor. To some extent this is true, as most people tend to attach a great deal of importance to rank, both within martial arts organizations and in our society in general. Certainly, the clueless masses will always gravitate towards rank over skill; this is why, at an aikido camp I attended a few years ago, Moriteru Ueshiba's classes were far more popular than those of Nobuyoshi Tamura. Ueshiba has the rank, and that's what most people want, even though it is obvious that his skill level is nowhere near that of Tamura.

However, the discerning student can tell the difference between rank and skill and will seek out those with skill, regardless of rank. Without rank, you will have less students, but they will be of higher quality. I myself claim no rank in any of the arts that I teach yet I have students who hold dan-level rankings and are instructors themselves in other arts. As far as I know, guys like Akuzawa and Dan Harden also claim no rank, yet they are still quite publicly attracting students, also in many cases ones that are advanced practitioners or instructors in other arts. In fact there are entire arts (taijiquan is one example) where there is no ranking system yet they don't seem to have any problem finding students, even if they don't have quite as many.

There is no question that rank is very effective marketing tool, and if you want to build a large dojo or organization then rank will be useful in helping you do that. But is not necessary in order to teach or attract students, and in my experience (in several arts and organizations) the kind of students who are primarily interested in rank and organizations that award rank is much different than the kind who train just for the sake of practicing the art without needing to ascend some formal hierarchy in the process.

Of course, I'm referring mainly to non-competitive arts here where rank is awarded primarily on political rather than technical grounds. It's a little different in arts like BJJ and kendo where rank has a more direct correlation to something technically meaningful (and as an aside, one thing I respect about kendo is that they not only test for rank all the way up 8-dan, but the ZNKR 8-dan exam is one of the hardest exams to pass in the world in terms of failure rate; compare that to the typical aikido organization that only tests up to 3- or 4-dan and where almost everyone passes these 'tests').

Conrad Gus
09-18-2007, 05:12 PM
I was told by a shihan that there is value in the process of testing. Preparing for a test and the event of the test itself are a chance to practice aikido under pressure, which is very different from just doing keiko all the time with no real scrutiny or consequences.

He said that a single test is worth something like two months of practice in terms of aikido lessons learned.

He didn't particularly emphasize that it was the rank that was important, but the process.

Taliesin
09-19-2007, 10:37 AM
Conrad

Sounds about right

G DiPierro
09-19-2007, 10:44 AM
I was told by a shihan that there is value in the process of testing. Preparing for a test and the event of the test itself are a chance to practice aikido under pressure, which is very different from just doing keiko all the time with no real scrutiny or consequences.That's a good point. Most people in aikido usually train in a fairly low-pressure environment where uke always takes a nice fall and there's never any (overt) conflict allowed on the mat (this environment is often what people in aikido mean when they talk about "harmony"). For them the pressure of getting up in front of people and being scrutinized can be a challenging experience. However, if all of those testing are going to pass their 'test', then what purpose does this alleged test serve that a simple demonstration in front of the same people would not serve?

Does the potential, however remote and inconsequential, for failure increase the pressure? If so, would the process not be even more beneficial if the possibility of failure was greater (ie, if it was really a test)? What about if it were a competition where two people were being tested against each other? Wouldn't that be even more pressure? What about a real fight, on the mat but outside the bounds of training rules and customs, where the consequences of failure are much greater than just a little public embarrassment? Surely one would learn even more from such an experience than they would from a test that they are almost certainly not going to fail (and even if they do the consequences are not that great).

I would agree with your shihan that increasing the pressure and consequences to a level above what is found in the typical aikido dojo is a valuable and perhaps even essential training device. However, I don't consider the so-called tests I have seen in aikido, almost always with a very compliant uke, to be anywhere near adequate for this purpose.

Ron Tisdale
09-19-2007, 11:40 AM
I personally am not aware of any Yoshinkan affiliated dojo where there is no possibility of failing a test. I've failed tests myself.

What dojo are these? Do they represent all of aikido, or only a portion?

Best,
Ron

PS. For me personally the consequences were that I spent quite a bit of time (almost every training session, between 5 and 6 days a week, for about two months) prepariing for the re-test. But hey, that was just me...

JAMJTX
09-19-2007, 12:46 PM
The significance will vary from school to school and your rank mostly means nothing outside of your school. Even within an organization, other schools may not recognize ranks from your teacher.

Some organizations will put out a syllabus with minumum requirements. Although they can not be subtracted from, some may add t it

I'm really convinced that all ranks are political in atleast some way. I know very good martial artists with no rank and lesser ones with high ranks. And it's nothing new:

"In 1837 Matsudaira Awaji no Kami Takamoto wrote a blistering commentary on martial arts instructors...
He charged that teachers not only refused promotion to those who have trained hard but also awarded certification to favored students without regard to actual ability. As a consequence, skilled students might lose confidence in their teacher and leave the school.” Hurst: Armed Martial Arts Of Japan: Swordmanship and Archery.

This was even before the Kyu/Dan system.

The entire ranking system should just be scrapped and belts of all colors done away with. This will help bring an end to some of the ego, politics and the cash cow that test/certificate fees have become.

G DiPierro
09-19-2007, 02:55 PM
I personally am not aware of any Yoshinkan affiliated dojo where there is no possibility of failing a test. I've failed tests myself.

What dojo are these? Do they represent all of aikido, or only a portion?

PS. For me personally the consequences were that I spent quite a bit of time (almost every training session, between 5 and 6 days a week, for about two months) prepariing for the re-test. But hey, that was just me...My experience is primarily with the two major aikikai-affiliated groups in the US (USAF and ASU). I've seen many dan tests (and a few kyu tests) over the years in both groups and have never, to the best of my knowledge, seen anyone fail a test. I'm told that decades ago failure was much more common in both groups; in some cases even everyone testing would be failed. I guess they finally realized that failing people was bad for business, so instead they started making the time in grade requirements longer (especially in the case of the USAF, which on paper requires nearly four times as many practice days as the aikikai hombu does for shodan) and then just passing everyone who tests.

I've also been in dojos where a significant amount of time from every class was spent helping one or two people prepare for an upcoming test that they were sure to pass anyway. This preparation would usually begin several months ahead of the test, possibly even six months or more in the case of dan tests.

Ron Tisdale
09-19-2007, 03:43 PM
Not my experience...and the aikikai is not a monolith, either.

Best,
Ron

G DiPierro
09-19-2007, 05:35 PM
Not my experience...and the aikikai is not a monolith, either.It would be interesting to compare the failure rates of dan test in various organizations. For example, the failure rate (in 2005) of the ZNKR 8-dan exam that I mentioned earlier was 99.1% (12 applicants passed out of 1357 -- keep in mind the requirement to test for 8-dan is having been 7-dan for at least 10 years). My guess would be that in the USAF the failure rate over the last several years for 1- through 3-dan (these are the only dan ranks for which they test) would be close to zero. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it is exactly zero, though I would be very surprised if it was even as high as 5%. I would also guess that the ASU numbers are similar, though I don't expect either of these groups (or any other aikido groups) to release that kind of information. Of course, anyone who knows for sure or cares to speculate about their own organization is welcome to do so.

Anyway, the failure rate of dan tests is not the only issue I mentioned. Although increasing the possiblity of failure would also increase the pressure and create more adverse consequences for a bad performance, I still don't think it would come close to what you would experience in a real fight as long as we are talking about the the extremely compliant ukemi that is typical in most organizations. If you let people start to really attack then maybe you might have the beginnings of something useful.

JAMJTX
09-19-2007, 05:56 PM
I read some where that the the All Japan Kendo Federation had some discussion on eliminating the 9th Dan because the failure rate at 7ty-8th level. That may not be the best solution, but it does illustrate the problem.

I think for the most part people just can not train the way they used to.

Not speaking only for Aikido, but other arts I trained in: I always felt like I got good training but always knew that I did not get the same training that my teachers or even some of my seniors got.

Now my own students are saying they would like to train the way I did. But they can't - unless they want to quit thier jobs and get divorced.

Unfortunately, we have to use "belt ranks". But I'm looking more at a "review" as opposed to a "test". When somone is ready for promotion, I'll run them through the requirements just to make sure we got everything covered. If not, or they screw up, then we'll just do it again some day. So, although it is possible to "fail", I won't let them do it unless I'm pretty well convinced they are going to pass. This is the way my Karate teacher did it. In 6 years I only saw 2 people "fail".

Conrad Gus
09-19-2007, 06:43 PM
However, if all of those testing are going to pass their 'test', then what purpose does this alleged test serve that a simple demonstration in front of the same people would not serve?


I agree. That's why Inaba Sensei fails people regularly. I was choked when I failed ikkyu. I mean I screwed some stuff up but it wasn't THAT bad (or so I thought). Sensei said something along the lines of: "You don't understand -- everybody fails at least one test!"

I recently read on the Kobayashi Dojos website about their recent testing. Kobayashi sensei wrote that the nidan tests were so good that he HAD to fail ALL the sandans. He also wrote something like "good luck next year"! That's what I call pressure.

JAMJTX
09-19-2007, 06:49 PM
I came back to edit but too late...

I also saw a lot come and go without ever testing and some were there for a long time.

In another Karate class with the same kind of standards we had 2 guys start the same time. They didn;t know each other before just started the same day. They were both "green belts" about 5th kyu when one started talking about how is friend who started around the same time was a black belt already. Sensei just told him to go to that school then - which he did. He came back 6 months later wearing a black belt while his old class-mate was still wearing green. So Sensei had them spar. Needles to say, the new black belt got creamed (actually knocked out).

I'm sure there are a lot of dojo where there are stories like this. It just goes to show that rank means nothing.

Conrad Gus
09-19-2007, 06:54 PM
My experience is primarily with the two major aikikai-affiliated groups in the US (USAF and ASU). I've seen many dan tests (and a few kyu tests) over the years in both groups and have never, to the best of my knowledge, seen anyone fail a test.

I have seen this as well in another organization. I've heard the explanation that when a poor test happens it's the sensei that gets in trouble from the shihan doing the test, not the student. So the student passes, but the sensei gets lambasted who in turn is supposed to take the criticism and do more to prepare the next batch of testers. It kind of makes sense, except for the fact that sometimes people pass even if their test is horrible. Personally, I would rather flunk it and get a chance to do a better job. Spending years at a rank that I felt I really hadn't earned would feel rather awful.

giriasis
09-19-2007, 09:30 PM
Giancarlo,

Where were you at the USAF Winter Camp 2000, 2002 and 2003? I was there and people were failed.

Where were you at the USAF Yudansha Seminar in 2006. I was there and people were failed.

Where were you at the seminar in Montreal this year? I heard a few people were failed there.

Failures happen and standards exist. It's not like Yamada Sensei is going to look up your name on AikiWeb and let you know when people failed.

In my eight years of aikido, I've seen people get failed at the dan level and within my own dojo, too. It happens.

G DiPierro
09-19-2007, 10:08 PM
Where were you at the USAF Winter Camp 2000, 2002 and 2003? I was there and people were failed.

Where were you at the USAF Yudansha Seminar in 2006. I was there and people were failed.

Where were you at the seminar in Montreal this year? I heard a few people were failed there.

In my eight years of aikido, I've seen people get failed at the dan level and within my own dojo, too. It happens.Thanks for the information. I certainly haven't been to every USAF seminar in the past eight years, nor did I even necessarily watch the tests at every seminar I attended (I find them rather boring), but I still have been to a lot of seminars and seen a fair amount of tests over the years. Since your experience is different than mine, I'm curious what would you estimate to be the overall failure rate for 1- to 3-dan over the past several years in the USAF? For example, you mention failures at the winter seminar in 00, 02, and 03. Would it be correct to assume that you also attended in 01 and 04-07 and that everyone passed in those years? Adding up all of the people testing over those years, even just at that seminar, what percentage would you say failed? If you think the failure rate is different at each rank, that would be interesting to know as well.

Jason Woolley
09-20-2007, 03:50 AM
So, really, why test? What does it mean to say 'I passed my ___ kyu or my ___ dan test, when the person with whom you train might not be able to tell, or might not care? Why do *you* test? What does your rank mean to you? What do you think it means to other people?


Good questions.

To say "I passed my n -- kyu/dan test" is to reduce Aikido to the status of one more qualification/certificate to be collected. Given that grades are not usually recognised between organisations and have a huge variance within large organisations (eg Aikikai or even individual clubs), it becomes meaningless to all but the gradee.

Personally, I test because when it happens, it happens. I have trained in places where the entire focus of every class was to practise the syllabus for the next grading and I have trained in places where there were no gradings -- students were put ‘under pressure' at unexpected moments and continually assessed during regular classes. Grades were handed out when the teachers considered it appropriate with a casual ‘you are now this, congratulations, carry on…'

To me, my rank is a measure of progress and it's just part of the personal relationship between student and teacher. To other people, I would suggest, it's pretty meaningless.

