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Tim Ruijs
12-03-2010, 06:52 AM
Why is it that in Aikido we cannot resist to impose our Western way of thinking? Off course, I already hear you say: " because we have been brought up that way" and/or "our school system works like that" and/or "our companies work like that". And rightly so.

But to practise Aikido requires you to learn and understand a thing or two about the Japanese culture. Yes, that is hard, very hard. Aikido is about change: your change. Learn to see/observe differently.
Kano (founder of Judo) wanted a finer distinction between his students (only distinction white and black belt existed) and introduced the kyu/dan system. In Aikido this system exists today in many dojos, but more importantly it is the system Aikido headquarters applies. So everybody follows suit.

IMHO, you cannot judge ability on an absolute scale. How much better was Mozart than Beethoven, if at all? Does it matter?
Relations are very, very important in Japanese culture.
In Aikido the single most important relation is that with your teacher. The teacher makes you do all chores to help you progress and to understand the art (much similar to blacksmith). The more tasks you get assigned, the more your teacher trusts you. How would you grade this? Is it really important to be graded?
Really, if you want to learn Aikido, observe and train well. Forget about grades.

The above touches many subjects. What I am interested in is your take on learning Aikido and Grading.

lbb
12-03-2010, 07:30 AM
I don't see anyone making the argument that the grading system(s) in aikido are able to "judge ability on an absolute scale". It's when you expect them to that you run into trouble.

Marc Abrams
12-03-2010, 07:44 AM
Tim:

I would not "localize" this aspect to "western thinking." I think that you find a wide variety of approaches towards testing and learning in and out of Japan. At my school, I actually wrote a blog about this subject, because testing creates so much anxiety in so many people.

http://aasbk.com/blog/?page_id=68

Regards,

Marc Abrams

Tim Ruijs
12-03-2010, 08:33 AM
I would not "localize" this aspect to "western thinking." I think that you find a wide variety of approaches towards testing and learning in and out of Japan. At my school, I actually wrote a blog about this subject, because testing creates so much anxiety in so many people.Note to self: read blog :)
Testing does have it purposes, absolutely. But why testing for a grade? Then one needs to define what constitutes that grade; one must make sure everyone gets enough practise time. Students focus on grades. In other words your students start to dictate what happens in the dojo.

Pauliina Lievonen
12-03-2010, 08:38 AM
Grading and learning - what I've observed in our dojo is that people who are about to grade or have just graded, often make a growth spurt in their aikido developement.

I guess it's the more intensive training and the fact that they have to concentrate on a few techniques & principles for a time and really examine them in more detail. It seems to encourage people to take more responsibility of their own training as well.

Sure in theory one can develop just as well without the extra pressure of grading but people being people gradings do seem to work quite well as an extra motivator.

kvaak
Pauliina

Basia Halliop
12-03-2010, 08:42 AM
A comment my dad once made about academic testing, may or may not apply here, but seems relevant to the discussion...

We were talking about 'teaching to the test' and he was suggesting that when it becomes a problem is when the test isn't actually testing what you want the students to know. Make a good test that accurately evaluates your priorities, and 'teaching to the test' is no longer such a bad thing.

Pauliina Lievonen
12-03-2010, 08:44 AM
Note to self: read blog :)
Testing does have it purposes, absolutely. But why testing for a grade? Then one needs to define what constitutes that grade; one must make sure everyone gets enough practise time. Students focus on grades. In other words your students start to dictate what happens in the dojo.Grading is a learning opportunity for the teachers as well, for sure. I think it's very useful to think about what constitutes a certain grade. It means the teacher(s) have to form a clear idea of what is important at what point in the students development. Which is useful to know when you teach said students.

And making sure that everyone gets enough practise time seems like a good thing as well to me...;)

I don't quite see how that leads to students dictating what happens in the dojo, could you explain a bit more how you're thinking?

Basia Halliop
12-03-2010, 08:45 AM
Pauliina, I've noticed the same thing... sometimes I think the real point of testing is to get people to do test preparation. Tests stress me out a lot yet I always really value the test preparation.

For a lot of people, test preparation seems to me to help them get away from the 'just show up to class' mindset... They seem to start to think more about their own individual strengths and weaknesses and take some initiative to put extra time and energy in to learn what they need to learn and improve wherever they're weak.

Marc Abrams
12-03-2010, 08:53 AM
Note to self: read blog :)
Testing does have it purposes, absolutely. But why testing for a grade? Then one needs to define what constitutes that grade; one must make sure everyone gets enough practise time. Students focus on grades. In other words your students start to dictate what happens in the dojo.

Tim:

I do not offer grades for tests. You either pass or not. I have set up an atmosphere where students do not actively pursue testing. I usually have to encourage them to start preparing for a test. The training atmosphere is where we are all intensely trying to learn very deep material (I always include myself in that learning process). I have taught at an undergraduate and graduate level in the field of psychology. Grades in those different contexts serve different purposes. In my Aikido dojo, I frankly think that they detract from the overall process of developing and maintaining "beginner minds."

Regards,

Marc Abrams

Tim Ruijs
12-03-2010, 11:32 AM
@Pauliina Lievonen
In practise aite and tori try to work out how a technique works, each wih their frame of reference (what they think is true at that time). When they do the same technique with other people they both find things have changed and some stayed the same. All do the same technique, but make mistakes in different areas. There is no rule by which you can measure their individual performance in that technique, let alone a collection of techniques.
Off course the teacher may judge them on distance/timing, posture and movement, but this too is subjective.

