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Neil Mick 03-05-2004 03:48 PM

Exam Question for Beginning Aikidoists
Hello everyone:

I teach a college-level course in Elementary Aikido. Every term I give a short take-home test to students. Since I get a fair number of returning students, I like to give different exam-questions, every semester, to keep them on their toes.

If you were teaching my class, what exam question would you ask of your students?

Some questions I've asked in the past were:

* Martial art, or dance? Some have stated that Aikido is more properly a dance, than a martial art. Comment, and give concrete examples.

* Describe what is Aikido, and how O Sensei's philosophy of nonviolence fits in with the practice, of Aikido.

* Write a short expository paper on the life of O Sensei. Include short descriptions of three major influences in his life. What was the significance of his three visions?

(One question I recently thought up, but I discounted for simply being too evil, is...

* Describe ki. Include several concrete examples.

yes, I know: I have an eevil mind. ;) )

Gilles D'Hoker 03-13-2004 02:50 PM

You give home test to students? How many students do you have?

Actually, we rarely discus the life of Osensei, the meaning of Aikido even the word ki... Probably b'cos our sensei is not a talkative man. All the info about Aikido I found was in books.

wendyrowe 03-13-2004 03:52 PM

"Define 'kuzushi' and give several examples of how it is used in aikido."

Doka 03-13-2004 05:59 PM

What is the corect term for a practitioner of Aikido? Aikidoist or Aikidoka?





ikkitosennomusha 03-13-2004 10:15 PM

This has got to be the most ridiculous thing I have ever hear of (no offense)! Aikido is not about pencil pushing in a classroom. There grades should come from the mat, e.g., how they perform, how they carry themselves, their ki excercises, etc. But if you must give written exam for university procedures sake, here is my suggestion.

I take "elementary" to be "beginner of beginners" so, if this is the case, they should not be answering theoretical questions of depth at their level. Start them out on perhaps terminology questions such as: What is mushin? What is the importance of maai? Name 8 (or how many you want) ki exercises. Who is the founder of Aikido? In a brief description, what is aikido? What country did aikido originate? What is ki? Name the postion of high and low on the mat. What erm means "senior student"? What does kohai mean? Name the 5 postions of the bokken. etc etc.

Yoiu get the idea. These are some basic questions that I would ask at the end of a semester for a final, because some of your students could be new and you have to take that into account that they might need time to learn these.

Your best bet is to devise an exam fitting for each rank to be fair!!!!

Brad Medling

Doka 03-14-2004 03:34 AM

"What is Ki?"

Bl**dy hell! I thought you said not deeply!!!

BTW, the answer is the mastery of balance, not the mistical mumbo-jumbo! ;)

taras 03-14-2004 07:11 AM

I know this association where they write an essay on 'How I understand Ki'

mmm...... I think they do it as a part of 3rd dan grading ;-)

Josh Bisker 03-14-2004 09:47 AM

I'm a university aikido student. I started out in the Elementary range and maybe i'm a tiny tiiiiny bit more advanced now, but esentially i think i'm in the same boat as the folks you teach. I want to respond to Brad's comment, that your idea is "the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard." I think it's an extraordinarily useful and practical thing you're doing, challenging your students to engage aikido on a cerebral level as well as a physical or even metaphysical one.

The statement that "Aikido is not about pencil pushing in a classroom" seems like an oversimplistic reduction of what's actually going on here. I know for instance in the UKA that certain dan exams require essays on aikido in addition to a physical exam. From what I hear those essays have motivated people to investigate the inside of their training and discover a new depth. From the folks i've trained with it seems that these essays have yeilded fabulous personal results for them, and a rewarding gain for the community.

Neil, I will try to think up some questions for you and email them, if you'd like. An idea for you right now is to have your students each suggest a question for next semester at the bottom of their essay. Maybe the winner gets an extra koshinage, haha. Seriously though, that might be a good way to further engage their aikiminds, and also would give you a good view of the kinds of ideas that your instuction has been bringing about for them. It would give you get a good bead on where their experience is taking them.

DanielR 03-14-2004 10:16 AM

Hi Neil,

Interested - how do your students react to questions like these? Do you find that such a short exposure to Aikido is a good enough basis for your students to answer these questions?

ikkitosennomusha 03-14-2004 04:04 PM


I agree with Daniel. I only said it was ridiculous because none of you students are Dan level! You said so yourself that most Dan test require written exams. While this is true, elementary folks are not ready for that.