Gradings have become part of the ‘business' of the martial arts and a marketing tool to keep to keep the gentle masses interested, and paying.

Full consideration of the questions posed in the OP lead to more profound questions like:

What is the purpose of the martial arts?

and

Why do you train?

Karen Wolek
09-20-2007, 06:12 AM
My guess would be that in the USAF the failure rate over the last several years for 1- through 3-dan (these are the only dan ranks for which they test) would be close to zero. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it is exactly zero, though I would be very surprised if it was even as high as 5%.

The last time I watched dan tests at a USAF seminar, six people failed their test. Four shodan tests and two nidan tests failed.

I don't remember the exact number of tests, but that six was probably around 25% of the tests that day.

My sensei also told me about one time where EVERYONE failed at a dan test.

I have watched a lot of dan tests in the USAF and I have seen many people fail. Next year, I will test for shodan and you can bet I will be 150% ready before my sensei lets me test.

G DiPierro
09-20-2007, 09:14 AM
The last time I watched dan tests at a USAF seminar, six people failed their test. Four shodan tests and two nidan tests failed.Do you know why these people failed? Did they know the techniques and perform them to a substandard level, or did they simply not know the techniques. Were there other problems? Also, do you know if those who failed were direct students of one of the testers or students of someone else?

I don't remember the exact number of tests, but that six was probably around 25% of the tests that day.Would you say it is typical for this number to fail at every test, or only occasionally? For example, if this percentage failed at only one test in four, assuming the same number of applicants each time, the overall failure rate would be closer to 6%. Even that is higher than I had thought, though. Based on the information in this thread, perhaps an estimate of 10 to 20% would be more accurate.

My sensei also told me about one time where EVERYONE failed at a dan test.I have heard of that too but not any time recently.

Ron Tisdale
09-20-2007, 11:01 AM
Obviously, only one poster here has the experience of no one failing...

Best,
Ron

Basia Halliop
09-20-2007, 12:07 PM
In our dojo (at the kyu level, anyway) there is a 'pre-test' where you basically do the test but after/before class with a smaller audience and without filling out the forms and paying the money... you also get comments and errors pointed out. If you pass the pre-test, you will 'nearly' always pass the test test (in class, everyone there, have to pay a fee, same content as pre-test). However, it's comparatively more common not to pass the pre-test or to yourself decide not to test yet after the pre-test.

I suppose it works OK. Practically speaking, I do like the idea of saving the money by having them tell me if I'm not good enough to 'probably' pass. And even if the vast majority pass, the pressure is there on test day in the form of embarrassment (also pressure on pre-test day, certainly!). Everyone wants to have a good test, not just barely pass.

G DiPierro
09-20-2007, 01:14 PM
Obviously, only one poster here has the experience of no one failing...If my assumptions, based on my experiences, about the failure rate in the organizations I mentioned were wrong, I want to know about it so that I will have better information in the future, but it does not substantially impact the point I was making about the usefulness of such tests as a device that increases the pressure and consequences of training beyond what is experienced in everyday practice. As I already wrote earlier in this thread in response to one your posts:

Anyway, the failure rate of dan tests is not the only issue I mentioned. Although increasing the possiblity of failure would also increase the pressure and create more adverse consequences for a bad performance, I still don't think it would come close to what you would experience in a real fight as long as we are talking about the the extremely compliant ukemi that is typical in most organizations. If you let people start to really attack then maybe you might have the beginnings of something useful.

The fact that such tests are just performances from a catalog of techniques that would not work except on compliant ukes who have been properly trained to fall is much more important from my perspective than the issue of whether anyone fails such tests.

Ron Tisdale
09-20-2007, 03:02 PM
One wouldn't necessarily understand that from your posts.

Anyhoo...we all know it's cooperative training, in archaic techniques, in archaic dress. With some applications to current day self defense, if you go beyond the average training.

Heck, the same could be said for boxing. Except for the coopertive part. :D

Big Deal.

Best,
Ron (I'm feeling a little snarky today, please forgive...)

G DiPierro
09-20-2007, 03:55 PM
One wouldn't necessarily understand that from your posts.

Anyhoo...we all know it's cooperative training, in archaic techniques, in archaic dress. With some applications to current day self defense, if you go beyond the average training.Back in post 17 I was addressing the issue of testing being important not for the result (promotions and ranks) but for the experience of pressure and consequences beyond everyday training. That's a fair point, but I then suggested that it was possible to go far beyond the level that most people in aikido experience even in testing.

I started from the point of tests that everyone passed and asked if there would be more pressure if the chance of failure was greater. Even if the chance of failing a test in the organizations I mentioned is as high as 20%, and I doubt that it is that high, perhaps the pressure could still be increased by making the failure rate higher. However, again, that's still a minor point.

The next thing I suggested is that the pressure could be increased even more if the other person was fighting back. For example, if it were a competition where only one of the two would pass. Another example would be the dan tests in Steven Seagal's old dojo. If you have ever seen the videos then you know what I mean: three people really trying to tackle you is a very different experience from three people coming at you with weak, telegraphed attacks that are meant to just give you a handle to throw them with rather than to do anything bad to you (and that's how I would describe most of the multi-person randori I have seen in aikido tests).

But why even wait for a test that comes once every year or two? I believe it is possible to have this level of training every day, by gradually working up to it, of course. This is true in competitive arts like judo and kendo, but it is also true in many non-competitive, totally choreographed koryu. They all have archaic dress and techniques, but that doesn't mean that the practice should go completely down to the road to martial fantasy land. Why not have in aikido the same level of intensity and realism that these arts have, and why not have it every practice?

Basia Halliop
09-20-2007, 06:43 PM
"Even if the chance of failing a test in the organizations I mentioned is as high as 20%, and I doubt that it is that high, perhaps the pressure could still be increased by making the failure rate higher"

Just sort of playing devil's advocate here, but wouldn't that depend also on the 'consequences' of failing, even (or perhaps especially) the psychological consequences? I wonder if failure was _very very_ common, if there might actually be less fear of failure because 'it's no big deal, it happens to everyone all the time'? I don't know if that would actually be the case (or maybe if might just shift it from 'fear of failure' to 'really hoping you can pass' and make passing that much more exciting and rewarding, which could be a motivator too), but I do think if failure is a minority but possible if it makes you really not want to be 'that one that everyone will remember who failed' or however you may picture it in your mind.

In any case to me personally it's more important mainly to 'know that I really honestly passed', so I would just be suspicious if testing and grading seemed too automatic or arbitrary.

G DiPierro
09-21-2007, 12:46 PM
Just sort of playing devil's advocate here, but wouldn't that depend also on the 'consequences' of failing, even (or perhaps especially) the psychological consequences? I wonder if failure was _very very_ common, if there might actually be less fear of failure because 'it's no big deal, it happens to everyone all the time'? I don't know if that would actually be the case (or maybe if might just shift it from 'fear of failure' to 'really hoping you can pass' and make passing that much more exciting and rewarding, which could be a motivator too), but I do think if failure is a minority but possible if it makes you really not want to be 'that one that everyone will remember who failed' or however you may picture it in your mind.

In any case to me personally it's more important mainly to 'know that I really honestly passed', so I would just be suspicious if testing and grading seemed too automatic or arbitrary.Good point. Probably the ideal failure rate from the perspective of increasing the stakes psychologically is around 10%. This is enough that people know that there is a real possibility of failure but not so much that failure is too commonplace. It's kind of like a casino (expect in reverse): they need to let you win sometimes to keep you coming back, but not enough that they would lose money.

In the case of aikido, there's also other good reasons why they want to keep the failure rate low, beyond the fact that it becomes more of a stigma to fail. Because rank is so tied to status in aikido dojos, failing a rank test can be a major blow psychologically not just for the failure but also for the consequences in daily training, so they need to be judicious about using it. In competitive arts like kendo there are other formal provisions (such as tournaments) for the expression of physical skill in ways that give practitioners a socially-acknowledged feeling of accomplishment. In aikido, often even informal expressions of skill in paired practice are only permitted in ways that correspond directly with rank, if at all. So rank takes on an elevated level of importance in aikido and it becomes a much bigger deal to formally deny it to someone.

Budd
09-21-2007, 01:33 PM
I think rank is between the student and teacher. It doesn't necessarily translate anywhere else (other dojo or organizations) and at best represents a process of long, consistent training.

On the one hand, I don't buy that someone wearing a skirt necessarily knows anything worth a damn.

On the other hand, I don't buy that some 20 year student that couldn't be bothered to test beyond 4th Kyu necessarily knows anything, either.

Regardless of whether "competition" formally exists in aikido or not, there's ways of checking your stuff against someone else that has nothing to do with cooperation, but doesn't need to degrade to the level of "fighting", either. I find that it's usually insecure people that need attention or recognition that place undue emphasis on the former or latter to the extent that they have to walk away thinking they're "better".

G DiPierro
09-21-2007, 03:12 PM
I think rank is between the student and teacher. It doesn't necessarily translate anywhere else (other dojo or organizations) and at best represents a process of long, consistent training.If rank were just between the student and the teacher then why do we need to have special certificates sent from Japan, make a big deal of presenting such certificates, require to people to wear different color belts based on rank, reserve hakama for some ranks and not others, put up a prominent list of members by rank (nafudakake) in the dojo, advertise what rank a teacher has on websites and other promotional material, etc.? Rank actually is a product and tool of organizations that they use to obtain, retain, and control students politically, technically, and financially. Its connection to the student-teacher relationship exists only to the extent that this relationship can be appropriated by the organization to advance its own goals.

Budd
09-21-2007, 03:22 PM
Mr. DiPierro, while you're entitled to your opinion, like I am, I don't think that you have the authority to speak on behalf of all aikido organizations, dojos, or its practitioners. When you make such broad generalizations regarding aikido (an art practiced differently within and between organizations and dojo), it lessens the credibility of any valid points that your argument might have.

FWIW

G DiPierro
09-21-2007, 04:27 PM
Mr. DiPierro, while you're entitled to your opinion, like I am, I don't think that you have the authority to speak on behalf of all aikido organizations, dojos, or its practitioners. When you make such broad generalizations regarding aikido (an art practiced differently within and between organizations and dojo), it lessens the credibility of any valid points that your argument might have.When I make generalizations, I'm usually speaking about the major aikido organizations, or sometimes only about the aikikai, which is the largest of those groups. I try to include qualifications like "most", "many", or "typical" as much as I can to make it clear that I don't mean to include every aikido dojo, but at some point you just have to rely on the reader to know that I'm talking about the common traits you would find in the average dojos in these groups. I think the places that deviate from the norm know it already and it is probably somewhat of a point of pride for them anyway. For example, when I compared aikido to competitive arts earlier in this thread I obviously did not mean to include the JAA in with the aikido groups since they have tournaments, and I don't think that there is any confusion that this is something that makes them different from other kinds of aikido. So I think it was clear enough that I was not talking about them without me having to explicitly state that.

Anyway, if you want to discus that issue further please contact me privately since it does not pertain to this thread. However, let me make it clear that my statement in my previous post about rank being a product of organizations is not a matter of opinion but something that is always true, in any art and any style. If it were just one teacher and one student (which is really the way transmission works anyway), then how could rank have any meaning? That student is both the most senior student and the most junior one. The alpha and the omega. Sure, you call that rank anything you want, and change it at any time, but it is completely arbitrary and has no reference point except that of the teacher, who is always going to be higher in rank.

Once you have another student then you can rank them. You can do it by when they started, how many hours they have practiced, how good they are, how old they are, how tall they are: any standard you choose. But now you have an organization: three people, with one in charge and the other two remaining to be ranked second and third by the first. As your organization grows, you can add more ranks, and at a certain point you might want to standardize them in some way so that people can move up systematically. Or you might not. But outside of the context of such an organization, rank has no meaning.

Budd
09-21-2007, 05:40 PM
While I understand your general caveats, I disagree that it 1) Doesn't pertain to this thread & 2) Even talking about one organization from a position of authority is tenuous at best, unless you can provide some indication of qualification for speaking with such authority.

I also disagree regarding your definition/opinion/interpretation of rank via organizational decree. In some cases, the organization becomes the stand-in for the teacher (or the true method of transmission when the teacher may not qualify - pros and cons of which can be debatable), but it's still going to be a case by case instance of transmission of an art and rank being an aspect of the relationship between the student and transmitter/student/teacher/organization/whatever.

While I also do get what you mean about organizations sometimes existing to support the organization, rather than further transmission, I would be very careful (good lesson learned for me) about trying to take it upon myself (I train with folks/dojo in organizations periodically, but belong to an independent dojo) to make any worthwhile comments about how aikido organizations exist or should exist. I have enough to do with just being dedicated to my own training and, frankly, what they big groups do is none of my concern.