The other issue...a grading system defines for each grade a set of techniques. Over time a dojo will have many students with different grades. All of these students want to progress and make the next grade. Thus, want the techniques for their grade to be handled in class. Because of the many different grades, the teacher is almost coerced into a planning for the season to make sure all techniques are actually handled. In my view the students therefore start to dictate what the teacher should do or else they cannot make the grade. All that remains of Aikido in such a system is going through the motions until the next test. This would give rise to the "prepare for testing boost". Actually you should always have this mindset.

@Marc Abrams
Read your blog and for what it is worth I agree with your approach:) Put them through a test without grading.

@Basia
This I dig. Put students through a test, but do not tell what is being judged:D

Basia Halliop
12-03-2010, 08:52 PM
Because of the many different grades, the teacher is almost coerced into a planning for the season to make sure all techniques are actually handled. In my view the students therefore start to dictate what the teacher should do or else they cannot make the grade.

I do see what you are trying to say, but...

Sure they can. It just means they have to take the time outside of class to ask more senior students or the teacher, and study on their own before and after class...

Although you could also argue that if the test is designed such that it is testing what the teacher actually thinks the students should know, then that material SHOULD be covered a lot in class. Otherwise the teacher isn't actually teaching what they think students should be learning, no?

Granted instructors don't have complete freedom in setting the test requirements...

kewms
12-03-2010, 09:03 PM
The other issue...a grading system defines for each grade a set of techniques. Over time a dojo will have many students with different grades. All of these students want to progress and make the next grade. Thus, want the techniques for their grade to be handled in class. Because of the many different grades, the teacher is almost coerced into a planning for the season to make sure all techniques are actually handled. In my view the students therefore start to dictate what the teacher should do or else they cannot make the grade.

That has not been my experience. In the dojos where I've spent most of my time, the chief instructor teaches what he thinks is important, which may or may not include the techniques for any particular test. Typically, time outside of class is needed to develop a test-worthy understanding of the full library of techniques.

Particularly for dan and advanced kyu ranks, one could argue that willingness to devote that time outside of class is also an important measure of the student's seriousness, and therefore their readiness for testing.

Katherine

Janet Rosen
12-03-2010, 09:29 PM
Typically, time outside of class is needed to develop a test-worthy understanding of the full library of techniques.

This is in line w/ my experience at all the dojos I've been a member of over the years. Either it's grabbing a peer/senior to say "hey, can you stay after class a few minutes..." or arranging to meet a few folks when the dojo is not holding formal class.

At one dojo, you either selected and asked a sempai, or were assigned one, typically one or maybe two ranks ahead of you, who was responsible to work w/ you on getting ready, including focus on techniques that for one or another reason hadn't been presented in formal class in a while.

Tim Ruijs
12-04-2010, 04:03 AM
Thanks for sharing your views. :)
It fills my heart with pleasure to know that at least some dojos out there got beyond the mere testing of techniques.
The dojos where I have trained simply listed a number of techniques for a specific grade. You needed to present a reasonable execution of the technique and passed. I was always left with the feeling that something lacked...

I especially like the example Janet gave: to assign a more experienced person (sempai) and make him responsible for the preparation. This way both learn. This would be in perfect sync with the ways of a traditional dojo. Thanks Janet ;)

Still curious though about the importance of grading when learning Aikido. Note grading, not testing, I think we all agree on the advantages of testing.

Janet Rosen
12-04-2010, 11:32 AM
I'm very confused about exactly what you are asking.
I've never seen a dojo assign a "grade" to a test. You know upfront forvwhat rank you are testing, you test when you and your teacher agree, you pass or you don't. The only exception to this I've ever known of are some dojos consider it not a test per se but more of a demonstration of what you can do.
Can you clarify what you mean by grade as distinct from testing for rank?

lbb
12-04-2010, 07:26 PM
In re: Pauliina's comments: it seems to me that every time I am going to test, I go through a period (sometimes brief, sometimes longer) of being overwhelmed by the idea of all that I have to know for the test -- even though I know that the focus of the test isn't the list of the techniques. Each time, this has forced me to discard the particulars (the list of techniques) and somehow get a grasp on some principle that makes the particulars fall into place. Each time it's been a valuable experience, because each of these principles goes far beyond that list of techniques, and thus far beyond that test.

In re: Basia's comments about "teaching to the test": one of my between-real-jobs gigs was teaching prep classes for standardized tests, including the college board SAT. I'd always had a rather disdainful attitude towards these tests previously, but having to look at the SAT in depth -- and we were looking at it cynically, with a view to how to game the system -- made me realize that the test really was well designed to evaluate proficiency in some of the most fundamental skills necessary to do college-level work. It was an eye-opener for me on the subject of testing. I think it's well to approach testing and test results with some skepticism, but I do believe that a well-designed test that matches a well-designed curriculum is neither an impossibility nor a meaningless metric.

