View Full Version : Scripting your "free-style" test

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Jesse Lee
04-17-2003, 04:58 PM
What do folks think about aikidoka taking a 1st-kyu or higher test and walking into it with a script in mind? As in, they know that they will be asked for five arts from tsuki, five from yokomen, five from shomen, etc., and beforehand they have a progression in mind: "I will do a, then b, then c, then d, then e."

I have the impression that tons of high-ranking aikidoka do this. (I am too low-ranking to have any experience in this myself :-] )

It seems to contravene the very idea of free-style, whereby uke's energy dictates nage's response. That is one of the golden ideals of aikido, after all, and I assume that is what the test curriculum is looking for at the higher ranks. But several yudansha tell me that, yes absolutely, they walked in with a script. One guy failed his test when he had no script, then retested with a script and his performance brought the house down.

Is this just a lame phenomenon, or is there any merit to it? Are there any 1st-kyu-plus aikidoka reading this, that have done this? :)

04-17-2003, 07:34 PM
The drawback of a scripted exam is that it hampers creativity somewhat, thus such exam can get very boring, very fast (giving it a mechanical, rehearsed feel) of course you can add more variety to your playbook (in football terms) but will you be able to remember it all when it counts? Ive seen people prepare thorougly their exams, just to get nervous and get locked in the same techniques over and over (irimi this, irimi that, yawn). I say go with the flow!

04-17-2003, 10:24 PM
I say go with the flow!

couldn't agree more...

04-17-2003, 11:06 PM
Most dojos don't give 'free-form' tests, I thought. I've only run into them in Seidokan. I have to say that I 'scripted' my entire shodan test. I don't see any problem with that, nor do I see any problem with someone 'going with the flow.' I think of tests as a place where you share with your dojo or your community the Aikido that you know and that you do. The details of the test don't really matter because people will see and appreciate who you are either way. If it makes you feel good to script it, why not? If it makes you feel confined or constrained to script it, also why not?

Ghost Fox
04-18-2003, 06:58 AM
For my Shodan exam, I kind of did both. I would get my five arts out of the way immediately, so that the testing committee could see the basics, and then I would play around a little.

04-18-2003, 07:57 AM
Our tests are for the most part unscripted (except for weapons kata and such).

The testee performs defenses from whatever attacks the testers ask. The testee gets to decide what defense to use.

Then it's weapons kata.

Then it's weapons jiyuwaza.

Then we do randori.

Life unscripted.

04-18-2003, 09:20 AM
We'll be having yudansha exams tonight including at least one sandan and one yondan exam. Of the ones I've seen of these, our chief instructor will ask the person to usually do one or two "basic" techniques from each attack and then call out "Free" (meaning go into freestyle/jiyuwaza). From what I've seen of these, the techniques are not planned out by nage. (Also, we don't get to choose our uke during these tests; whoever jumps up for you gets to be uke.)

-- Jun

04-18-2003, 10:01 AM
There's a big difference between doing a test that is basically structured (sensei calls out waza) with some ji-waza thrown in and doing a test that is basically free form (please show 5 techniques from each of the basic attacks). In the more traditional, structured style, you only do ji-waza from one or two attacks and it doesn't really make sense to prepare a script for each and every possibility. Most of the test is scripted anyway (just not by you) so it's fine to leave a little room for creativity.

In the free-form style, there is a real fear that without some form of preparation you will end up doing the same techniques from each attack over and over again, and that you may forget to show some of the more elaborate techniques that are expected on a shodan exame. Not that either of these possibilities is so bad, but as you come up for your test they can really trouble you (or at least me). That's where the urge to plan comes in.

04-18-2003, 11:32 AM
What do folks think about aikidoka taking a 1st-kyu or higher test and walking into it with a script in mind?
Watch Kobayashi on the 85 Friendship Demo--1kyo, 2kyo, 3kyo, 4kyo, 5kyo...