G DiPierro
09-21-2007, 07:24 PM
While I understand your general caveats, I disagree that it 1) Doesn't pertain to this thread & 2) Even talking about one organization from a position of authority is tenuous at best, unless you can provide some indication of qualification for speaking with such authority.Well if it wasn't already clear, let me state now for the record that anything I say about any aikido organization comes from no position of authority whatsoever. I speak as an outsider who has seen some things and has opinions on those things, and those opinions might or might not be useful to you. Think of it like the difference between reading an article in the newspaper about the President's policy and reading the press release issued by the White House press secretary. I'm the former, so you'll have to evaluate my opinions on their own merits.

I also disagree regarding your definition/opinion/interpretation of rank via organizational decree. In some cases, the organization becomes the stand-in for the teacher (or the true method of transmission when the teacher may not qualify - pros and cons of which can be debatable), but it's still going to be a case by case instance of transmission of an art and rank being an aspect of the relationship between the student and transmitter/student/teacher/organization/whatever.Perhaps, but the point is that rank only has meaning relative to other people in the organization. It speaks of the transmission itself indirectly through comparison with others who have received some part of that transmission. If a teacher chooses to use rank (and it is choice, although one that is essentially made for you if you happen to be part of an organization that issues rank), then it can become one aspect of the student-teacher relationship, but it still only has meaning in terms of the organization, not the transmission.

While I also do get what you mean about organizations sometimes existing to support the organization, rather than further transmission, I would be very careful (good lesson learned for me) about trying to take it upon myself (I train with folks/dojo in organizations periodically, but belong to an independent dojo) to make any worthwhile comments about how aikido organizations exist or should exist. I have enough to do with just being dedicated to my own training and, frankly, what they big groups do is none of my concern.I have somewhat more of a connection to the big groups than you do, but I'm also independent right now, and I probably will remain that way. In any case, I don't have much to say about what those groups should do. They do what they do. What I'm interested in is why they do what they do (which is not the same thing as why they say they do what they do) so that I can better understand the roots of my own training.

When I first started teaching I had a very hard time getting away from doing things the same way I had seen them done in the organizations I trained in, even though I knew there were a lot of problems with that system. I just didn't know another way. I've spent a lot time discovering other, and I think better, ways of doing things, but it's still a process of exploration, and the more I can understand exactly why things are the way they are in those other places, the more I can determine what needs to be changed in order to go in the direction that I want my students and myself to go.

wepdavidson
09-22-2007, 01:56 PM
Out of interest and because I enjoyed reading it, this translation of Yasuo Kobayashi Shihan's blog is relevant to the whole testing discussion, both in terms of how he sees tests and also the failure rate ( particularly note the yondans).

http://www3.cnet-ta.ne.jp/c/coby/aikido/kobadojo/3dan.html

The translation is by Ekoba (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/member.php?u=12375 another Kobayashi dojos student but no relation!) and very welcome for us non-Japanese speakers & readers.

John Bernhard
10-09-2007, 05:25 PM
In response to the original posters original question.

To say I didn't originally start Aikido when I was 18 so I could get a "black belt" would be a lie. However, the group that I started training with changed my mind considerably by the examples I saw with them. The sensei of our dojo (George Reynolds) had studied for 10 years and was a 1st kyu when I first started. I recall the first seminar I went with him too up in Nashville, TN back in 1998. It was a Doc Jones Sensei/Dennis Hooker Sensei (From Shindai Dojo in Orlando, FL ASU organization) joint seminar, my very first seminar ever, and I had only been training for 6 months previously. My Sensei's Sensei (Dennis Hooker, Sensei) as I recall it from 9 years ago basically told my Sensei he was going to test for Shodan. My sensei really didn't' want too but he did after being told he was going to. It was seeing my sensei's non-importance placed on rank, and more so his being able to grasp the principles of Aikido that changed my mind significantly about attaining of rank. I trained for years and never tested, it just wasn't important. What was more important was my grasping the principles being taught to me by my sensei.

Now 10 years into my training I tested for my 4th kyu, and this time I had the reverse happen to me. I was asked if I wished to test and I said yes. After approximately 2 weeks more of training it was announced that I would test the next time we trained. Did I want too, nooooo, I didnt' feel ready by any means, talk about pressure. However, my sensei (Jim Novak) must have seen something in me that said test him next meeting.

Our instructors are always "testing" us. He tests us when we are working with others he or she tests us when we are uke for them during class, etc. We are constantly being tested. I believe during Seminars for ASU any 1st Kyu who wishes to test for Dan rank must attend 2 seminars with either Ikeda, Shihan or Saotome Shihan before they can test at which point the Shihan will evaluate he candidate for testing. Now there may be other rules that I'm just not aware of and thats alright. However, It sounds like to me that the Sensei is testing the candidate on their understanding of the "principles" of the techniques being studied. These are the same Sensei that will be testing the candidate for Shodan, etc.

As for colored belts and Hakama. One thing I love about my dojo is that anyone may wear Hakama from day one or not at all. Its up to you. Belts....i LOVE my dirty gross white belt. Its very special to me, and I woudln't trade it for anything in the world. It makes me understand why it took my sensei just about a year to change his old white belt into a black belt even after he attained Shodan. As I recall it, he was given one by another Sensei and told to wear it. :) But that is why I love my Sensei, for he has completely changed my mind and allowed me to focus on learning principle not matching my belt to my Hakama color.

Now I wish to go higher in rank so that I may one day open up my own dojo, but I am glad that I learned some of those lessons above first.

John
:ai: :ki: :do:

stelios
10-10-2007, 05:11 AM
Testing IMHO is all about you learning of what you do not know well. A silent dive deep into oneself.

dalen7
10-12-2007, 01:16 PM
Initially my response was similar to some here. Test and achieve rank so that you may teach or open a dojo.

But funny thing is, from what I am seeing, there is so many different ideas of what one should be required to know and do as you 'rank up' in Aikido - that it doesnt really make a difference.

One guy comes from one dojo, goes to another, and you can see a difference. Go to another country, even a different system still.

Worse is what Im seeing in my own dojo. Things are random and without purpose. This bothers me to an extent, and Im learning to 'let it go' as its not that important, but Im the kind of guy that has a list and wants to stick to it and know what it is Im tackling.

I have such a list, but it doesnt appear that it really matters, at least in my dojo. Communication about ranking isnt even there, I had to take it upon myself to find out what test requirements were - most students are clueless at what they need to do.

Funnier yet is we have higher level belts that dont know what they should have known at lower level and I have corrected them (im not even ranked yet...that I know of, I say that kind of jokingly, as it appears that some people can skip test.)

So, at the end of the day - if it were just my dojo, I would say what some of you will say...move on. But again, it does seem subjective to dojo, and has been said before that there is no commmon set requirement, per say. Though, there may be some organizations within Aikido that are more in 'sync' - which Im very sure there is.

At the end of the day, like one guy said, if you know what your doing, people will come. Doesnt matter the color of your belt if you dont know squat.

Peace

dAlen

tenshinaikidoka
11-08-2007, 11:15 AM
I have seen white belts that are comletely outstanding Aikidokas and I have seen blackbelts who have no clue what is going on and I wonder how they achieved thier rank. It really is no matter what belt color, just train hard. As for testing, I think it is good not for promotion, but to see a person level of understanding, plus, a sensei (at least in my experience) is always "testing" his/her students. Some people want rank and some want to just train. I really just like to train, but I have rank!!! My humble 2 cents worth!!!

gregg block
11-15-2007, 07:01 PM
Testing in Aikido is important for the same reason testing is important in school. It is a measure of your mastery of a given curriculum. Problem is if your curriculum or the person teaching the curriculum sucks getting an "A" is pretty meaningless.

Amir Krause
11-18-2007, 03:33 PM
I was told by a shihan that there is value in the process of testing. Preparing for a test and the event of the test itself are a chance to practice aikido under pressure, which is very different from just doing keiko all the time with no real scrutiny or consequences.

He said that a single test is worth something like two months of practice in terms of aikido lessons learned.

He didn't particularly emphasize that it was the rank that was important, but the process.

That's a good point. Most people in aikido usually train in a fairly low-pressure environment where uke always takes a nice fall and there's never any (overt) conflict allowed on the mat (this environment is often what people in aikido mean when they talk about "harmony"). For them the pressure of getting up in front of people and being scrutinized can be a challenging experience. However, if all of those testing are going to pass their 'test', then what purpose does this alleged test serve that a simple demonstration in front of the same people would not serve?

Does the potential, however remote and inconsequential, for failure increase the pressure? If so, would the process not be even more beneficial if the possibility of failure was greater (ie, if it was really a test)? What about if it were a competition where two people were being tested against each other? Wouldn't that be even more pressure? What about a real fight, on the mat but outside the bounds of training rules and customs, where the consequences of failure are much greater than just a little public embarrassment? Surely one would learn even more from such an experience than they would from a test that they are almost certainly not going to fail (and even if they do the consequences are not that great).

I would agree with your shihan that increasing the pressure and consequences to a level above what is found in the typical aikido dojo is a valuable and perhaps even essential training device. However, I don't consider the so-called tests I have seen in aikido, almost always with a very compliant uke, to be anywhere near adequate for this purpose.

Are you sure you are not spinning that Shihan's words way beyond his intention?
There is a huge difference between testing skill under pressure and learning under pressure. The first can provide an indication for a slow in depth study, the latter is the hurried approach. And I am not sure both climb the same mountain.

Increasing the pressure as you kind of suggested is not constructive to the learning process. In a fight, one is fighting, not learning (the modern science of sports training even talks about maximal levels of acids in the blood for efficient learning). I doubt the purpose of being tested under pressure is to crash the person, I would think one who feels he succeeded would gain more from it, psychologicly, then the one who continously fails after crashing from the pressure. After one coupes successfuly, it might be possible to gradually increase the requiemnts from him, and the level of pressue, and it would work, but only up to some point.

A test only happens when the person is ready for it(in the eyes of his teacher). The person is expected to succeed, since he only approaches the barrier after his teacher believes e can pass it. Hence, one should expect rather high success ratios. From my own experiance in our dojo, most failures happened due to over pressure, and not due to lack of abilty. And almost everyone, have passed two months later.

A contest is not a test, the buildup is different. The controlebility of the experiance is not the same.
Further, competitions tend to change the M.A. which uses them (this definitly applies to Judo, Kendo , TKD and most probably to Tomiki Aikido as well). People start practicing only to win the competition, some technical variations are found to be too dangerous to be used full force. Etc.

It would be interesting to compare the failure rates of dan test in various organizations. For example, the failure rate (in 2005) of the ZNKR 8-dan exam that I mentioned earlier was 99.1% (12 applicants passed out of 1357 -- keep in mind the requirement to test for 8-dan is having been 7-dan for at least 10 years). My guess would be that in the USAF the failure rate over the last several years for 1- through 3-dan (these are the only dan ranks for which they test) would be close to zero. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it is exactly zero, though I would be very surprised if it was even as high as 5%. I would also guess that the ASU numbers are similar, though I don't expect either of these groups (or any other aikido groups) to release that kind of information. Of course, anyone who knows for sure or cares to speculate about their own organization is welcome to do so.
Can you seriously compare 8th dan failure rates to Shodan to Sandan failure rates???
Why should the results be similar???

Mr. G DiPierro
What is your beef with Aikikai? You seem to try and blacken them at every opportunity, and I start wondering why?
I would like to mention I am not of Aikikai affiliation, or even Ushiba Aikido affiliation. If I have this feeling, what do members of that organization feel?

Amir

Keith Larman
11-18-2007, 05:56 PM
If your organization has a ranking system and you're within that organization you'll understand how "valid" the ranking is, how useful it is (or isn't), etc. after you've been there long enough. The irony is that most who get into the higher ranks begin to realize that ultimately it isn't about rank -- most are just there because it is what they do and they like doing it. So you keep doing it. And then one day you get asked to test. Or you get far enough where you can't test anymore and someone hands you the next one. You say thank you and life goes on. The value will depend on the group, where you are and what you're looking for.

I remember having the realization hit me partway through my sandan test that this was going to be my last formal test (we only test up to sandan in Seidokan). "Hmmm, how did I ever get to this point? Where did the years go? Oh, well, no matter. I'm having fun..."

If you're in an organization that doesn't award rank, great as well.

If you try to compare ranks across organizations, well, best of luck to you.

If you're trying to compare testing methods across groups, ha!, well, enjoy yourself. That's kinda like comparing apples and zambonies...