Tim Ruijs
12-05-2010, 04:30 AM
I'm very confused about exactly what you are asking.
I've never seen a dojo assign a "grade" to a test. You know upfront forvwhat rank you are testing, you test when you and your teacher agree, you pass or you don't. The only exception to this I've ever known of are some dojos consider it not a test per se but more of a demonstration of what you can do.
Can you clarify what you mean by grade as distinct from testing for rank?
Do not be confused. My bad, I just realized I may have used the wrong term and caused some misunderstanding on your side. My understanding was that to grade and to rank have similar meaning.

My question, point of interest, is how important is ranking (;) ) when learning Aikido?

Dave de Vos
12-05-2010, 05:38 AM
My understanding was that to grade and to rank have similar meaning.

I guess this comes from the dutch word for rank or degree being "graad".

But I think in english "grading" could mean assigning a "score" to a test performance.

Janet Rosen
12-05-2010, 10:40 AM
Do not be confused. My bad, I just realized I may have used the wrong term and caused some misunderstanding on your side. My understanding was that to grade and to rank have similar meaning.

My question, point of interest, is how important is ranking (;) ) when learning Aikido?

Tim, then I'm still confused and simply have to rephrase my question: You said you understood testing but not grading, as in rank.
If one is not testing in order to advance in rank, then what would be the purpose of testing?

mathewjgano
12-05-2010, 12:46 PM
Students focus on grades. In other words your students start to dictate what happens in the dojo.

I think on some level this is a good thing. Not that the hierarchy completely reverses, but that, based on the particular needs of the students in any given class, the instruction should be affected somewhat...in order to suit the needs of the students so they can begin to operate more and more autonomously within the confines of the material covered...but I take a somewhat contructionist view of learning: the classroom is a place where people get together to learn. Once students have a good start on how to go about the lesson, they help each other learn through interaction while the instructor goes around giving advice on how to refine key aspects of the lesson or approach to the lesson.
The testing and subsequent issue of grading (whether pass/fail or some gradient like A, B, C, makes little difference to my mind) is a relative measure for the use of the student and teacher within the specific context of the school he or she trains in. Testing should just be a more obvious example of a continuous assessment process...a way of creating a more specific focus on some aspect...and in martial arts I think the main point becomes to be put on the spot and see how one performs.

Tim Ruijs
12-05-2010, 02:13 PM
If one is not testing in order to advance in rank, then what would be the purpose of testing?
Testing can be used to take students out of their comfort zone, put them in front of the class and have them show/explain several techniques.
Many students stress out for lots of reasons. Testing would simply be another technique/tool to learn the student something (e.g. keep calm, be more confident).


Testing should just be a more obvious example of a continuous assessment process...a way of creating a more specific focus on some aspect...and in martial arts I think the main point becomes to be put on the spot and see how one performs.
Agreed. Also instruction is affected by the needs of the students, absolutely. But the needs are not about completing a list of techniques to make the next grade.

Basia Halliop
12-05-2010, 02:37 PM
Testing can be used to take students out of their comfort zone, put them in front of the class and have them show/explain several techniques.

I can see the value of this... although not sure if I'd still call it 'testing' if there wasn't an evaluation or judgment of some kind?

Although there's a lot of evidence from what I've read that elements of what we think of as 'testing' actually are very valuable to consolidate memory and understanding. Not only to evaluate it. E.g. according to some research, when students are quizzed on things they recently learned, they tend to afterwards remember those things better and longer than if they had spent the same amount of extra time studying in some other way.

mathewjgano
12-05-2010, 02:40 PM
Agreed. Also instruction is affected by the needs of the students, absolutely. But the needs are not about completing a list of techniques to make the next grade.

I agree completely. In my opinion, the techniques are just classic "what if" scenarios to provide a way for showing what has been learned. It's good to know the techniques, but only so we can focus on what makes them work: the different principles of strong/resilient movement.

Janet Rosen
12-05-2010, 02:42 PM
Testing can be used to take students out of their comfort zone, put them in front of the class and have them show/explain several techniques.

OK.
So we still have semantic differences. To me that isn't testing.

I like the idea of informal demos as part of class/feedback loops and have been in dojos that do that. Having several pairs of students demo lets the instructor see and give feedback on the spot while students see how other students interpret what they have been working on.

Pauliina Lievonen
12-05-2010, 06:44 PM
My question, point of interest, is how important is ranking (;) ) when learning Aikido?
May I turn the question back to you and ask what you think yourself? I'm guessing you think it would be better to not have different ranks, but maybe I'm guessing wrong?

I wonder if the actual test situation would work the same and have the same effect if there was no rank involved. Would it stress people as much? Cause the same anxiety? Would people prepare as well?

Testing and rank certainly have their pitfalls and weaknesses. I see them as a training tool, and as any tool, they need to be used carefully. If students get too focused on testing or rank, is it the fault of the tool, of of how it's being used?

As someone said earlier in the thread, hopefully a test tests the things that the teacher thinks are important and that he or she would cover in class anyway. And in an ideal situation, rank would simply mean that a student who has a certain rank, knows certain things that are expected at that rank. I know in practice this isn't always true, though...

kvaak
Pauliina

Pauliina Lievonen
12-05-2010, 06:50 PM
One more thing: nowadays I get to sometimes sit on the testing panel when we have kyu grade tests, and even voice an opinion, together with the other yudansha in our club. It's quite striking how unanimous we usually are about who has passed and who hasn't. Apparently we do have some sort of common idea of what people ought to look like at differents points in their developement at our dojo...

kvaak
Pauliina

Randall Lim
12-05-2010, 06:57 PM
Pauliina, I've noticed the same thing... sometimes I think the real point of testing is to get people to do test preparation. Tests stress me out a lot yet I always really value the test preparation.