Doka 03-14-2004 04:13 PM

I think I should back up where I think Brad was coming from. Traditional budo exams have not had a classroom style exam as part. If you could execute the technique, it did not matter how you perceive the art.

After all, maybe you had developed a superior understanding and create the next level of martia art, just like O'Sensei did.

Would we have had Aikido if O'Sensei had been required to write essays on Daito Ryu Aikijutsu and why it is the way it is. That requires you to justify the way things are done, not how they can be done better!


DanielR 03-14-2004 04:26 PM

Brad, clarification: I was asking on student's reaction to the questions, not claiming they can't be able to do it. FWIW, I remember participating in arguments of the sort "martial art vs. dance" soon after I began training. I'm sure my "insight" was extremely naive. However, I can see how such assignments may motivate certain students to a deeper exploration of the art. Others would probably prefer a "shut-up-and-train" attitude - just a matter of taste, IMHO.

ikkitosennomusha 03-14-2004 07:38 PM

This is why such a concept as shugyo exists. Shugyo is the only way to deepen you understanding of aikido, not sitting in some corner theoreticizing about it. Do that on your on time!

MaryKaye 03-14-2004 09:57 PM

Brad writes:

"Shugyo is the only way to deepen you understanding of aikido, not sitting in some corner theoreticizing about it."

It didn't work that way for me. I improved a lot more quickly when I abandoned just trying to soak things up during class, and started going home and doing pencil-and-paper work to back it up. With my learning style -- I don't claim this as a general truth -- stuff sticks better if I have to write about it.

The first time I saw sankyo I had about eleven months of experience, but just training, no 'homework'. Couldn't make heads or tails of it. The second time, about fourteen months but the last three had been spent working on remembering/describing/

naming/comparing stuff at home. Clicked right away.

I don't personally find the general "how is aikido different from dance?" questions helpful, but I learned a heck of a lot from tackling "what's the difference between style X and style Y?" after having been exposed to both. And I can easily imagine students for whom the more general questions are just the thing to get them thinking.

I'd figure that any sensei planning to do this knows his own students well enough to know if they'll find this useful or not--or at least can observe the results and find out.

Mary Kaye

PeterR 03-15-2004 05:03 PM

There is a long tradition of mental study alongside physical practice in Budo. You are required to think about what you do and why you do it. This is true with respect to both gendai and koryu.

One question per term is not at all inappropriate even for mudansha.

Possible questions

What is Shu Ha Ri?

What is Shugyo?

What is the relationship of Aikido to other modern Budo.?

Correct answers to all three can be found on the web, if not a library. To save yourself a headache limit the length of response.

ikkitosennomusha 03-15-2004 05:13 PM

Hi Mary!

I agree that writing facilitates learning. This was the only way I survived biochemistry!I was mainly referring to beginners. Its just that for beginners, they really don't understand the concepts enough to verbally write about it. I suppose they could write about what they think is going on but remember, Practice makes perfect only if practiced correctly. So I would cross reference my notes with a knowledgable source before I started committing to memory, for beginners that is.

Me personally, it is nearly all mental. When I travel to study under an aikido great, I take notes during lunch/night for things that are new or concepts in a new light. When I am not on the mat, I get in this state of mind where I can visualize things. On occasion, I go through the movements to aid this process.

Brad Medling

Bronson 03-16-2004 09:20 AM

In our dojo everyone, from first test to last, is required to write out a pre-test interview. We have a list of questions that have to be answered in an essay. The questions never change but as understanding and ability increase the answers will. Dan grades must also write a paper on a book, usually your choice but sensei may choose if there's one in particular he feels may help you.

Questions like:
  • What is the most significant thing you've learned since your last test?
  • What do you feel are your strongest and weakest aikido arts or skills?
  • Why should you be considered for promotion?
  • Have you used aikido outside the dojo? Give examples.

We also have questions as part of our actual test:
  • What is aikido?
  • What is shodo o seisu?
  • What are the principles of aikido?
  • What are the principles to Unify Mind and Body?
  • What is Masakatsu agatsu?
  • Explain Range of Effectiveness.
  • Explain Circular Motion and how we use it.
  • Explain The Spirit of Loving Protection for all Things.

Just some examples of our "mental" part. I find the pre-test interview to be very helpful in getting me to solidify a lot of the random thoughts about my training that I've got bouncing around in my head.