Frankly those without rank who complain that ranking is meaningless often sound about the same to me as those with bloated and often made-up high ranks who boast about how great it is. Two sides of the same close to worthless coin. I can't count how many guys have shown up in the dojo over the years who have read all the books and then tell us how many different martial arts styles they've studied. Gone from one to the other. Or the dojo-hoppers. Those who never stay long enough to really get all that good at anything. Usually under 30 year old guys who claim "proficiency" in 5 different arts already. I'm in my mid 40's working on feeling passable in one. Maybe I'm slow. Anyway, these guys usually have an overabundance of confidence with a complete lack of ability to compensate for it. ;) And after a few weeks (rarely months) they wander out never to return again adding yet another style to their "resume" before they go and start up their own dojo with their own "eclectic" style of whatever it is they're doing. A gigantic, wide pool that's exactly 1 mm deep that will not be able sustain life... A little of everything but no depth whatsoever.

Anyone who trains any amount of time knows full well that ability is not reserved for the high ranks. Nor is intelligence, humility, or anything else. But rank within many groups does mean someone has been around a while, has trained hard, has passed tests, and has as a result demonstrated ability on different occasions. Those without rank may have done as much work, but just without the tests. And there are those without rank who have never demonstrated anything other than the ability to type on internet forums and hop from one dojo to the next.

But rank within some organizations means precisely what it does within that group. And for many groups it is a sign of progress, ability and contribution. And that and $5 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbuck's (no, wait, sorry, that would be a venti mocha blah blah blah blah).

Frankly I just look upon it as time on the path. Some move faster, some move slower, but progress is something else entirely. And ultimately we're all on the same path, some have just been there longer. Ideally rank helps us understand some of that within the context of your own organization. No guarantees, no absolutes. It is silly to take it too seriously. It is equally silly to just toss it out as worthless.

Much ado about nothing.

If an organization doesn't have rank, so be it. However, even the koryu organizations have structures. It might be simply kohai/sempai style, but they also have various things like menkyo, etc. The rankings may not always be overt, public and formalized, but they're always there.

So just train and figure out what it is where you are. And then train more because nothing really changes.

More mat, less chat...

Frankly, however, sticking with my Shakespearean theme, I do think some doth protest too much sometimes...

Michael Hackett
11-18-2007, 06:42 PM
Keith,

Your writing is as sharp and polished as your blades. Well said!

Avery Jenkins
11-18-2007, 06:54 PM
Keith,

Great post. I've never heard it explicated better.

G DiPierro
11-19-2007, 10:16 AM
Mr. G DiPierro
What is your beef with Aikikai? You seem to try and blacken them at every opportunity, and I start wondering why?
I would like to mention I am not of Aikikai affiliation, or even Ushiba Aikido affiliation. If I have this feeling, what do members of that organization feel?You're a little late to this here party. Most everyone else packed up and went home a couple of months ago. But if you really want to know, I talk about the Aikikai the most because that is the organization I have the most experience with, having been a member of several dojos affiliated with that organization and also having attended many other classes and seminars with top-ranking teachers in that group. I have my criticisms of other organizations as well but I don't mention those as much because I don't have as much experience with them.

The Aikikai, specifically through a couple of US-affiliated groups, was a significant part of my life for a number of years. I left, gradually in small steps over time, mainly because they would not allow me to continue down the path I was going while continuing my relationship with them. It was their choice, and while I don't have any problems with that choice (honestly it probably has worked out better for me this way, though I'll never know for sure what might have happened had things been different), I found a lot of the behavior I encountered over the years in that group to be very hypocritical, with many people both in and out of positions of authority trying to claim the moral high-ground all the while taking actions for no other reasons than aggrandizing their own egos and advancing their petty political agendas. That's the part that I found sickening. If they had been more upfront with me I'm sure that I would have a lot more respect for them now.

Daniel Blanco
11-19-2007, 02:20 PM
Rank shows a persons/self progression through aikido,but sometimes it just builds egos for people.

Keith Larman
11-19-2007, 03:31 PM
Rank shows a persons/self progression through aikido,but sometimes it just builds egos for people.

I would disagree. Rank doesn't build ego. Rank is just what it is - nothing more, nothing less. Some develop big egos after being given certain ranks, but often they develop those egos independantly of it. Heck, some have the ego with very little rank. Some have the ego the day they begin and are never able to adequately empty their cups to learn what is being taught. Lots of those around even on on-line forums.

Some seem to look down on the concept of ranking. Frankly I find peoples' *reaction* to attaining higher rank more of the issue and vastly more indicative of problems. It has nothing to do with the rank per se. It has everything to do with human frailties. If someone earns their rank, they earned it, ego or not. I regularly train with two shichidan. Both humble, nice guys. No pretense. We train, get beers, go cut up tatami, and basically enjoy ourselves (not necessarily in that order -- no beer before cutting). ;)

Of course it doesn't mean I'll have any respect for a person with an inflated opinion of themselves solely due to having attained a high rank. I will, however, respect the rank and position the person has earned. There is a difference.

G DiPierro
11-20-2007, 08:06 AM
Rank is just what it is - nothing more, nothing less.Ahh, but what is it? That is the real question.
Some seem to look down on the concept of ranking.I don't have any problems with the concept of ranking. We rank things all of the time. Any time you make any kind of decision you have to first rank the possible choices according to some criteria.

The problem lies in how that concept is applied within aikido organizations. What are the criteria for ranking people in a non-competitive art like aikido? Every group has some sort of list of techniques that must be performed, but beyond that there is no specification of how they must be performed. Typically, they are done on a fully compliant, non-resisting partner of sufficient experience to know the ukemi well enough to make the nage look good. Rather than requiring some objective level of skill, aikido tests are usually look more for how well someone conforms to the particular style of their organization.

The other formal criterion is practice days, which usually have to be within a dojo in the organization you are testing in. This is more a measure of loyalty than anything else. And of course, given the subjective nature of performing techniques with a fully-compliant partner, often for one judge who will ultimately make an entirely subjective decision on his own, politics factor heavily in all aikido promotions. In fact, above 3- or 4-dan even the pretense of testing is done away with in most aikido groups and all aikido promotions become political.

So rank "is what it is," but what it is in aikido is not what people think it is. It is by no means an objective measure or guarantee of skill, even within one group, and certainly not within the general martial arts community. Nor is it a necessary or even sufficient requirement to teach anyone anything. It is nothing more than a measure of one's political position within one particular organization.

If people understood that and did not try to make rank into something it is not then I suspect there would not be so many problems. However, I think the organizations actively encourage a misunderstanding of what rank is because it increases their power over their members when people consider political status (ie, rank) within an organization to be more important than actual skill, as many, if not most, people in aikido do.

Keith Larman
11-20-2007, 10:37 AM
Your posts read like the writing of a very bitter man who only sees things in very black and white terms.

What makes you think everyone always trains with only fully compliant partners? You've got a lot of balls to make these sort of sweeping generalizations. As I was initially learning back when I remember being helped along the way. Not much resistance but enough to help me understand what I was learning. But as I got better the resistance became stronger, faster and more subtle. I guess you never had that experience. Or else you're so bloody sure of what you "know" that you've never given anyone the chance to get you there. No, it doesn't happen right away, but over time the resistance starts to increase as the higher ranks begin to understand your ability to handle the increased resistance and intensity. To the point where the higher ranks quite frequently have classes where we go all out. Right down to combination punches, attacks, etc.

I must say I find your sweeping generalizations absurd, small minded, and indicative of your not being anywhere long enough to find a group of people willing to train with you at intensity. Not to mention somewhat insulting to those who train very hard. You like to paint the whole of Aikido in terms that you've apparently long decided is the way of all Aikido. And then you start writing like some pissed off old fart grumbling that no one does it the right way.

And while I'm typing, what makes you think the board on a test isn't capable of seeing when an uke is "giving it up" for a nage? When we test we're also evaluting the uke's performance on the test. And we *demand* attacks of intensity and sincerity commensurate with their ability. No, I'm not going to ask some nidan to go out on a test and try to decapitate a gokyu. But if the person giving the gokyu the punch isn't putting something into it and really trying, well, we'll have them sit down and we'll call up someone who will. And that expectation grows with each and every test. I've seen tests that haven't gone very well because the uke was trying too hard to "help out" but just laying things out there.

Of course there will always be politics. There are politics in each and every organization. How much varies. But you seem to see things only through your rose tinted glasses. So everything looks the same to you and I submit it is more about you than the world outside.

Or at least it is at total odds with my experience, goals and training within my group. Sure, there are some who are no where near as effective as others. Just like everywhere and everything else. Obviously not everyone is as fire breathing effective a uber martial artist as you. But it may surprise you to find out that many people within aikido *do* train with resistance, intensity and the notion of martial effectiveness in mind.

There are lots of people in Aikido. Some are doing stuff that looks no more martially viable than Yoga (thanks for that comparison Toby). But others take it *very* seriously on *many* levels. Everything from understanding o-sensei's doka to understanding the notions of blending to understanding ki to understanding that a technique doesn't matter if its pretty if it doesn't protect you.

Man, you remind me of the guy with the shirt that says "There are only 10 people in the world -- those who understand binary and those who don't". There are a lot of shades of grey out there. And a *lot* of people doing aikido in all sorts of different ways.

And quite frankly you're not going to see much in the way of full on total resistance at seminars. Heck, I've been lucky enough to get invited to training in koryu arts that are usually closed to outsiders (fringe benefit of doing swords for a lot of people). Even in those events there is precious little in the way of active resistance -- people are too busy learning how to do new things. The harder training comes later once they're integrated the lessons into their skill sets and they start working on it privately among those they can trust to do it with enough control not to cause injury.

Argh, enough. Like I said before, rank it what it is. And it varies. It seems you like to be on the outside looking in saying everyone else is stupid. Must be nice to have such a strong hold on the absolute truth and reality.

Now where are the ignore controls...

G DiPierro
11-20-2007, 10:45 AM
Your posts read like the writing of a very bitter man who only sees things in very black and white terms.
...
You've got a lot of balls to make these sort of sweeping generalizations.
...
And then you start writing like some pissed off old fart grumbling that no one does it the right way.
...
But you seem to see things only through your rose tinted glasses. Man, you remind me of the guy with the shirt that says "There are only 10 people in the world -- those who understand binary and those who don't".
...
Must be nice to have such a strong hold on the absolute truth and reality.
You might want to see a psychologist about your projection issues. Seems to be a common problem with aikido people for some reason.

Amir Krause
11-20-2007, 10:54 AM
I think Rank is exactly as important as you (the one who hears about it) make of it. The only thing rank is really important for, is within the organization which recognizes it, such as in seminars of that organizations, or “advanced classes” in a group (and even then, there are exceptions).

Some people, hearing someone has a B.B. will immediately consider him an awesome fighter. Others will wait to hear more details: how long did he practice, where. Some may be more impressed of ones ability to dedicate himself for over a decade then by the belt color or rank.

In fact, each group has its own ranking and testing approach:
With some, testing and ranking is a must, with others, an option.
For some, the tests stop at some particular level, for others, the tests continue further and others yet, do not test at all, or they are being tested and evaluated constantly by their teacher.
Some people can decide if and when they wish to test, others are told by their teachers, and others still are tested unknowingly (this was done to me once, and I passed).
Some places practice all round the clock to prepare for the next test, in other groups, only the testee prepare, and in others, if you wish to prepare you should do it outside of the usual class.
For some, the test has a fixed form, with fixed techniques at prescribed situations; others may change the techniques and\or situations from some larger least. Some tests may include some forms of free-play and or Randori, others do not.
The pass criteria also vary, some testers would place more importance on performance, and other testers may put more on the effort for getting there. Some would care about your age, physical state etc. others would not.

There is nothing uniform about tests and ranks
Thus, I do not get the point of putting so much importance into the testing and ranking procedure of others, unless you wish to plan your own.

Rather than requiring some objective level of skill, aikido tests are usually look more for how well someone conforms to the particular style of their organization.

How can you measure skill in an objective level?
I am not even sure this is the right thing. I think ones efforts in obtaining his skill should also be recognized.


The other formal criterion is practice days, which usually have to be within a dojo in the organization you are testing in. This is more a measure of loyalty than anything else.
Rank is inside an organization. Your loyalty and effort inside the organization are therefore of importance.


And of course, given the subjective nature of performing techniques with a fully-compliant partner, often for one judge who will ultimately make an entirely subjective decision on his own, politics factor heavily in all aikido promotions.

Guess what, many tests are done in very similar fashion, including driver licensing in most countries I have heard of (only a single tester with you in the car).
Having had the honor of sitting with my teacher while he decides on awarding junior ranks after several tests, I can state he does have his own criteria, and he knows exactly what is he willing to give up, and to whom (a fully abled 20 yrs old would get less lenient treatment compared to some 50 yrs old who works hard for every move). You may call this politics, I will disagree and consider elements beyond the mere technical performance to be of significant value.
It is true, one can twist anything as he wishes, including test results, or ones impressions of some organization.


In fact, above 3- or 4-dan even the pretense of testing is done away with in most aikido groups and all aikido promotions become political.