For a lot of people, test preparation seems to me to help them get away from the 'just show up to class' mindset... They seem to start to think more about their own individual strengths and weaknesses and take some initiative to put extra time and energy in to learn what they need to learn and improve wherever they're weak.

I agree with you. Coming from the educational field, there is the constant battle between the outlook of "Testing Of Learning" and the outlook of "Testing For Learning".

The previous simply means assesssing what is already learnt, while the latter means assessing so that a student learns (whether in preparation for the test, or even during the test).

I believe the outlook of Aikido grading tests should be that of "Testing For Learning".

Randall Lim
12-05-2010, 07:06 PM
That has not been my experience. In the dojos where I've spent most of my time, the chief instructor teaches what he thinks is important, which may or may not include the techniques for any particular test. Typically, time outside of class is needed to develop a test-worthy understanding of the full library of techniques.

Particularly for dan and advanced kyu ranks, one could argue that willingness to devote that time outside of class is also an important measure of the student's seriousness, and therefore their readiness for testing.

Katherine

Fully agreed!! :) Remedial classes are necessary..

Randall Lim
12-05-2010, 07:19 PM
OK.
So we still have semantic differences. To me that isn't testing.

I like the idea of informal demos as part of class/feedback loops and have been in dojos that do that. Having several pairs of students demo lets the instructor see and give feedback on the spot while students see how other students interpret what they have been working on.

In my opinion, judging a student's skills from a demo in class may not be accurate & fair for him.

If I am asked to demo a technique to the class of diverse skill levels, I would intentionally switch to a pedagogical mode where every step is shown clearly & mechanically (for the benefit of the beginners). This demo will not relfect my true execution skills of the technique in question.

As such, i do not wish to be assessed based on this demo

Janet Rosen
12-05-2010, 07:42 PM
In my opinion, judging a student's skills from a demo in class may not be accurate & fair for him.

As such, i do not wish to be assessed based on this demo

I fully agree - My point is that this is NOT grading/testing, it's a teaching/learning approach in which folks all check in on the spot.

kewms
12-05-2010, 08:20 PM
In my opinion, judging a student's skills from a demo in class may not be accurate & fair for him.

If I am asked to demo a technique to the class of diverse skill levels, I would intentionally switch to a pedagogical mode where every step is shown clearly & mechanically (for the benefit of the beginners). This demo will not relfect my true execution skills of the technique in question.

As such, i do not wish to be assessed based on this demo

Depends on the purpose of the assessment. For instance, what if people above a given rank are expected to teach on a regular basis? Isn't the chief instructor responsible for making sure that the people he asks to teach can actually do so competently?

Katherine

kewms
12-05-2010, 09:10 PM
Depends on the purpose of the assessment. For instance, what if people above a given rank are expected to teach on a regular basis? Isn't the chief instructor responsible for making sure that the people he asks to teach can actually do so competently?

Katherine

On further reflection... It seems to me that someone who is testing for a senior kyu or higher rank will probably be under observation by their teacher every time they step on the mat for several weeks or months before the "test date". As such, the actual "public demonstration(s)" is only a part of the evaluation process, and not even necessarily the most important part. Certainly that's been my experience.

I think some students tend to overvalue the "test" itself, and undervalue the rest of the process. Strangely enough, those students also tend to be the ones who don't have particularly impressive tests.

Katherine

Stephen Nichol
12-05-2010, 09:53 PM
Why is it that in Aikido we cannot resist to impose our Western way of thinking? Off course, I already hear you say: " because we have been brought up that way" and/or "our school system works like that" and/or "our companies work like that". And rightly so.

But to practise Aikido requires you to learn and understand a thing or two about the Japanese culture. Yes, that is hard, very hard. Aikido is about change: your change. Learn to see/observe differently.
Kano (founder of Judo) wanted a finer distinction between his students (only distinction white and black belt existed) and introduced the kyu/dan system. In Aikido this system exists today in many dojos, but more importantly it is the system Aikido headquarters applies. So everybody follows suit.

IMHO, you cannot judge ability on an absolute scale. How much better was Mozart than Beethoven, if at all? Does it matter?
Relations are very, very important in Japanese culture.
In Aikido the single most important relation is that with your teacher. The teacher makes you do all chores to help you progress and to understand the art (much similar to blacksmith). The more tasks you get assigned, the more your teacher trusts you. How would you grade this? Is it really important to be graded?
Really, if you want to learn Aikido, observe and train well. Forget about grades.

The above touches many subjects. What I am interested in is your take on learning Aikido and Grading.

This is a good question and there have been many interesting views about each person's 'take' on learning Aikido and Grading (testing?) and how that relates to earning the Ranks mentioned above.

My feelings on the matter, given the specific perspective coming from the 'Western' mindset is this:

Like many others I had done other martial arts before finding Aikido. My father was in the military so we moved around a lot and I had to find what I could once I got started down this path. I started with Judo as a child and I honestly only remember white, brown and black belts in that dojo. Then I found Karate and Jujitsu and it was the same thing. There were Ranks in Karate and Jujitsu as best I can recall however it was a long time ago. The biggest 'shock' to my system based on my experience to date at that point when I found Tae Kwon Do schools and saw the 'rainbow' of colours in the belts. This confused me at first however once it was explained I understood immediately that it was an adaptation for the 'western' need to have something to 'show' and let everyone else see what you have achieved and hopefully represent your level of skill and understanding.

