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Bewildered Rokyu 08-22-2006 02:50 PM

Testing
 
I am getting increasingly confused about this whole testing business. I have been training at a dojo for over a year, and took my 6th kyu exam a year ago.

Senior students have often told me how well I am doing, and how quickly I learn. I train casually, two or three times a week, and while I certainly have no dellusions of great skill, I do feel comfortable with Aikido training and think I have made a lot of progress - so when senior students tell me this unsolicited, I presume they are being sincere.

I have also been told that the "first few ranks" come quickly for most people.

Yet I am repeatedly not included on the testing list, in spite of having more than enough hours. I have not taken it personally, because it hasn't just been me, but *all* the Rokyus. I have not asked about it because it seems like something you aren't supposed to ask about. Although once when a testing list was put up, I did finally ask a senior student why one of my fellow Rokyus was not included on the testing list - this particular person had been a Rokyu for an excessively long time, trained about twice as much as I did, and in my albeit uninformed opinion, was at a skill level that obviously exceeded many of the mid/higher ranking Kyus. To this the senior student sort of stammared, and the name ended up being appended to the list 2 days before the exam. This student opted not to test, and hasn't been seen at the dojo since.

Anyways, it is all very confusing. I do not understand why none of the Rokyus I know - which are several all training a year give or take a few months, are testing. Are none of us ready? And if we aren't ready, why are we (or at least I) being frequently told how well we are doing? It it just insincere encouragement? Is it normal to go a year of training consistently after Rokyu without a test? Because that isn't what I have been led to believe.

So you might ask who *does* test. People test *for* Rokyu, which as far as I can tell is just an automatic thing for beginners who complete x numer of hours. And a few mid and higher rank kyus.

What do you make of this?

I'm seriously thinking of just giving up on rank and just train with the plan of not testing (as a few students I know have chosen to do.). The dojo fees are not cheap, and I am paying a yearly fee to our Aikido organization in order to be able to participate in testing, and there is a testing fee as well. I enjoy Aikido and will continue to train regardless, but I'm going to test this rarely and with no feedback, I'm not sure if the testing aspect is worth my energy or money to think about/pay for.

Gem 09-08-2006 04:00 AM

Re: Testing
 
I don't know anything about ' testing lists'. For our gradings we have to do a minimum number of training sessions before each grading (increasing number of sessions as you go through the ranks). It is left up to each individual to decide when they want to do another grading, ie: when they think they are ready. We informally mention to our regular sensei that we are thinking about doing a grading the next time there will be an examination (usually a few months before). Also, the senseis will regularly ask a few months before a grading date "Is anyone thinking of doing a grading?". They will then keep an eye on those interested and help you to prepare for it. Of course, they will also let you know if they don't think you are quite ready. Our regular sensei has to sign the application form to indicate that they think you are ready.

Most people have a pretty good idea of how ready they are and don't have to be advised not to go for a grading. Beginners have to rely on their senseis' opinions though. I guess the thinking at my dojo is that people are expected to self-assess as they gain experience. By that I mean a person is encouraged to develop and rely on their own judgment rather than others'.

I should also mention that all of our members are adults.

I think you should ask why you are not being encouraged to do a grading. If you are doing something incorrectly it should have been brought to your attention before this. Why are you asking the senior students questions and not your sensei anyway? I would get together with some others with your concerns and approach your sensei after training and ask him/her to explain the system "when you have got time".

Larry Cuvin 09-08-2006 09:19 AM

Re: Testing
 
Ask your sensei. You'll never find out if you don't. Im sure that if you're sensei believes that you're ready, you will be tested. If he says not yet, ask him what you need to train on in order to test. As you mentioned, you are paying the dojo and the organization to get trained and part of that is testing to see if you are getting trained correctly and advancing in rank.

Plus Ki,
Larry

Wise after the event 09-08-2006 09:38 AM

Re: Testing
 
I had a similar experience at my first dojo. It turned out that the teacher had his own organisation (a 'federation' consisting of precisely two dojos) and was awarding his own gradings; including his own and the last time I checked he was up to eighth dan. However, for everyone else, there were impossibly high standards. I stayed for a year and didn't do a grading. Another guy that I used to practice with was there for seven years, training regularly and no grading as yet, not even a sixth kyu. I could go on.

