Shiken, Testing in Aikido
Shiken , "an examination, an experiment, a test, a trial", is merely a form of keiko, or training in Aikido. It is no more, or no less important than any of the other aspects of training, requiring that all students apply themselves equally and diligently to the task of correct test taking.
One may ask, who is being tested? Of course, the applicant is given the opportunity to demonstrate how well the daily training and instruction have been effective in the growth and development of skills and confidence in that student. Then, there are the instructors, who have been charged with the responsibility of preparing the students for examination. Although the student needs to perform his or her scope of knowledge, it is for all to see whether or not those self same instructors, including the chief instructor, have fully understood and completed their duty to teach correct etiquette, respect for self and others, retention of the instructions received over time, and the instillation of confidence and awareness within the students themselves. The actual performance should merely be the exclamation point.
Agendas vary, but it seems to me that the real value of testing is, for the individual himself or herself, to intimately appreciate why they train, and how seriously they take such training. It is not the time to demonstrate prowess, or unusual insight into the art's inner workings. Rather, it is a rare moment for students and instructors alike to review and evaluate the scope and intent of training itself in the dojo, and to reinforce such values in the other students observing and learning from the examination process itself.
In preparing for an examination, either as a mudansha or a yudansha, (white or black belt) constant feedback from designated mentors, and/or instructors assigned to prepare the students, is most helpful in giving the student necessary guidance and instruction, and invaluable updating to the chief instructor as to how well the student population is progressing.
The purpose of ranking also varies with individual dojos and systems. There is no right or wrong. Since the concepts and potential of Aiki is so vast, room may be found for variations in interpretation and implementation of appropriate Aikido training and curriculums. As long as such explanations serve to properly prepare the students before an examination, almost any honest method will be effective and acceptable. Communication is a key factor here.
What is being tested for? As George Ledyard Shihan has clearly pointed out, agendas for correct Aikido training have proliferated, and no uniform standards appear to exist. Individual sub systems have their own guidelines, and they appear to be working just fine. My dojo has historically been acknowledged to be an "Aikikai" style dojo, although I freely admit to many changes over the years, not uninfluenced by the great examples of Aiki found outside of traditional Aikido training concepts, styles and conventions. When I return to Hombu Dojo, or when I see Aikikai representatives, including the Doshu, either on DVD or in person, it is obvious that I may have "strayed" from previously established norms or standards.
Oh well, both O Sensei and the late Doshu gave me permission and encouragement to "find my own Aikido", and so that is exactly what I am doing. It does feel good to retain ownership over my training, my methods, and my results. I can only hope that the students who are examined in my dojo feel the same.
Why is regular and consistent examination of students helpful or necessary? Again, viewpoints vary. For me, it is all about the students themselves, how they gauge their individual progress and skill development, and to grow in confidence and self awareness to the point of not having to constantly look for verification, approval or confirmation from others. The goal is to oversee the development of self sustaining, and independently operating martial artists in Aiki.
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