While my Nidan test was performed without informing me at all, letting me know about it only afterwards while telling me I passed. I never had a Sandan test, yet, after some point in time, my sensei reached the conclusion I have reached the relevant level and neither of us found the right time for a test.
Politics was not involved in it. Since my teacher knew I had no interest in higher ranks (I more then implied I am not worthy of any and suggested very high criteria I am not likely to ever pass). Thus, no one had any interest in this topic, except for my teacher feelings of obligation.
I should mention my teacher is authorized (in Korindo Aikido) to test up to Sandan or Yondan, and recommend his students for higher ranks. And that most of the system dojos are small enough to make the teachers decision, the most important factor. I would also have to admit I am not the only one who was tested without asking him.


So rank "is what it is," but what it is in aikido is not what people think it is. It is by no means an objective measure or guarantee of skill, even within one group, and certainly not within the general martial arts community. Nor is it a necessary or even sufficient requirement to teach anyone anything. It is nothing more than a measure of one's political position within one particular organization.

Is this a way of consoling people who were not awarded ranks?
While most people simply pass the tests and are promoted (as I wrote, even against their wishes).

Politics and inter-personal relations do play a role, but mostly at very high ranking levels (may be anywhere between 6th to 9th dan, depending on organization). At those levels, rank is mostly a matter of organizational position (and recognized as such), this is also the reason commitment to the organization also plays a role.


If people understood that and did not try to make rank into something it is not then I suspect there would not be so many problems. However, I think the organizations actively encourage a misunderstanding of what rank is because it increases their power over their members when people consider political status (ie, rank) within an organization to be more important than actual skill, as many, if not most, people in aikido do.

Skill is not the be all!

I give much more credit to someone who works very hard and only has average technique compared to his friend who succeeded in doing the same thing at the first lesson.

Amir

Keith Larman
11-20-2007, 10:59 AM
You might want to see a psychologist about your projection issues. Seems to be a common problem with aikido people for some reason.

Thanks, but I spent 17 years working in psych research and mental skills testing. I've got a pretty good handle on it already...

G DiPierro
11-20-2007, 11:11 AM
How can you measure skill in an objective level?In an art like aikido that has no formal competitions, you can't. I'm not sure you would even want to anyway.

I think ones efforts in obtaining his skill should also be recognized.
...
Rank is inside an organization. Your loyalty and effort inside the organization are therefore of importance.
...
Skill is not the be all!

I give much more credit to someone who works very hard and only has average technique compared to his friend who succeeded in doing the same thing at the first lesson.

Fine, but then be clear that rank does not correlate to skill. Many, many people in aikido think and act like it does.

Guess what, many tests are done in very similar fashion, including driver licensing in most countries I have heard of (only a single tester with you in the car).A driver's test is designed to ensure a very bare minumum level of competence that almost anyone can attain. Thus, it is not necessary to have an elaborate system to ensure fairness. If for some reason you think you have failed for political reasons, you can always go take the test with another examiner or at another location. Good luck trying to do that if you think you have failed an aikido test for political reasons.

Some people think martial arts ranks are or should be like professional qualifications for lawyers or doctors. The standardized tests for university admissions in this country (administered by the ETS) and also professional exams for lawyers and doctors are specifically designed to measure actual competence and eliminate political influence as much as possible. Martial arts exams, particularly in aikido, are not. When you need an exam to be a good measure of skill, you want to make sure it is as fair and objective as possible. Among martial arts, kendo at least does a better job of this than aikido, although politics still can play a role there.

If you think rank in aikido is and should be only as meaningful of an accomplishment as passing a driver's test, then that's a good model to use. But if you want it to be as meaningful as professional qualifications, as some people do, then you need to be looking at how institutions like the ETS, AMA, and ABA examine people, not at how the DMV does it.

Will Prusner
11-20-2007, 11:32 AM
So rank "is what it is," but what it is in aikido is not what people think it is. It is by no means an objective measure or guarantee of skill, even within one group, and certainly not within the general martial arts community. Nor is it a necessary or even sufficient requirement to teach anyone anything. It is nothing more than a measure of one's political position within one particular organization.

Okay, I have no rank. I am also not particularly impressed by rank, in and of itself. I also do not belong to any particular martial arts organization, nor am I much impressed by them, either. I'm also not upset that other people DO have rank. And it doesn't bother me at all that some people look up to those with rank, misguided or not. Whatever gets you through the night.

However, to be perfectly honest, the above quote sounds a lot like a "Sour Grapes" approach to ranking. GD, If you're upset about not holding rank, and it is as easy to obtain as you say, then by all means, join up and put in the work. Otherwise, just take it easy, don't worry so much about what other people are doing and thinking. Just do your own thing and be comfortable with not fitting in to the mainstream. But also be aware that some of those people in the mainstream may talk down to you, underestimate you, even attempt to repress, silence and discredit your opinions. That's good, anticipate it, expect it, grow from it, consider that they are the hammers beating the impurities from your matrix, helping you to become stronger and sharper than before. And after all, don't their actions and statements say more about them than they do about you? But why put so much energy into discrediting the ranking system of an organization that you supposedly don't care for in the first place? It just don't jive. If you don't care about rank, then act like it.

Will Prusner
11-20-2007, 11:38 AM
...even within one group, and certainly not within the general martial arts community.

Who is the "general martial arts community". Sounds like a good group to stay as far away from as possible. If I see those guys going one way, you can find me in the other! Yipes!

G DiPierro
11-20-2007, 12:19 PM
GD, If you're upset about not holding rank, and it is as easy to obtain as you say, then by all means, join up and put in the work.If I were upset about not having rank, then by all means I would have taken steps to get it. If anything, I've tended more towards to the opposite, though I never tried to specifically avoid rank either. And where did I say that it was easy to obtain? The typical requirements are that you spend a lot of time training in one organization to meet the practice days requirement, although I suppose that having my own dojo I might have been able to join a group in exchange for a quick promotion. Not really interested in doing that, though. I don't care about having the rank and I'm not willing to make the kind of compromises that a group would require in return for an arrangement like that.

Otherwise, just take it easy, don't worry so much about what other people are doing and thinking. Just do your own thing and be comfortable with not fitting in to the mainstream. But also be aware that some of those people in the mainstream may talk down to you, underestimate you, even attempt to repress, silence and discredit your opinions. That's good, anticipate it, expect it, grow from it, consider that they are the hammers beating the impurities from your matrix, helping you to become stronger and sharper than before. And after all, don't their actions and statements say more about them than they do about you? But why put so much energy into discrediting the ranking system of an organization that you supposedly don't care for in the first place? It just don't jive. If you don't care about rank, then act like it.It's actually a lot more complicated than that. I don't care about having rank myself. However, I do care about aikido and even people in aikido organizations (believe it or not, I don't hate everybody that belongs an organization), and for many of those people rank is a very big deal. I write about the things I learned through my experiences with these people and organizations. Maybe it will help others understand their own group better. Maybe not. But it's been an issue that has colored many of interactions I have had with people in aikido since when I first started.

I suppose I could go off and be a hermit and keep to myself, but to interact with people in the greater aikido community is to experience the issue of rank affecting those interactions in one form or another. And I've experienced it in a number of forms that many people probably haven't. I assume that you've seen for yourself how even when I have posted on an issue having nothing to do with rank whatsoever other people have turned the interaction into one focusing on rank. So I can't really get away from it. I prefer to embrace it and shine the light of inquiry on it so that people can see it for what it really is.

Will Prusner
11-20-2007, 12:37 PM
I do care about aikido and even people in aikido organizations (believe it or not, I don't hate everybody that belongs an organization), and for many of those people rank is a very big deal.

Yes, however, those organizations and the people you care about in them already have their minds made up (otherwise they wouldn't be affiliated with the org, right?). Just as no amount of words or sound arguments from others will convince you that the current ranking system is peachy, no amount of words or sound arguments from you will convince them that it is flawed. So after all of the headbutting, who benefits from the discussion? For some, being a member of an Aikido organization is probably a great thing. For others, not so much. But I don't feel the need to influence their own personal decision toward one outcome or the other. It's really just not such a big deal; if you choose to be in the org and you like it, great. If you don't like it, you can leave. It's not like the mafia, people can afford to find out for themselves.

Ron Tisdale
11-20-2007, 03:00 PM
However, to be perfectly honest, the above quote sounds a lot like a "Sour Grapes" approach to ranking.

I have to admit...if someone gets to 3rd dan or higher, then says, "I don't think rank is a good idea, I'm going to start my own organization, and we won't have rank"...ok, I'll listen to that person gripe about rank in the organization he came out of. He went through the process, he got the goods they have to offer, and he made up his mind that he didn't like it. So he does his own thing.

Seems a little different from what;s being offered here...

Best,
Ron

aikidoc
11-20-2007, 04:03 PM
I agree Ron. Most people also forget that obtaining rank is a process and not an end goal. Achieving it requires one to demonstrate tenacity, discipline, compliance with rules (many of which they may not agree with), and possibly training in a way that they may not agree with. However, to achieve it one must have the martial discipline to stay with something long enough to go through the process-no matter how much they disagree. It reminds me of the initial Kung Fu movie where the adolescent Kwai Chang Cain was required to perform menial tasks in various weather conditions such as sweeping to demonstrate his commitment and discipline before he was even allowed to train. Those who chose not to follow the program will never get to achieve the satisfaction of completing the process, nor will they have the opportunity to explore the possibilities afforded them to learn or be guided to a different level of understanding. They will find it difficult to see the inner workings of the art as afforded by commitment and discipline and the guidance of those who have gone before. If anything, they will miss the chance to learn to learn. If I can give credit to anything I have ever received from a martial arts instructor, I credit the gift of teaching me how to study the art. It was invaluable. It has helped me shorten my learning curve significantly. Sometimes a simple eye contact gesture from my sensei will send me in a new direction. If I had not had the benefit of learning to learn, such gestures would be meaningless. To me, this only comes through consistent, persistent and on-going training. I spent a period where I had no one providing me with teaching. With my previous gift, I was still able to progress-fortunately in the same direction as my current sensei-albeit slowly since i was working things out without the benefit of experience guiding me.

Ranking has meaning to me in the above context. It shows I have demonstrated the commitment to pursue something I find worthwhile. I have never found any organization I have belonged to try to stifle my pursuits. In fact, to the contrary. Although they do demand techniques be performed with a certain set of skills or criteria and to a certain level of quality, they have never stopped my pursuits beyond that. I do their stuff on the test and pursue my stuff in the dojo. In one organization, I moved beyond their understanding and needed to change to grow-not their fault, well not totally. There was too much inbreeding with no external pursuits which is sometimes a problem in independent organizations when then become focused on the status quo.. In the other, I was simply not learning anything new and their style of aikido did not fit the direction I was pursuing. Then I found what fit me best and am quite happy with that since I have a lot to learn. I find too that I am more comfortable in a smaller organization with a closer relationship to the shihan. I can host him and he will stay at my home with no issues. In a large group, I would be lucky to talk to him or her. But that's just my preference. Ranking to me is my process of progress and recognition that I am in fact making progress. Testing is one way of validating but not the only method.

Keith Larman
11-20-2007, 06:41 PM
John and Ron:

Agreed completely.

To me it is much like learning anything of value. There is the surface, obvious, "omote" appearances. The ura stuff, however, comes much later. Only after fully integrating everything else.

In aikido you get a few promotions and at around nikyu or ikkyu you develop the dreaded "ikkyu-wisdom" problem. You figure you've got it all figured out. And frankly you're supposed to kinda be at that place when you get to that rank. You should now be familiar with the techniques, with the ideas, with the philosophy, etc. And people get to this point and often go no further. After all, they've got it all now, right?

I'm sure I was a royal pain in the butt at that level. I don't really remember, but I can only imagine how insufferable I must have been (considering how insufferable I am now that should really say something).

Well, all I can say is that in my own experience what happens is that you will hopefully develop some degree of humility along the way as you find out how little you really know. There is no surprise that shodan is really considered a "beginner" in many senses. From now on the focus is on learning how to do all those things well. How to do them with the right spirit. And to start integrating all those things together. Nidan comes and goes, then sandan and you're still wondering if you're ever going to really get it.

In a way all that work to learn the techniques, names, etc. to get to shodan was really in preparation to allow you to see that you've really only now scratched the surface. You can't see it until you get past that point. And many never see it.

In the end rank is about a lot of things. Not the least of which is that it is one measure of some one's ability to "tough it out" and to persevere. It also hopefully shows that the student has never stopped learning. Unfortunately many will stop at the nikyu/ikkyu level because they hit that point where they're in too much of a rush to "get to the good stuff" and jump ship before they're ready to really do it really well. So many leave right at that juncture convinced they've got the essence of it all. When in fact they've missed everything essential and only grasp the outer, most trivial aspects.