When I found my first Aikido school it was in southern Japan near Kobe, Kagogawa-shi. I was only allowed to observe initially, in fact I had show my sincerity to learn by showing up for the three classes a week for the first month before I would be considered to even begin training. Not really sure what that was all about but I did it anyway. That school had only white belts and black belts. Women wore navy blue Hakama and men did not until they reached Shodan. No 'rainbow' colours there. They trained, they knew within themselves what they understood and what skill they had and that was that. They trained.

I never actually got to train there as my life situation changed right about the time I was possibly going to be able to start and I had to return home to Canada.

Back in Canada I found an Aikido dojo and I attended. Here I saw a slight 'western' influence with the introduction of a dark blue belt given out at sixth-kyu. White strips of tape were used to indicate Kyu ranks achieved after that until third-kyu and brown belt where the stripes continued until Shodan. Same deal with the Hakama's again.

However despite the coloured belts and stripes we just trained. There was no emphasis on 'getting the next rank' or any feelings of people 'just showing up' for class. Everyone was there to learn.

All training was about learning the technique and focusing on learning all aspects of it well. From the Kihon and on. It was never taught 'you will be tested on this variation' or anything like that.

When Sensei announced that he would be holding a class for examinations/testing/grading he did so with a simple statement that no one was forced to take them and that once could still continue to progress as much as they could regardless of taking the grade or not. In some cases the students would simply be asked to run through a large range of what they know during a regular class by one of the Shodans. This would sometimes turn out to be a 'grading' but without the pressure of being put in the spot light or having to stress over the idea failing based on your performance on one particular day.

It was always maintained that your rank reflects your knowledge within the dojo and to a degree acts as a measure to reassure those of lower rank that you can assist them and they will have confidence in your ability as you have earned your rank.

I left that school a long time ago and have since started in another country in another style of Aikido. I explained that I wanted to truly start over again, no reservations at all. It is a fairly new dojo as well, just around a year old and mainly new Aikidoka. Despite my previous rank and experience I have started again at the beginning and happily wear my white belt and go to all beginner classes as well as the most advanced ones the dojo has to offer with Sensei's permission and encouragement. The style is different to what I remember so I just train and train. I note the differences in style and try to understand them but try not to compare them in the normal 'is it more or less effective' way. I just accept it for what it is, different, and only that.

This dojo also has a coloured belt at fifth-kyu, yellow this time. I do not care one way or the other. It matters not to me. At this point rank has little meaning to myself however it seems to have a larger meaning to everyone else who has to train with me. They only see the white belt and so they hesitate when they train with me. 'Western' culture seems to need these symbols of achievement they can identify with, look at, show off to everyone else as proof of accomplishment. I used to let that bother me but I realise more and more now that these things are really just illusions.

In the end, you learn and you train. You you what you know and hopefully understand what you are still missing and need to learn and always seek that. My rank matter not to me but seems to matter to others who insist on needing to judge based on that.

After only a month at this dojo everyone has gotten to know me and they understand not to see just the white belt but the person that is there in front of them and that I can train as well perhaps help them out a little here and there.

So to sum up the 'Learning Aikido and Grading' aspect of the original post: I really want to be able to pass on what I am learning as much as I can to others in the dojo. In order to do that I accept that I will need to be 'graded', have my knowledge and understanding techniques and my skills over all 'tested' so that I can earn the ranks that will eventually allow me to contribute and assist those who have taught me with each new generation and allow them to look upon me with confidence to instruct them properly from the first day.

You are right, you cannot absolutely 'judge' or 'know absolutely on a scale' and to that end I will continue to learn and train. I am only in competition with myself so nothing to prove there. I just have to get better with each day and never fool myself into thinking 'hey, I've got this.' and think I can walk away from it or put it down and realise that we never stop truly learning.

Randall Lim
12-05-2010, 11:38 PM
This is a good question and there have been many interesting views about each person's 'take' on learning Aikido and Grading (testing?) and how that relates to earning the Ranks mentioned above.

My feelings on the matter, given the specific perspective coming from the 'Western' mindset is this:

Like many others I had done other martial arts before finding Aikido. My father was in the military so we moved around a lot and I had to find what I could once I got started down this path. I started with Judo as a child and I honestly only remember white, brown and black belts in that dojo. Then I found Karate and Jujitsu and it was the same thing. There were Ranks in Karate and Jujitsu as best I can recall however it was a long time ago. The biggest 'shock' to my system based on my experience to date at that point when I found Tae Kwon Do schools and saw the 'rainbow' of colours in the belts. This confused me at first however once it was explained I understood immediately that it was an adaptation for the 'western' need to have something to 'show' and let everyone else see what you have achieved and hopefully represent your level of skill and understanding.

When I found my first Aikido school it was in southern Japan near Kobe, Kagogawa-shi. I was only allowed to observe initially, in fact I had show my sincerity to learn by showing up for the three classes a week for the first month before I would be considered to even begin training. Not really sure what that was all about but I did it anyway. That school had only white belts and black belts. Women wore navy blue Hakama and men did not until they reached Shodan. No 'rainbow' colours there. They trained, they knew within themselves what they understood and what skill they had and that was that. They trained.