Aikido lacks the filter (pimp) of competition. Compelled to win, many would abandon attempting to master everything and focus on what works. Failing that, given a test, we--perform. So much for sensitivity and spontaneity.

Jesse Lee
04-18-2003, 11:34 AM
Not that either of these possibilities is so bad, but as you come up for your test they can really trouble you (or at least me). That's where the urge to plan comes in.

Exactly, there is the urge to plan ahead so as to represent yourself well and show all your tricks.

My sensei always stresses not planning or "setting up" for a certain attack, lest you get something different and respond ineffectively or dangerously, to your partner or yourself.

So there is a tension b/w those two ideals, and the more you train the more you can trust in going with the flow.

I like what you said earlier re.
I think of tests as a place where you share with your dojo or your community the Aikido that you know and that you do. The details of the test don't really matter because people will see and appreciate who you are either way.
PS Hey Damion, I trained for 18 months under SJJ at your dojo in Brooklyn, shoot me an email :)

04-21-2003, 09:51 PM
In a section of our test we are required to do a certain number of techniques (your choice) from any attack asked (sensei's choice). The number of techniques required goes up as you get closer to shodan. Sometimes in the middle of the test it gets confusing...you're tired, jittery, or whatever and it's easy to forget how many different techniques you've already done. I have in the past used the simple: ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, kotegaeshi, shihonage pattern to help remind myself how many more I need to do. It's true that this takes some of the creativtiy out of it but it's a small tradeoff in my opinion. When you're at a level where you can get confused enough to forget how many you've done you're probably not at a high enough level to be all that creative anyway ;)


Doug Mathieu
04-22-2003, 12:53 PM

In our organization tests up to Nikyu are based on a list of techniques known to the student before hand.

Ikyu and Shodan have a combo of listed techniques and others where it might be any 5 techniques against a specific attack plus a jiyu waza session or two.

Nidan and above it is pretty much entirely semi freestlye where we will be asked to do anything from any attack or sometimes a specific technique from any attack plus jiyu waza.

It seems like you could pre decide what you will do for the free form stuff but having done these tests up to Nidan I can say you may think you have a plan but since the attacker can choose how he attacks and you don't know what that will be and he will be coming at you pretty hard it falls apart quick. You soon end up letting your self do whatever feels right. That is why you see a person doing 5 minutes of shihonage and you think "doesn't he know anything else?"

I know during my Nidan test I at times was telling myself I gotta show something besides Iriminage but by the time the thought formed another attack came in and I had to deal with it.

If it looks like a person moves smoothly from one thing to the next it probably means they have been able to keep their mental calm which is likely one of the items looked for by the tester.

I like the idea of freestlye testing and unless you are able to plan ahead of time with your uke what you will do I think it will end up being spontaneous whether you started out witha script or not.

Thats been my experience and having witnessed a lot of Yudansha tests I think most of them had to move to the beat too.

Jesse Lee
04-22-2003, 02:22 PM
yeah, I guess my Q is only relevant in the context of a certain consistent attack -- five arts from shomen, five from yokemen, five from tsuki, etc. I can see how random attacks really prevents scripting the response.

Great feedback on all posts!

04-22-2003, 03:37 PM
The experience of people who have tested up in Seidokan is very different than this. (Are there other schools that test this way?) There, 5th and 6th kyu tests require 1 technique from each of the 12 basic attacks (katatedori, katate kosa dori, ryotedori, ryote muchi, kata dori, ryo kata dori, shomen, yokomen, ski, and 'attacks from behind'). 4th kyu tests require two from each attack. 3rd kyu tests require three, and so on up to shodan, where 6 techniques from each attack are required.

When you're just starting out, you have to spend time planning your test because you don't really realize that you know 1 or 2 attacks from each technique. The habit of at least partially planning your tests tends to stay with you (at least it did for me). Even at shodan, it's interesting to think about which techniques go with which attacks most easily and what you're most comfortable. It is certainly true that as the test progresses, things can get pretty spontaneous.