Rank is no guarantee that someone "gets it". But getting a high rank is an accomplishment in most organizations and is indicative of someone willing to work through and beyond the cursory and what is ultimately trivial. Sticking it out to get a strong enough foundation to really begin to grasp at the deeper aspects is something precious few ever really do.

Youtube is full of self-appointed "sensei" and "chief instructors" who clearly never toughed it out long term to really learn anything. They're marginally effective, often brutal, and usually sloppy. Me, well, I keep training trying to even begin to approach the level of several shichidan I have the honor of training with fairly regularly. The gulf between them and me is huge even if I can throw regularly and perform adequately. It's jumping to those higher levels that is so difficult. And no, it has nothing to do with rank. But the rank tends to go to those who do...

aikidoc
11-20-2007, 08:08 PM
Good comments. I think the thing I discover the higher I go is how much there really is below the surface that I'm pecking away at. Just as I get comfortable with one thing I get jolted out of my comfort zone. I have ended up feeling like a beginner so many times that I should probably just adopt that feeling as a permanent identity. Training with no mind and no expectations or preconceptions as well as always stepping on the mat with the expectation that I'm going to learn something is what I try to do. I have found that that mindset has never let me down. Even if it is just a subtlety, distintinction or mental note-I always learn something new every time I step on the mat. This is how I define my training-even when teaching.

Toughing it out is about pursuing that CANI (constant and neverending improvement) concept. To do so though, one needs the tools. It is a rare individual indeed that can develop the tools without guidance-not just through random seminar participation-but the guidance one gets by training under a mentor. Hopefully, one that has had to work things out over the years as well. I have found mine and I hope others have that chance as well. Most of the shihans who studied with O'Sensei have commented at various times that they spent their lifetime trying to figure out what he was doing, i.e., they too are students of a sort.

G DiPierro
11-21-2007, 01:12 AM
In one organization, I moved beyond their understanding and needed to change to grow-not their fault, well not totally. There was too much inbreeding with no external pursuits which is sometimes a problem in independent organizations when then become focused on the status quo.. In the other, I was simply not learning anything new and their style of aikido did not fit the direction I was pursuing. Then I found what fit me best and am quite happy with that since I have a lot to learn. I find too that I am more comfortable in a smaller organization with a closer relationship to the shihan.Good post overall. Although I did have similar experiences to the ones you describe in your first paragraph with one aikido teacher that I studied with, albeit off and on, over the course of six years, I suppose the point I am at right now in aikido is probably closest to what you describe here. Over the past several years, I have made it a point to seek out several aikido teachers that I had never worked with before to see if the were doing anything I wanted to do, and each time I have been disappointed.

While I think that each does have something to offer, I find that the training method they employ is not useful for me. I don't get enough get out of doing compliant practice with their students to cause me to want to practice that way a regular basis, and I also don't get much out of taking compliant ukemi for them either. If I could do more resistance training, particularly with the teachers themselves, then I would be interested, but since I have not found anyone in aikido willing to train this way with me I have moved on.

The martial arts I have been getting involved in lately afford me the opportunity to work in a resistance training scenario both with other students and directly with the teacher on a regular basis. They are non-competitive and do not have a ranking system, and my opinion, based on what I have experienced in groups that do have such systems, is that if they did it would be detrimental to the quality of the practice there. One of these arts is somewhat like aikido, however I have not trained in that art very much yet though I might do so in the future. The other is very different physically but in many ways philosophically similar.

I still believe in aikido both as philosophic and physical approach to martial arts, I just have not found anyone in aikido doing the type of things I want and need to do. Instead, I have had to look to other martial arts and movement disciplines (such as yoga) to find the training I am looking for. And I'm far from the only person who has had this kind of experience in aikido. There's a long line of people who have had to go outside of aikido looking for aikido, starting with no less than Koichi Tohei. So I think I'm ultimately in good company in this pursuit.

Perry Bell
11-21-2007, 02:25 AM
Good evening

In relation to gradings or tests, it is agreed that some dojo instructors use gradings as a way of gaining extra income etc.

However gradings are important for the teachers to see that the student is learning what they are teaching, it also places the student under a certain pressure, enabling the teacher to see if he can cope and communicate his techniques if he had to in a real situation.

When a student of medicine finishes his schooling there is always an exam at the end to make sure he understands what he has been taught, imagine if you only had to turn up to the classes and became a doctor when they were finished, with out some sort of test, I know I would not be comfortable to see a doctor that practices like that.

Regs

Perry

Keith Larman
11-21-2007, 11:40 AM
...And I'm far from the only person who has had this kind of experience in aikido. There's a long line of people who have had to go outside of aikido looking for aikido, starting with no less than Koichi Tohei. So I think I'm ultimately in good company in this pursuit.

Wow, you're putting yourself in extraordinary company. However, it seems to me that Tohei had a virtual lifetime of experience in Aikido including being the Chief Instructor at Honbu. One of those guys with high rank earned over decades. So he had a amazingly powerful foundation upon which to build. Same with Tomiki. Same with... Heck, my organization's sensei left with Tohei and himself eventually broke away from Tohei as well. But R. Kobayashi sensei was ranked in both the aikikai organization as well as shinshintoitsu before he split to do his own version. Again, strong foundation.

So since this thread is about rank and testing, how did *your* dan exams go? Where they overcompliant? Or were you expected to perform with non-compliant attackers on your dan exam(s)? Were your dan exam(s) all that you expected? Or were they just formalities along the way?

aikidoc
11-21-2007, 11:56 AM
If I were upset about not having rank, then by all means I would have taken steps to get it. If anything, I've tended more towards to the opposite, though I never tried to specifically avoid rank either. And where did I say that it was easy to obtain? The typical requirements are that you spend a lot of time training in one organization to meet the practice days requirement, although I suppose that having my own dojo I might have been able to join a group in exchange for a quick promotion. Not really interested in doing that, though. I don't care about having the rank and I'm not willing to make the kind of compromises that a group would require in return for an arrangement like that.

It's actually a lot more complicated than that. I don't care about having rank myself. However, I do care about aikido and even people in aikido

That statement would seem to indicate he has no rank. Especially the first sentence.

G DiPierro
11-21-2007, 12:14 PM
However, it seems to me that Tohei had a virtual lifetime of experience in Aikido including being the Chief Instructor at Honbu. One of those guys with high rank earned over decades. So he had a amazingly powerful foundation upon which to build.And despite that, he still felt that he had to go outside of aikido to find what he considered the keys to aikido. What does that tell you?

Aiki Teacher
11-21-2007, 12:20 PM
Tells me had the rank, time in grade and true validity to make such a decision.

Keith Larman
11-21-2007, 12:43 PM
And despite that, he still felt that he had to go outside of aikido to find what he considered the keys to aikido. What does that tell you?

The better question is to ask why he stayed for decades before doing it...

And I am genuinely curious to hear how your dan exams went. You've got such strong opinions about how they should be done I can't help but wonder how yours went. Were the uke's that terrible?

And in the interest of fairness, here are my experiences. I enjoyed mine. Shodan was tough as I picked a very strong uke and I think his power showed up my limitations at that time. He had a college wrestling background matches up with me in terms of size and strength. And he gave it everything he had to give me strong attacks. And since I'm a big guy all the big guys lines up for my randori and came full power. So it was a good test as it did show exactly where I was and it also impressed on me the amount of work I still had to do.

My Nidan was better in my mind -- same uke, strong attacks, and I did better on my randori. The test really solidified in my mind that I had improved in a lot of the subtler ways. Less brutal, more flowing, easier, and more fun actually. I was recovering from a partially torn ACL on the right and was in a full non-rotational knee brace which slowed me down a bit, but it was a blast.

Sandan was a great experience but it could have been better -- I had a new uke (my pal Brent had moved out of state) and he wasn't as big as me and was frankly feeling under the weather. Also, my left patella has a tendancy to subluxate periodically and it did it halfway through my test. Not pleasant. I felt like I rather underperformed because my uke wasn't totally on his game and I was in pain. My randori was a blast, however. By then the realization had hit that this was my last test and it was about over so I just went out there and went for it. I paid for that over the next few days laid up with a swollen knee, but it was worth it.

So I have positive feelings about my dan exams and I learned a lot about myself from each of them. Which is what it is all about at least in our organization.

Keith Larman
11-21-2007, 12:45 PM
That statement would seem to indicate he has no rank. Especially the first sentence.

Oops, didn't see this before my last posts. I should remember not to automatically go to the last page.

Nevermind then. It speaks volumes.

G DiPierro
11-21-2007, 01:07 PM
Oops, didn't see this before my last posts. I should remember not to automatically go to the last page.

Nevermind then. It speaks volumes.Well, I was working on an answer to your question but if you would rather I didn't post it that's fine too. I just want to be clear that I'm not avoiding your question. I usually ignore the people who just want to play games but when someone asks a polite, sincere question, as you did in your previous post, I will respond. But since you're not interested anymore I won't bother.

ramenboy
11-21-2007, 01:43 PM
in general, i think the more a person says they don't want rank, or the more they say its not important, the more that person is itchin for rank.

just itching to be called a master. by someone

G DiPierro
11-21-2007, 01:58 PM
in general, i think the more a person says they don't want rank, or the more they say its not important, the more that person is itchin for rank.

That's an interesting theory. By your logic, I suppose the more you (and others) say that I don't know what I'm talking about, the more you actually agree with me.

If rank is so important to you that you cannot imagine why someone would not care about rank, then I suppose the only way my statements would make any sense to you is if I did not actually mean them.

aikidoc
11-21-2007, 02:04 PM
I'm genuinely interested in how your tests went and am asking nicely.

Demetrio Cereijo
11-21-2007, 03:39 PM
http://senshincenter.com/pages/writs/budocon/rankgainsmeaning.html

Keith Larman
11-21-2007, 03:58 PM
Actually, nevermind. It really isn't worth the effort. Bowing out.

Keith Larman
11-21-2007, 04:05 PM
http://senshincenter.com/pages/writs/budocon/rankgainsmeaning.html

Neat article -- I enjoyed the read.

Keith Larman
11-21-2007, 10:44 PM
An afterthought on this thread.

There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in doing something, you do it only when it's convenient. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.

By Kenneth Blanchard

FWIW

Dieter Haffner
11-22-2007, 04:04 AM
That statement would seem to indicate he has no rank. Especially the first sentence.Oops, didn't see this before my last posts. I should remember not to automatically go to the last page.

Nevermind then. It speaks volumes.
There is one person in my dojo that has been practising for about 4 years with us. He does not hold any rank, because he is not interested in them. If he would be asked to take a 6th kuy exam, he could not tell what name goes with what technique.
But I can tell you this about him, all the things I know about aiki (the aiki as I believe Mike Sigman and some others are talking about, certainly not at the same level, but you need to start somewhere), I learned from him. And he is getting it from outside of aikido.

Just to tell you, never judge a man by his rank, but by what he can do.

G DiPierro
11-22-2007, 07:49 AM
I'm genuinely interested in how your tests went and am asking nicely.OK, since you asked nicely, here is an overview of my experiences with rank and testing in aikido that have led me to my current opinions on rank.

I tested once in aikido: in 1998. The test itself was fairly standard and uneventful, but the experience as a whole fundamentally transformed my understanding and opinion of rank. Prior to the test, I had thought that having rank was relatively important and that I should take steps to seek it out and ensure that I had it. At the first dojo where I had trained, there was very little awareness or concern for rank, and as far I as know tests were not even held during the year that I trained there, so I did not worry about it much. But at the dojo to which I had then recently moved, there was far more consciousness of and interest in rank among the general membership, and since almost everybody had it and took some measure of pride in it I naturally assumed that it must be something important and that I too needed to have it.

Once I had actually tested I found out that nobody else really cared that much about my rank after all and that my teacher was not impressed by it in any way. Taking the test had entirely the opposite effect on him from what I had intended: he seemed disappointed that I was spending my time worrying about some ultimately trivial rank rather than focusing on the much more important matter of what he was trying to teach me. I realized then that rank is the teacher's responsibility, not the student's, and that the pursuit of rank is actually just a distraction from the things with which a student should be concerned.

When I later trained at other dojos, I noticed that the people in charge of these dojos put significantly more importance on rank as a measure of status and ability in the dojo than my previous teachers had. I think that if you are going to put a lot of emphasis on the ranking system in a dojo then you need to be prepared to deal with the problems that this might cause, particularly if you don't bother to do what is necessary to make sure that everyone is at a rank that is roughly appropriate for their relative level of skill. Instead, what I found was that these people, despite making such a big deal out of rank, were unwilling to properly maintain their ranking system or to deal with the issues that their refusal to do this was causing.