I never actually got to train there as my life situation changed right about the time I was possibly going to be able to start and I had to return home to Canada.

Back in Canada I found an Aikido dojo and I attended. Here I saw a slight 'western' influence with the introduction of a dark blue belt given out at sixth-kyu. White strips of tape were used to indicate Kyu ranks achieved after that until third-kyu and brown belt where the stripes continued until Shodan. Same deal with the Hakama's again.

However despite the coloured belts and stripes we just trained. There was no emphasis on 'getting the next rank' or any feelings of people 'just showing up' for class. Everyone was there to learn.

All training was about learning the technique and focusing on learning all aspects of it well. From the Kihon and on. It was never taught 'you will be tested on this variation' or anything like that.

When Sensei announced that he would be holding a class for examinations/testing/grading he did so with a simple statement that no one was forced to take them and that once could still continue to progress as much as they could regardless of taking the grade or not. In some cases the students would simply be asked to run through a large range of what they know during a regular class by one of the Shodans. This would sometimes turn out to be a 'grading' but without the pressure of being put in the spot light or having to stress over the idea failing based on your performance on one particular day.

It was always maintained that your rank reflects your knowledge within the dojo and to a degree acts as a measure to reassure those of lower rank that you can assist them and they will have confidence in your ability as you have earned your rank.

I left that school a long time ago and have since started in another country in another style of Aikido. I explained that I wanted to truly start over again, no reservations at all. It is a fairly new dojo as well, just around a year old and mainly new Aikidoka. Despite my previous rank and experience I have started again at the beginning and happily wear my white belt and go to all beginner classes as well as the most advanced ones the dojo has to offer with Sensei's permission and encouragement. The style is different to what I remember so I just train and train. I note the differences in style and try to understand them but try not to compare them in the normal 'is it more or less effective' way. I just accept it for what it is, different, and only that.

This dojo also has a coloured belt at fifth-kyu, yellow this time. I do not care one way or the other. It matters not to me. At this point rank has little meaning to myself however it seems to have a larger meaning to everyone else who has to train with me. They only see the white belt and so they hesitate when they train with me. 'Western' culture seems to need these symbols of achievement they can identify with, look at, show off to everyone else as proof of accomplishment. I used to let that bother me but I realise more and more now that these things are really just illusions.

In the end, you learn and you train. You you what you know and hopefully understand what you are still missing and need to learn and always seek that. My rank matter not to me but seems to matter to others who insist on needing to judge based on that.

After only a month at this dojo everyone has gotten to know me and they understand not to see just the white belt but the person that is there in front of them and that I can train as well perhaps help them out a little here and there.

So to sum up the 'Learning Aikido and Grading' aspect of the original post: I really want to be able to pass on what I am learning as much as I can to others in the dojo. In order to do that I accept that I will need to be 'graded', have my knowledge and understanding techniques and my skills over all 'tested' so that I can earn the ranks that will eventually allow me to contribute and assist those who have taught me with each new generation and allow them to look upon me with confidence to instruct them properly from the first day.

You are right, you cannot absolutely 'judge' or 'know absolutely on a scale' and to that end I will continue to learn and train. I am only in competition with myself so nothing to prove there. I just have to get better with each day and never fool myself into thinking 'hey, I've got this.' and think I can walk away from it or put it down and realise that we never stop truly learning.

I embrace your outlook in training & share the same sentiments.

I have learnt Aikido & trained regularly since 1998. Over these past 12 years, I have been taking my gradings really slowly. Got my 1st Kyu only in 2008 (after 10 years).

However, due to logistical reasons & Ryu protocols, I will get my opportunity for Shodan grading probably only in another 10 years.

Despite the above-mentioned constraints, I am not at all discouraged or concerned, & am not pursuing it at all. In fact, I would even feel reluctant to pursue it altogether.

I am just happily training & refining my Aikido, deepening my passion for it week after week.

Tim Ruijs
12-06-2010, 05:15 AM
However despite the coloured belts and stripes we just trained. There was no emphasis on 'getting the next rank' or any feelings of people 'just showing up' for class. Everyone was there to learn.

All training was about learning the technique and focusing on learning all aspects of it well. From the Kihon and on. It was never taught 'you will be tested on this variation' or anything like that.

When Sensei announced that he would be holding a class for examinations/testing/grading he did so with a simple statement that no one was forced to take them and that once could still continue to progress as much as they could regardless of taking the grade or not.
I really think this is a good approach and creates the right mindset for the students. It [Aikido] is not about rank...

My teacher once told that when asked he would be glad to test you for a certain rank. You'd probably pass too. But his appreciation of you would have actually dropped. He wants you to study Aikido, not make ranks.

@Janet Rosen
I think I understand what you are saying [i.e. semantic difference]. Perhaps evaluation is more appropriate in this context, allthough I am not quite sure.
It is hard to express ideas in writing, but even harder to do so in another language. Thanks for your patience with me ;)

Tim Ruijs
12-06-2010, 05:24 AM
... someone who is testing for a senior kyu or higher rank will probably be under observation by their teacher every time they step on the mat for several weeks or months before the "test date". As such, the actual "public demonstration(s)" is only a part of the evaluation process, and not even necessarily the most important part.