My eyes have since been opened after training elsewhere, but what you describe has some of the characteristics of a cult and I'd also say in my first dojo the instructor was something of a bully and seemed to enjoy inflicting pain and undermining his students' efforts.

My advice? Check out your instructors lineage and if it's not 100% kosher, go elsewhere. Life is too short for this kind of nonsense.

(By the way, the instructor I'm talking about is in London and has a minor role in Petere Goldsbury's autobiographical reminiscences in the columns section-although he is not named).

Janet Rosen 09-08-2006 10:44 AM

Re: Testing
 
The advice to ask your instructor is good. If you are in a dojo where you feel you
"can't", then I'd question why you chose to train with him/her.

Esaemann 09-08-2006 02:48 PM

Re: Testing
 
Rokyu,
A little background-
I've been training in my dojo for five years now, tested for 3rd kyu last year. One of the teachers likes to chide me when she thinks its time for me to test. She's been bugging me about testing 2nd kyu.

I asked Sensei if he thought I was ready to test. He basically said he'd like to see me wait until the next test, so I can better prepare (come to open mat and maybe one more class a week). This hit me hard. I have only been coming twice a week for the past couple years.

After thinking about it for awhile, I realized that even though I had told myself that testing wasn't important, it must have been. I've been doing other things and time with family, that took away from being able to prepare better for testing. For me, I realized the fact that it hit me hard was an ego problem. I won't say that competing with yourself is not good, but if that is what its all about, it should at least be understood.

I also realized that the possible tension of worrying about testing was not helping my training.

I told my Sensei all of this, and he seemed to agree.

You will progress whether testing or not. If you are there to learn and/or have fun, remember that.

ViciousCycle 09-10-2006 04:20 AM

Re: Testing
 
There is one thing far more frustrating than having to wait extra time for testing. Some martial arts instructors award rank far too easily and far too quickly. In the short term, the rank advancement feels good; in the long term, when one feels that one's rank is higher than one's skill, one can lose trust in their instructor and their school.

One of the first martial arts I studied quickly awarded me a brown belt that I had not earned, and I dropped out soon after. Another martial art that I studied was about to award me a brown belt that I had not earned, but I dropped out before they could do so. I do not see this pattern repeating itself with my aikido training. In aikido, I appreciate the fact that I will have to work hard for a long time before I can earn a brown belt. I appreciate the fact that my sensei sometimes tells me that I'm not ready for testing instead of being overly eager to collect the testing fees. I deeply appreciate the fact that my sensei offers honest feedback on areas that I need to work on instead of giving me vague platitudes of praise.

Kevin Wilbanks 09-10-2006 01:17 PM

Re: Testing
 
I'm with Janet. The fact that you have problems and questions and feel like you can't discuss it with your teacher is more of a concern for me than the grading business itself. I also suggest heeding the other fellow who said to look for warning signs that your dojo is cult-like.

I would check into the dojo's parent organization and the source of his credentials. If he is completely independent and/or self-appointed, then his ranks may not be worth anything anyway, except in-house. If my investigation into my own reluctance to communicate with the teacher and of the school itself turned up anything fishy, I would look around the area for a dojo with more legit credentials. If there are no such Aikido dojo, I would also consider other arts. Aikido isn't the only martial art in the world.

Finally, wherever you go, don't discount your idea of training with no regard to rank. I have gone that route, because I found that my own thoughts and feelings about testing had little to do with what I like about doing Aikido. The only problem it has ever caused me is occasionally seeing far less experienced but higher ranking people get to lead a class or something, which isn't much of a problem. I'd rather just train than worry about the pecking order. The other "problem" was moving and traveling to different dojos where I couldn't wear my Hakama. I had some emotional attachment to wearing it and I had to buy new gi pants that were presentable as outer-wear.


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