I found this style of testing to be very interesting for me, really forcing me to examine my own Aikido and notice it.

04-22-2003, 10:17 PM
What do folks think about aikidoka taking a 1st-kyu or higher test and walking into it with a script in mind...DO IT!

People who improvise start off with a script. This doesn't matter if it's a stand-up comedian, after-dinner speaker or prepared aikidoist. You have to work hard to make this look spontaneous. Once they have this core material that they can easily use, then they can change and mix it up, to suit the situation.

Show them you're a good craftsman. You can worry about the artisty later.

Whatever approach you decide for your test - Good Luck! Let us know how you did and what you found useful.

Jesse Lee
04-23-2003, 10:59 AM
Great advice Ted, thanks!

04-23-2003, 02:34 PM
I had my 1k test a few months ago. I also prepared (and it doesn't hurt), but, as the test progressed and I got to the freestyle part I was no longer able to even think of the script. Plus, at an earlier point in the test they threw in a couple of left fielders, techniques I hadn't prepared for.. this is part of the game too, and it destroyed my mental order.

On the freestyle part, the attacks came too fast for me to think, and when I tried slowing the pace down, senseis just called for an increase of pace which killed all my careful planning.

I ended up doing throws I hadn't thought of, and totally abandoning any organized charts.

On the other hand, the mental preparation did work in the sense that I was able to go into the test with confidence (which was shattered minutes before, but that's another story)

In any case, good luck!

Peter Goldsbury
04-23-2003, 09:05 PM
Like Ted Ehara, I think you have to have some kind of 'script', which you revise and polish as you progress. Of course, the examiner is usually aware of this as well, since he/she has gone before.

Last summer I held a 4th dan grading test. I consulted a variety of material given to me by senior Aikikai shihans and came up with this:

(1) The candidate had to teach a class, with the examiners following him around with a note pad. Explanations as to techniques taught, sequencing, explanations given in class etc, were also required.

(2) The test itself required the candidate to demonstrate the level of technique and awareness that I considered appropriate for 4th dan:

(a) suwari-waza with one uke, with the examiner calling out the attacks and techniques required;

(b) hanmi-handachi with 1 uke, again with the examiner calling out the attacks and techniques required;

(c) tachi-waza with 2 uke attacking in succession, one after the other, with the examniners calling out the attacks required;

(d) free koshi-waza and or ganseki (2 uke attacking in succession);

(e) Tachi, jo, tanto dori with 3 different uke in succession, i.e., in a circle of three, with tori moving across the circle after each technique;

(f) jiyu-waza against 4 uke attacking simulataneously.

All uke were chosen by the examiners, never by the candidate.

The candidate, who passed, told me later that he was exhausted almost to breaking point, and at times the test was an almost mindless production, of course, of the 'script' he had learned.

Best regards to all,

04-24-2003, 09:18 AM
I've never heard of 4th dan tests before.

04-24-2003, 10:58 AM
We just had one last week at our dojo...

-- Jun

Peter Goldsbury
04-24-2003, 05:53 PM
We just had one last week at our dojo...

-- Jun
Hello Jun,


Was the fourth dan test at your dojo anything like the one I conducted? One of my 3rd dans is almost ready timewise and will probably test in the summer school. The model for the test I put together was Hiroshi Tada's (but was less difficult).

Best regards,

Peter Goldsbury
04-24-2003, 06:00 PM
I've never heard of 4th dan tests before.
The Hombu rules state that 1st dan to 4th dan can be awarded either through a test or by recommendation (the latter more expensive). It is the practice in some dojos to submit the papers to the Hombu as if the test was actually conducted (thus at the cheaper rate), but without the actual test. To my mind this is unethical and so I have made it known to all the 3rd dans in the organization that I am technically responsible for, that they have a choice for their 4th dan, but that a 4th dan by examination means exactly what it says.