Exactly. Students are observed constantly. The teacher already knows the stronger and weaker points of his students.

So there can be a bad influence of testing on the students (e.g. train for the next rank), but also a good one (handle stress, better focus, improved quality of practise, self confident in front of group).

Tim Ruijs
12-06-2010, 05:58 AM
May I turn the question back to you and ask what you think yourself? I'm guessing you think it would be better to not have different ranks, but maybe I'm guessing wrong? Not better, I just have different view.
Ranks appear to be a good incentive, but many pitfalls exist.
Makes me think of Tomiki and Kano trying to use competition as an incentive for the students to work harder. I am not going to say it does not work, I just disagree.

Currently I give ranks when I see fit; no testing (as evaluation is constant). This has setbacks too. The most important (I feel) is students take time to observe when a student is being tested. They learn to judge, learn to see room for improvement. This aspect is currently missing and I would bring that in...somehow.


As someone said earlier in the thread, hopefully a test tests the things that the teacher thinks are important and that he or she would cover in class anyway. And in an ideal situation, rank would simply mean that a student who has a certain rank, knows certain things that are expected at that rank.Agreed to a point. Ranks would only be meaningful in the dojo. But in there we all know each other and where we stand. On seminars, 'our' rank means close to nothing as they are incomparable to ranks given out by other teachers. What would be the point?

ninjaqutie
12-06-2010, 10:55 AM
At my current dojo, you take a test in front of those who show up to watch. I have only tested once (about to test again in a few days) and I absolutely HATED it. Once it passed though, I began to see the merit in this method. It does push some more then others. For me, I have the chance to learn/practice the techniques through regular classes because I train four days a week.

Other students who don't train as often, don't pick up those techniques through normal class sessions. Because of this, they will have to find time to learn those techniques they missed. My prep for the test is more along the lines of actually trying to increase my awareness, fluidity and gain a better sense of how the technique works.

My previous dojo didn't hold tests. They awarded your rank when they thought you earned it. Since I hate tests, I liked this method. However, I also see that an opportunity to forge yourself is lost in this method. I'm sure it could be picked up in other ways, but I can't think of any off hand. When we used to do public demos at events, that usually upped the amount of effort in the class, so maybe this is one way to fill in the gap.

At my previous place, we also had the range of belts (white, yellow, green, purple, brown & black). I loved going up in rank. It wasn't really why I trained, but it was something I could physically show my parents that I had been improving. I think it was something I needed as a teen and it also gave me a sense of "where do I stand in this dojo?".

When I started aikido, I didn't know that my current dojo was white and black belts only. When I had my first class I thought "Great! Everyone else is a beginner too!" Obviously, I was wrong. It took a little time, but I did figure out where people stood in the "range of things". Now, I have really come to love the simplistic nature of either a white or black belt.

To some extent, it has helped squash my over competitiveness. I have been humbled to the point where I am there to just train and I could really care less about rank. I am learning the same things as the yudansha regardless of the fact I am only a 5th kyu. In my old style, I wanted to go up in rank because certain techniques or kata were only taught to a certain belt level. Since this isn't the case in aikido.... it has allowed me to get out of my own way and just TRAIN!

Amassus
12-08-2010, 04:51 PM
I especially like the example Janet gave: to assign a more experienced person (sempai) and make him responsible for the preparation. This way both learn. This would be in perfect sync with the ways of a traditional dojo. Thanks Janet


I am reading this thread at a time when one of the kyu grades is heading for her 1st kyu. I have been assigned to help her prepare.

Benefits: I have to be on my game and dust up on some of the techniques I have not had to think about for a while. It is satisfying for me to know my body remembers them even if I can't recall them until the attack is initiated. Some people have mentioned principles rather than techniques and this is where being aware of these principles kicks in.
The relationship between this student and myself is strengthened as I help her on this journey.
We both get to train at a greater intensity on normal training nights as we are not training with beginners or lower grades.

My club has the rainbow belts. I have trained at club where there is only white, brown and black. I'm not a fan of several colours but it is not my place to comment to sensei about them. After all its all aikido in a different guise. Most of the time people are there to better their aikido and the coloured belts just represent a grading they have been through.

I endorse testing/grading. The pressure people feel leading up to the test gives them an opportunity to deal with psychological pressure which is not felt in normal training. It is a chance to strengthen the mind. Hopefully the body should already be in condition through regular practice.

As for standards. It is fair to say I have seen different tests for the same grade. Often the techniques are the same but sensei tends to modify the test for the individual. So I have seen tests where the desired techniques have been given and no more. I have seen students asked to show techniques or randori above and beyond what the grade requires as sensei wants to see the student pushed to their limit.

The other night sensei rattled off a few techniques and situations he would like to see for the upcoming 1st kyu grading. He is setting up a tough grading. This to me is a sign he thinks very highly of the woman who is about to grade. IMO she is one of the best kyu grade students we have at the moment and I think it is warranted.

It is exciting for me as a dan grade to see this sort of quality student coming through, the grading night will be intense and fun.

Dean.

Janet Rosen
12-08-2010, 06:07 PM
...I have seen tests where the desired techniques have been given and no more. I have seen students asked to show techniques or randori above and beyond what the grade requires as sensei wants to see the student pushed to their limit.