If you must have a ranking system in a non-competitive art like aikdo, then I think it is better to de-emphasize the importance of rank in everyday practice, as the teachers at the first few dojos I trained in did. Even then people will occasionally find a way to become attached to rank, so I don't think it is possible to eliminate rank-related problems entirely while still using a ranking system. The best approach I have seen is to not have any ranking system at all but just let students progress in their own ways and at their own paces. The differences between the groups I have worked with that have no ranking system and what I experienced in various aikido groups over the years are significant.

Aiki Teacher
11-22-2007, 09:46 AM
OK, since you asked nicely, here is an overview of my experiences with rank and testing in aikido that have led me to my current opinions on rank.

I tested once in aikido: in 1998. The test itself was fairly standard and uneventful, but the experience as a whole fundamentally transformed my understanding and opinion of rank. Prior to the test, I had thought that having rank was relatively important and that I should take steps to seek it out and ensure that I had it. At the first dojo where I had trained, there was very little awareness or concern for rank, and as far I as know tests were not even held during the year that I trained there, so I did not worry about it much. But at the dojo to which I had then recently moved, there was far more consciousness of and interest in rank among the general membership, and since almost everybody had it and took some measure of pride in it I naturally assumed that it must be something important and that I too needed to have it.

Obviously Kyu rank.

Once I had actually tested I found out that nobody else really cared that much about my rank after all and that my teacher was not impressed by it in any way. Taking the test had entirely the opposite effect on him from what I had intended: he seemed disappointed that I was spending my time worrying about some ultimately trivial rank rather than focusing on the much more important matter of what he was trying to teach me. I realized then that rank is the teacher's responsibility, not the student's, and that the pursuit of rank is actually just a distraction from the things with which a student should be concerned.

Maybe because you were overly emphasizing your abilities or thinking yourabilities werebetter than demonstrated.

When I later trained at other dojos, I noticed that the people in charge of these dojos put significantly more importance on rank as a measure of status and ability in the dojo than my previous teachers had. I think that if you are going to put a lot of emphasis on the ranking system in a dojo then you need to be prepared to deal with the problems that this might cause, particularly if you don't bother to do what is necessary to make sure that everyone is at a rank that is roughly appropriate for their relative level of skill. Instead, what I found was that these people, despite making such a big deal out of rank, were unwilling to properly maintain their ranking system or to deal with the issues that their refusal to do this was causing.

Which Dojos? Many claims have been made about people that you have been studied with, only to find out that you studied with them at a seminar.

If you must have a ranking system in a non-competitive art like aikdo, then I think it is better to de-emphasize the importance of rank in everyday practice, as the teachers at the first few dojos I trained in did. Even then people will occasionally find a way to become attached to rank, so I don't think it is possible to eliminate rank-related problems entirely while still using a ranking system. The best approach I have seen is to not have any ranking system at all but just let students progress in their own ways and at their own paces. The differences between the groups I have worked with that have no ranking system and what I experienced in various aikido groups over the years are significant.

This is a very convient approach if one wants to call themself a Chief instructor but at the same time not have any rank above kyu.
Seems like in Houston one such person on their waver put Chief instructor for rank. Chief instructor is not a rank! Would look funny to put 5th kyu Chief Instructor!

It seems that people have a tendency to attach no importance to having rank or to downplay it's signifigance, when they do not have any rank themselves.

Like someone claiming to be a doctor when they have not been to medical school or to have taken thier medical exams. Wouldn't trust that type of "doctor."

aikidoc
11-22-2007, 10:09 AM
Thank you for the response. I agree that an emphasis on rank is detrimental for training. That's why I never teach for tests. It limits the mind's focus to the specific technique and loses the big picture. I work on principles and concepts 99% of the time and right before a person is eligible for testing then I have them work on their test material. I will teach test criteria right before an exam. That does not mean they won't see the material before hand. It is just not focused on as being test material. The focus is on learning the intricacies of the technique not on it being a test criteria. Of course, I do occasionally get people that focus on rank. I usually can tell who they are since the day they sign up that ask how long it takes to get to this and that rank. They rarely ever stay long enough for a test. The ones that stay stay because they want to learn the intricacies of the art and are willing to pursue the process necessary to accomplish it. Rank comes as a result not as a goal.

When I trained more and taught less, my focus was not on the rank so much as on the skills the black belts were demonstrating. I knew if I attained their level of commitment, skill, consistency and connection then the rank would come. When I practice technique I focused not just on the rudimentaries of the technique but on the subtleties of making it work. Fortunately, I had a good instructor that pointed me in the right direction-teaching me how to study the intricacies or figure them out. I learned to model not only the biomechanics but the physiology of what was being shown: things such as rhythm, breathing, focus, etc.

My only focus on rank for my students is to encourage them to test when eligible and ready. I have seen too many people go through the process of training and not obtaining rank and then moving to another area. Then then decide rank is important and have to start over since they never bothered to test in the beginning. It may have no meaning to them in the present but down the road they may change their minds. Therefore, I encourage the process. Do I fail people-rarely. I won't let them get up in front of a test committee unprepared. Also, I am testing them for at least a week or longer as they approach the test. Are they focused, do they know the technique when not under the eye of a test committee, etc? I agree with Kato sensei when he says he does not like tests because people are at their worst on them.

G DiPierro
11-23-2007, 01:28 PM
Thank you for the response. I agree that an emphasis on rank is detrimental for training. That's why I never teach for tests.
...
My only focus on rank for my students is to encourage them to test when eligible and ready.... I agree with Kato sensei when he says he does not like tests because people are at their worst on them.You seem to be equating tests and rank, which is a common enough sentiment in aikido. However, they are not the same thing. It is possible to have rank without testing. This is the case for all aikikai promotions over 3- or 4-dan, and I've read that Gaku Homma, an independent teacher in Denver, administers his ranking system without any formal testing at any level. He just promotes people when he thinks they should be promoted.

I suppose it would also be possible to have tests without rank, but what would be the point? Nobody would care about the type of tests used in aikido if there wasn't the carrot of rank dangling out in front of them, and that's actually a pretty good indication that such tests have little value. By way of contrast, a test involving a competitive element, as in judo, kendo, or BJJ, would have interest and meaning even if there was nothing at stake. Any test that does not have such intrinsic usefulness as a martial training tool will not suddenly become endowed with it by virtue of being used as a criterion for awarding rank. All such tests do is turn attention away from the important elements of training to the unimportant ones.

As a teacher, there is nothing a test can tell me about a student that I don't already know. Like rank itself, tests are really are designed to serve groups, not individuals, and one way they do this is to tell people in the community (besides the student's teacher) things about a student that they might not know yet. In large organizations, the person in charge of the organization is not likely to be the student's direct teacher, so tests provide an opportunity for this person to look closely at a student that he otherwise does not get to see. I think an excellent case can be made that this is a poor model for teaching martial arts anyway, since without direct, personal exposure to a teacher it is impossible to learn anything of value. Simply showing up at a seminar and testing in front of someone is not sufficient for this transmission to take place.

Tests also tend to restrict training to the kinds of things that are tested and to discourage growth in directions that are not tested. This also serves organizations by keeping people working in similar directions and preventing them for spending too much time with ideas that might prompt them to seek training elsewhere or even consider leaving the organization. I think these effects are also very undesirable in martial arts, particularly non-competitive ones where there are no standard rules of competition for which people must train. I consider one of the greatest benefits of non-competitive arts to be the freedom from the limitations of a particular rule set, yet the exact point of testing is to restrict this freedom and force people to train in one particular way.

While this tendency of testing to limit training can be mitigated to a certain extent, as you describe, I don't think it can be avoided entirely. Even in the second dojo at which I trained (and the one at which I also tested), the test curriculum had a significant influence on training. There were classes I attended where all the techniques taught were directly from the requirements of a particular kyu test, although nothing was said about it. When I say that rank did not play a major role in the training there, what I mean is not so much that tests were considered unimportant but that everyone was treated equally without regard to rank when training. If someone, perhaps with experience in other martial arts, came in with no formal aikido rank or experience yet could perform at the same level as a mid- or even senior-level yudansha, he would be accorded the same level of respect on the mat. The issue of the difference in their ranks would not be nearly as important as that of their relative skill levels as martial artists.

On the continuum of possible training environments, my experience is that the best ones are those with no ranking system at all. However, of the ones with ranking systems, which includes almost all aikido dojos, there is a very significant difference between the ones that put political status, in the guise of rank, above all else and those do not allow their ranking system to trump the actual martial ability. From what I have seen, the former group is larger than the latter, and I believe the structure of aikido today is leading the art increasingly in that direction.

aikidoc
11-23-2007, 01:56 PM
Although I understand your points, I disagree that the best system is no ranking. I see that deteriorating into utter chaos in terms of transmission of anything. There must be some criteria or standard to measure progress by. Otherwise, everyone beats to a different drummer. Yes, that occurs now as well with different stylistic interpretations. However, if there is no standard everyone will be going off in different directions and the art will disintegrate.

I do not equate testing with a rank seeing the test as only one way to measure. I also disagree that there is nothing of value in a test. It shows me how the student performs under stress or when nervous. That gives me a good indication if they have understood or learned the technique or if they are just attempting to mimic it.

Testing has its imperfections but it also has elements of value. Not everyone will agree-I to hated testing in college but it is one way of demonstrating a student's progress.

G DiPierro
11-23-2007, 02:33 PM
Although I understand your points, I disagree that the best system is no ranking. I see that deteriorating into utter chaos in terms of transmission of anything. There must be some criteria or standard to measure progress by. Otherwise, everyone beats to a different drummer. Yes, that occurs now as well with different stylistic interpretations. However, if there is no standard everyone will be going off in different directions and the art will disintegrate.Have you had any experience with arts with no ranking system? Starting closest to home, koryu did not rank people the way modern arts do. Although they had technical and teaching licenses, there was not necessarily any specific technical testing required. After you learned the techniques to the teacher's satisfaction, he gave you the scroll. To the extent that there were tests to be passed I think they were very different in nature from modern aikido tests: they would probably be something more like going out and challenging someone from a rival school with more experience and defeating him.

Moving a bit farther away, Chinese arts, as far as I know, did not traditionally use any kind of ranking or licensing system at all (I'm not including mass-market kung-fu that has copied the modern Japanese system and replaced belts with "sashes"). Yet they are still around and are very distinguishable from each other. Moving further again, over to India, we have yoga, which also has no ranking system. Now you could say yoga has become a bit chaotic with many people creating their own systems -- some good, some not-so-good -- but the fundamental poses and principles are more similar than different between systems. If you see people doing yoga it's easy to recognize what it is, and if you have enough experience it's also not that hard to tell what styles and teachers they have been influenced by.

The reason these things do not descend into chaos despite not having formal tests is that good knowledge is good knowledge, and if you are a good teacher passing on valuable information then people will preserve and continue to pass that on simply because it is good. I would say that it is better for an art to progress this way than by artificially supporting certain kinds of knowledge over others via forcing people to learn and memorize something for a test. When people are able to try ideas out and compare them with competing ideas, choosing and passing on the ones that work best, an art continues to improve and advance. When people are required by an organization to learn and pass on only those ideas that are officially approved, an art decays and becomes stagnant, as I believe aikido has already begun doing.

Testing has its imperfections but it also has elements of value. Not everyone will agree-I to hated testing in college but it is one way of demonstrating a student's progress.You can make a good argument that the much of what is tested in college is not useful in the real world anyway. That would be a fun debate but I think it would get way off-topic. In any case, as education progresses (from high-school to college and then to graduate education) it becomes less about rote memorization and recital than about dialog and the ability to formulate and deconstruct ideas. I would also say that the intrinsic value of testing depends a great deal on the subject. If you take a calculus test, you can say that this knowledge is useless because you are not going to become an engineer, but you cannot debate the correctness of the ideas you are being tested on. They are beyond question. I wouldn't say the same thing about most of the material that appears on aikido tests.

aikidoc
11-24-2007, 12:25 AM
Have you had any experience with arts with no ranking system? Starting closest to home, koryu did not rank people the way modern arts do. Although they had technical and teaching licenses, there was not necessarily any specific technical testing required. After you learned the techniques to the teacher's satisfaction, he gave you the scroll. To the extent that there were tests to be passed I think they were very different in nature from modern aikido tests: they would probably be something more like going out and challenging someone from a rival school with more experience and defeating him.

I see that as a form of testing. Whether you do it formally or whether you learn the technique to a teacher's satisfaction I don't see the difference-a test in another format just not as formalized.

Moving a bit farther away, Chinese arts, as far as I know, did not traditionally use any kind of ranking or licensing system at all (I'm not including mass-market kung-fu that has copied the modern Japanese system and replaced belts with "sashes"). Yet they are still around and are very distinguishable from each other. Moving further again, over to India, we have yoga, which also has no ranking system. Now you could say yoga has become a bit chaotic with many people creating their own systems -- some good, some not-so-good -- but the fundamental poses and principles are more similar than different between systems. If you see people doing yoga it's easy to recognize what it is, and if you have enough experience it's also not that hard to tell what styles and teachers they have been influenced by.. Really-they why do they use such titles as sifu indicating a rank? Yoga? It's not a martial art so I don't get that comment. It's a stretching system.