Ranks from 5th dan upwards are awarded by recommendation and given out at the Kagami-biraki ceremony in January.

Best regards,

04-25-2003, 10:20 AM
Hi Peter,
Was the fourth dan test at your dojo anything like the one I conducted?
No, not really. Our tests tend to be pretty short affairs. The yondan test this time around was probably on the order of fifteen to twenty minutes long (as are the rest of the tests). All uke were chosen neither by the candidate nor by the teacher but was basically "whoever jumped up to take ukemi initially and for any subsequent 'uke change' situations."

Our teacher pointed out after all of the yudansha exams that evening (three shodan, one nidan, one sandan, one yondan) that he asked the yondan candidate to do pretty much exactly what he asked the shodan candidates -- pretty much the same "basic" techniques (outside of the five person randori). From what he commented on after the tests, I think he wanted to show people that there should be discernable differences between shodan and nidan, nidan and sandan, and sandan and yondan. By asking the yondan candidate to do pretty much the same things as the shodan candidates, I think he wanted to show the differences quite clearly.

As far as showing teaching capabilities, the yondan candidate is part of our "teaching staff" (as it were) and has taught many classes in the past. I think our teacher has seen that and knows he is a capable teacher.

I'll close by saying that I've seen some sandan exams conducted by Saotome sensei in which the candidates were asked to teach something to show their ability to do so. It gets creative at times with the candidates being asked to teach, say, ikkyo without using any words.


-- Jun

Doug Mathieu
04-29-2003, 12:39 PM

Further to 4th Dan testing, in the last two years our Shihan has been testing rather than recommending 4 th Dan ranks.

I think as Peter suggested it has somewhat to do with cost since it is a lot cheaper.

As for the format again it is like Jun said where the test is about 30-40 minutes long and much the same as Nidan or Sandan.

6 ukes chosen by Sensei and mostly freestlye with some requested aspects such as tachi waza, hanmi handachi, suwari waza. He also asks for Jo dori, tachi dori and tanto dori.

One thing I have heard him say after tests is what he expects from the student. Ie: Shodan errors are still a lot of reflection on the teachers teaching.

At higher levels any faults become more the responsibility of the student and at Yondan the student should be able to figure stuff out himself. The teacher no longer feeds technique, etc to the student. Therefore if he see's any fundamental problems he will more likely think the issue is within your self rather than poor instruction.

Dave Miller
05-06-2003, 03:39 PM
I am studying in the tradition of Tomiki. One of the things that Tomiki did is take his experience as an educator and organized the basic techniques of Aikido into an easily communicated system.

When testing time comes around, it becomes a fairly simple affair. There are technical requirements for each rank. The tori steps up with their uke and, on command, performs the basic requirements, demonstrating the necessary proficiency. This is something that they work on and practice, typically with the uke they plan to test with.

At my dojo, this is thought of as more of a demonstration than a test. They have been asked to demonstrate for rank because:They have demonstrated the proficiency in the techniques in the course of regular training.

They have the time/maturity requesite to the upcoming rank.This applies to everything from yonkyu (the lowest rank for which we test) to however high up our system requires demonstration for rank.

I know this is really different from other systems but I wanted to share it simply as a different perspective on testing.


Darren Raleigh
05-19-2003, 10:09 AM
Forgive me if I missed something, but I have read no mention so far of the fact that you're not the only one getting tested! The granting authority (even if it's the same instructor you always have) is being tested as well.

You may also someday test in front of a person of much higher rank than your usual Sensei, who will watch quietly and hope you don't screw up. ;)

If you pass, it proves two things: you can learn, and your instructor can teach. This is another reason why you should not refuse a testing opportunity. It's not just an opportunity for you, it's a service you provide for your instructor.

With that in mind, forget about avoiding a boring show. Rank test is not a show, and if you're worried about spectators being bored, don't be: the ones who know what to look for won't be, and the others can entertain themselves in the lobby.