I have seen testing administered by good teachers who knew just how far to push, sometimes considerably beyond what the student *thought* he could do but within what he *actually* could do... and sometimes the result would be going up more than one rank.

kewms
12-08-2010, 06:49 PM
I have seen testing administered by good teachers who knew just how far to push, sometimes considerably beyond what the student *thought* he could do but within what he *actually* could do... and sometimes the result would be going up more than one rank.

Yep. If the teacher starts throwing out techniques that you've never even heard of, you're probably having a pretty decent test. :)

Katherine

jonreading
12-09-2010, 12:44 PM
What I am interested in is your take on learning Aikido and Grading
First, I'm going to throw out a couple of comments I make about ranking when it comes up...

The path of budo transcends the concept of grading as an absolute scale. There are far too many subjective components of aikido to lend itself to an absolute scale of measurement. However, I believe there is merit to the administration of a documented grading system for a number of reasons. Put rather simply, ranking allows us "checkpoints" of progress, a pedigree of those who practice aikido and a gate through which the leaders of aikido pass to preserve the integrity of the art.

I do not believe that learning aikido and the ranking process through which we progress in our training are connected. Rather, I think these two concepts are correlated; that is, your rank should reflect a proximate statement about your competency, but one is not requisite for the other.

In defense of those arts which have very exacting ranking systems, they are required for the safety of those individuals participating in competitive training. For example, in aikido it would be acceptable for an incompetent shodan to train with a competent shodan. The competitive counterpart to this exchange in judo could result in a disastrous encounter for the incompetent shodan. Belts have a purpose, even if its not something we see in aikido.

Aikido does not need such rigorous oversight because we do not engage in activity of such a nature. However, it would still be inappropriate for a shodan to apply a technique beyond the skill of uke, which is more the level of aikido interaction. Ranks help us qualify "appropriate" when training with others.

Learning is a internal process, grading is the external expression of that internal process. Regardless of the excuse, the relationship of skill and ranking is pretty simple: A. your rank accurately reflects your skill; B. your ranks does not accurately reflect your skill.

Oh... and my personal belief is the ranking system was just fine in Japan. I think many of the koryu systems bifurcated leadership to protect the integrity of the art for the flippancy of its political figureheads. I believe the real damage "Westernization" has on aikido ranking is that rankings were used for political purposes to reward students for loyalty and financial gain by implementing unnecessary testing.

You don't want the tail to wag the dog, right? Grading should not dictate to learning. However, I think its important the dog has a tail to wag...and something to get your gi closed.

Tony Wagstaffe
12-11-2010, 12:07 PM
Why is it that in Aikido we cannot resist to impose our Western way of thinking? Off course, I already hear you say: " because we have been brought up that way" and/or "our school system works like that" and/or "our companies work like that". And rightly so.

But to practise Aikido requires you to learn and understand a thing or two about the Japanese culture. Yes, that is hard, very hard. Aikido is about change: your change. Learn to see/observe differently.
Kano (founder of Judo) wanted a finer distinction between his students (only distinction white and black belt existed) and introduced the kyu/dan system. In Aikido this system exists today in many dojos, but more importantly it is the system Aikido headquarters applies. So everybody follows suit.

IMHO, you cannot judge ability on an absolute scale. How much better was Mozart than Beethoven, if at all? Does it matter?
Relations are very, very important in Japanese culture.
In Aikido the single most important relation is that with your teacher. The teacher makes you do all chores to help you progress and to understand the art (much similar to blacksmith). The more tasks you get assigned, the more your teacher trusts you. How would you grade this? Is it really important to be graded?
Really, if you want to learn Aikido, observe and train well. Forget about grades.

The above touches many subjects. What I am interested in is your take on learning Aikido and Grading.

Grading should be the last thing on your mind...... I have always had the attitude that you don't attempt to grade until your teacher has told you to, and even then when he has probably told you more than once...... Better still when you can do the next grade syllabus with ease, then you can attempt it.... In other words be a couple of grades/levels higher in ability than what you are ranked at.....
It's just a numbers game really, but some find it's a carrot.....

Tim Ruijs
12-13-2010, 03:31 AM
In defense of those arts which have very exacting ranking systems, they are required for the safety of those individuals participating in competitive training. For example, in aikido it would be acceptable for an incompetent shodan to train with a competent shodan. The competitive counterpart to this exchange in judo could result in a disastrous encounter for the incompetent shodan. Belts have a purpose, even if its not something we see in aikido.

Aikido does not need such rigorous oversight because we do not engage in activity of such a nature.
Agreed. This is kinda where my question originated from. In Aikido there is no competition; the danger should not exist, nor sought after. Once you leave the training grounds, Aikido no longer is do but becomes jitsu/jutsu and the one that lives won, regardless of his 'formal' technical ability/inability.

Yet many practioners do not see it this way, which is fine. Their goal is making the next rank, which is fine too. However, at some point the danger is that these students may start to dictate what happens in the dojo. Seen it happen in different places, I am sad to say. This is not fine...to me.

On the other hand no testing at all (be it for rank or not) removes an important evaluation tool from the teachers toolkit.Like Janet said to "make a sempai responsible for the the preparation of assigned kohei" which appeals to me in more ways than one. I will certainly work on this.