The reason these things do not descend into chaos despite not having formal tests is that good knowledge is good knowledge, and if you are a good teacher passing on valuable information then people will preserve and continue to pass that on simply because it is good. I would say that it is better for an art to progress this way than by artificially supporting certain kinds of knowledge over others via forcing people to learn and memorize something for a test. When people are able to try ideas out and compare them with competing ideas, choosing and passing on the ones that work best, an art continues to improve and advance. When people are required by an organization to learn and pass on only those ideas that are officially approved, an art decays and becomes stagnant, as I believe aikido has already begun doing. .

You seem to pose more rigidity on a system than I see present. Koryu's have a set of techniques you must learn. Aikido has a set of techniques divided over ranks. You could make the argument that koryus are rigid as well. I see nothing in the present system that stops exploration as long as you meet certain criteria to advance within the system and demonstrate the tenacity and commitment to do so.

I'm not trying to convince you one way or the other by the way. People's brains are organized differently and react to things differently. Some migrate toward structure, others abhor it. It is obvious you are uncomfortable in a structured system as you find it limits you. Personally, I don't find them stifling since I do what I need to for conformity while not conforming and pursuing aspects that interest me. Although your critcisms may have some validity, it is unfair to assume that everyone would feel comfortable in a system you feel suits you. It is also unfair to assume that the issues you bring up are not being addressed. I know of others who are addressing such issues as well at several levels. Your tendency however is to lump us all into the same pot.

G DiPierro
11-24-2007, 04:03 AM
Really-they why do they use such titles as sifu indicating a rank?Sifu is an honorific form of addressing a teacher, not a rank.

Yoga? It's not a martial art so I don't get that comment. It's a stretching system.Your post did not mention martial arts, you only said that without ranking you think a system will disintegrate into chaos. In fact, you brought up the idea of testing in an academic setting by means of comparison. Yoga is one example of a system that does not have a ranking system. If you want to stick to martial arts, I gave the example of CMA -- as far as I know, none of them have any ranking system at all. Do some research and see if you can find one that does, barring modern mass-market "kung-fu" that has copied the Japanese belt system. If you want another example, look at the Russian Systema. Also no ranking system. I could give you other examples as well. Your statement that without ranking an art (martial or otherwise) will descend into chaos is clearly contradicted by the several systems that do not have rank. You can choose to ignore this evidence but that doesn't change it or make it go away.

You seem to pose more rigidity on a system than I see present. Koryu's have a set of techniques you must learn. Aikido has a set of techniques divided over ranks. You could make the argument that koryus are rigid as well. I see nothing in the present system that stops exploration as long as you meet certain criteria to advance within the system and demonstrate the tenacity and commitment to do so.Koryu and aikido are very different in their approach to technical knowledge. Koryu are by nature technically rigid in that you are learning certain very specific techniques of the art. A scroll or license means that one has learned some of these techniques, and an advanced license means that the recipient has learned many additional techniques that are not taught to beginners. Once you have learned all of the techniques, you are done. You get the highest level scroll and are considered to have learned the entire art (except for perhaps a few secrets only given to the next headmaster).

In aikido, all of the techniques are taught right from the beginning. Advancement lies not in learning more techniques but in becoming better at the performance of the same basic techniques that everyone else knows. As the ranks get higher, testing becomes more centered on freestyle rather than repetition of specific techniques, and then at a certain level knowledge of specific techniques is no longer required for promotion at all. Unlike koryu, aikido is by nature not technically rigid (in fact, it is far less rigid than other disciplines I have studied that do not have testing or ranking systems).

I'm not trying to convince you one way or the other by the way. People's brains are organized differently and react to things differently. Some migrate toward structure, others abhor it. It is obvious you are uncomfortable in a structured system as you find it limits you. Personally, I don't find them stifling since I do what I need to for conformity while not conforming and pursuing aspects that interest me. Although your critcisms may have some validity, it is unfair to assume that everyone would feel comfortable in a system you feel suits you. It is also unfair to assume that the issues you bring up are not being addressed. I know of others who are addressing such issues as well at several levels. Your tendency however is to lump us all into the same pot.Just because I don't think the contrived and artificial structure imposed by testing in aikido makes sense doesn't mean that I am in any way uncomfortable with or somehow inherently against structure. I practice and teach a koryu that consists of a small number of techniques done over and over again without variation. Also, the style of yoga that I practice is easily the most structured one in common existence. It consists of a fixed sequence (actually 6 of them, although many people will never get past the first or maybe second) that everyone learns and practices the same way. I've tried other styles and learned some useful things from them, but I find that following the highly structured approach of this particular style works well for me right now. What would be a problem for me in yoga is if someone were to tell me that I couldn't practice a certain pose not because I can't physically do it, but because I'm not politically ranked high enough. This sounds ridiculous but it is exactly how people think in aikido.

In yoga, there is a fundamental honesty that I find lacking in aikido: if you can do a pose, it is obvious that you can do it, and if you can't it is obvious that you can't. It has nothing to do with who you are or how long you have been practicing and certainly nothing to do with politics. There are people who might practice yoga for 10 years and never be able to advance past a certain basic level of practice, and there are people who will practice for less than half that time and already be moving on to very advanced sequences. People progress at their own paces and in in their own ways, and although everyone would probably like to be able to do the crazy advanced stuff, a big part of the practice is learning to accept and work with your own body and its limitations. Everybody knows how advanced they are relative to someone else just by watching them practice, not that it really matters unless you are considering someone as a possible teacher. Unlike in aikido, there are no cooperative ukes to cover up for your shortcomings and make you look good because you are politically important.

The problem that I see with testing in aikido is not that it imposes structure, but that it imposes exactly the wrong kind of structure. The standards and criteria that I see being propagated through the ranking and testing system currently used in aikido seem to me to be sapping the art's martial and spiritual vitality rather than maintaining or increasing it. When political rank becomes more important than what people can actually do, as it already is now in many places in aikido and probably will be in more in the future as a result of the trends I have observed, an art has begun what could very well be an irreversible decline into play-acting and pretend martial arts. I'm sorry to see that happen to aikido, which is one reason I take the time to write about this, but that's what seems to me (and some others) to be happening.

aikidoc
11-24-2007, 09:09 AM
I don't understand where you get the restriction on practicing certain techniques not being allowed. If you are referring to testing, yes that is probably true. However, my beginning students practice everything up to and including henka waza and kaeshi waza as they progress. I have had non-ranked students involved in such classes as well to reinforce their kihon waza.

True there is politics in aikido-one of the reasons I left an organization. However, to me the koryu approach and the kyu/dan system approach are just different themes on the same transmission of knowledge.

G DiPierro
11-24-2007, 11:13 AM
The fact that people in aikido practice all of the techniques right from the start is your first clue that aikido is very different from koryu. You cannot try to use even a remotely similar standard of transmission for both because they are completely different pedagogical models.

Amir Krause
11-25-2007, 10:41 AM
Some more comments about rank awarding, since some things in this thread seems like very wrong to me:

1. In all the Dojos I know of Ranks do correlate to skill level

Simply, one is only awarded a higher Rank if he shows his own skill level has increased. Thus, there is a clear correlation between rising ranks and improving, but the ranks are not necessarily comparable.

Honorary ranks are an exception to the rule and some ranks (9th Dan – So-Shihan in my system for example) are honorary by nature. It is perceivable that some organizations will decide all ranks above a certain level will be at least partially honorary.

2. Respect to people who attained their ranks not due to skill

I think there is a lot of sense in respecting a [B]person[\B] who has attained a new rank due to his [B]efforts to improve[\B], much more then respecting a new practitioner who is a better performer but has not worked for it. We respect the personal effort, more than the skill. The same goes for personal dedication, training time and several similar aspects which are under the control of the person in question.

If a person was given Honorary rank, it is most likely since the giver believes he should be respected. Thus, if you respect the giver, you should also respect the recipient. If you do not respect the giver, you can not learn from him, so go someplace else and leave him be (there is no point in trying to educate others who chose a different way to act based on your understandings).

3. Anything can be corrupted

Obviously, this includes rank awarding which can be turned into a profit making scheme.
However, I have rarely heard of “politics” regarding low Dan ranks (1-3 or 4). It is true I do not belong in some large organization, but the large organizations actually have more people at those ranks and should even care less.

4. Ranks awarded without an official test

Typically, those dojo in which ranks are awarded without testing, are places in which the teacher is very senior, veteran and knowledgeable, and yet, he can view his students in a personal manner, thus, he can test them over longer duration of time. Without a test at some pre-scheduled time, that teacher does not have any pressures and can award the ranks when he feels the person is ready.

Amir

aikidoc
11-25-2007, 11:20 AM
Test to a certain level solves some politics but not all. I know of one organization that tests to nidan and then everything after is time in grade and automatic. That one bothers me and it shows in the quality of some of their higher grades since there is no correlation with anything other than time in grade- x number of years bingo you're a sandan, etc. The aikikai at least test to yondan.

Also to me knowing a set of techniques is knowing a set of techniques whether you practice them one at a time or practice all of them as you go. I'm not sure if anyone has ever studied it to see which approach gives the best quality-if that can be measured.

G DiPierro
11-25-2007, 01:53 PM
Thus, if you respect the giver, you should also respect the recipient. If you do not respect the giver, you can not learn from him, so go someplace else and leave him be (there is no point in trying to educate others who chose a different way to act based on your understandings).I'm not interested in responding to your other points but in the dojos I have trained at rank is awarded by a big organization. Although the dojo-cho typically tests for kyu ranks, he does so (or is supposed to do so) according to the rules of the organization. Dan tests are done at seminars by a more senior teacher.

In any case, I don't buy the argument that you can't get something out of training with someone unless you have absolute respect for everything about that person. It's perfectly reasonable -- in fact, I would say it is and should be the norm -- to not like certain things about someone but still find it useful to train with that person. I think anyone who doesn't see things they don't like about where they are training probably is drinking a little too much kool-aid.

Also to me knowing a set of techniques is knowing a set of techniques whether you practice them one at a time or practice all of them as you go. I'm not sure if anyone has ever studied it to see which approach gives the best quality-if that can be measured.The point is that in koryu the structure of the art is the sequence in which the techniques are learned. The licensing system follows naturally from the sequence by formally acknowledging where a person is in the sequence. In aikido, all the techniques are learned in a haphazard fashion. Thus, there is no inherent structure to the art. The type of ranking system used in aikido are an attempt to impose some sort of structure where there is none. Since this structure is artificial, rather than a natural outgrowth of the pedagogy of the art, it often ends up being an arbitrary reflection of stylistic preferences and politics more so than anything that actually has to do with the art itself.

ramenboy
11-25-2007, 10:46 PM
I practice and teach a koryu that consists of a small number of techniques done over and over again without variation..

what koryu do you teach? what are your credentials? did you test for them?

Joseph Madden
11-26-2007, 02:23 AM
I have seen people fail tests (both kyu and dan) at the Yoshinkai dojo where I train. I just completed my nidan test on the weekend and won't know the results until Wednesday. I personally felt the test was fair in some spots, mediocre in others. Several senior students and assistant instructors felt it was fine. I think the significance to testing and/or rank at our dojo in particular has mostly to do with how far you wish to push yourself. In many cases, the test is merely a formality. My sensei knows how well I instruct other students. He knows how often I train. I work with students who should have tested to sandan or up long ago but just haven't had the time. There are some students who couldn't care less about testing or ranking. I tested because I felt it was time to test. I wanted to see if I could make it through the test and I did. To quote someone from the past.."Rank is in your head. I keep my certificates in the garage."

ramenboy
11-26-2007, 12:05 PM
joe,

that's a great point you bring up. in our dojo, also, the test doesn't just happen on that day. we're being watched everyday we practice on and off the mat by our instructors. they see the effort the student is putting in throughout the year...tso yes, to a point, the test itself becomes a little bit of a formality. although, just showing up for the test won't cut it either

:P

Aiki Teacher
11-26-2007, 06:38 PM
Read Back in the thread, he only appears to have tested on the kyu level.

ramenboy
11-26-2007, 07:12 PM
Read Back in the thread, he only appears to have tested on the kyu level.

yup. got that far, johnny, but that was in aikido. now he says he's teaching a koryu art somehow.

Avery Jenkins
11-26-2007, 08:30 PM
Frankly, the G-man isn't qualified to teach someone how to tie their own shoes.

akiy
11-26-2007, 09:30 PM
Once again, we're moving this thread into personal discussions.

I'm asking you all politely, folks -- please stop.

Edit: Actually, I'm tired of this all. Thread closed.

-- Jun