Neil Mick 03-16-2004 12:55 PM

Wow, good responses, all. Thanks for the input.

To elaborate on some of the questions about my class: its an "activity" course, worth 1 college credit. I normally fill up to the maximum # of students (40) by the first week, and then it slacks off to about 25 or so, by the end.

All students in activity courses (other examples of courses are wrestling, yoga, badminton, etc) are expected to write a short paper, at some point in the course. I to tow the line between posing an easily-researchable question, and one that makes them think, a little.

By the end of the course, students are expected to demonstrate a series of moves roughly corresponding to 5th kyu, at most dojos.

Daniel Rozenbaum (DanielR) wrote:
Hi Neil,

Interested - how do your students react to questions like these? Do you find that such a short exposure to Aikido is a good enough basis for your students to answer these questions?

I have yet to encounter a student who complained about the exam, or wrote a negative comment about them on the evaluations. Also, the grade-scale is such that if they totally opted out of doing the exam and did well in all other areas (attendance, etc), they could STILL expect a B- (yes, most of them get letter-graded. The rest go for credit/no-credit grades).

Thanks again for your feedback: I'll consider all your ideas for upcoming exams. Any other ideas? I'll try to check in on this thread a bit more, than I have...apologies.

Nick Simpson 03-17-2004 03:15 AM

Why dont we have aikido college courses over here? Would be a lot more fun than the crap I have to study :p Be an uchi deshi for three years and get a degree at the end, Id be up for that.

Neil Mick 03-17-2004 11:51 AM


Nick Simpson wrote:
Why dont we have aikido college courses over here? Would be a lot more fun than the crap I have to study :p Be an uchi deshi for three years and get a degree at the end, Id be up for that.

Lol, what a good idea. :) If I had my way: I'd be offering a whole curriculum in Aikido: "Aikido and Asian Philosophy (co-taught);" "Advanced Aikido (weapons-practice);" "The Life of Morihei Ueshiba," etc.

Unfortunately, CA-funding for education is being cut to the bone, and I am fortunate to even have a job there, at this time. My class is set to run in the Fall, but after that my chances of teaching Aikido there become very slim. Many other activities classes were cut.

Bushi 03-17-2004 03:26 PM

the question that pops into my mind that you may want to consider asking them is "What are some of the root systems of Aikido" ex. daito ryu ext.

Jessie Brown 03-17-2004 08:20 PM

I'm a college student and philosophy major. The Aikido club head instructor (who is also a professor) taught a class called "Conflict Theory in Aikido." The title gives a pretty good idea of the focus.

I absolutely think that Aikido must be practiced while conscious of its general principles. Although I agree that beginners wouldn't get the intricacies, it's no different than your sensei demonstrating a technique. When you try it out for the first time, it's kinda sketchy but then improves with practice. Especially as a philosophy major, I found it fascinating to analyze the differences between different students' responses.

I don't remember the actual essay questions, but it would be useful to think about Aikido in the context of philosophy. Some of the earlier suggestions were quite good, like thinking about mushin, ma'ai, masakatsu agatsu, etc. Perhaps read a couple Aikido theory and compare them. The depth to which one is mentally self-conscious in training is essential to progress in my personal experience.

If nothing else, having students think about broader questions while on the mat made them reexamine what they're doing.

Joe Bowen 03-01-2005 11:07 PM

Re: Exam Question for Beginning Aikidoists
If you go back to the original post you will see that Neil is talking about a college level class. When I was attending the college I happened to take a Yoga class as well as a Fencing and Archery class. All classes including Physical Education electives where required some degree of classroom lecture, some type of text, and some type of written exam or paper to fulfill academic requirements. Thus the final grade was not wholly dependent upon the individual's physical performance. If I understand Neil's posts correctly that is why he instituted his take home exam. Complete understanding of Aikido can not be achieved solely by academic study; however, there is a plethora of sources that can be used to facilitate academic inquiry. Out of curiosity, Neil, did you use a text book? And if so, which book did you select?
It seems to me that the class is for a grade on the student's academic record and not as a specific member of an Aikido dojo. So, another curiosity question for you, Neil, is do you run an Aikido club or dojo at the school and how many of your students in the class continue on in their Aikido?

kaishaku 03-02-2005 02:28 AM

Re: Exam Question for Beginning Aikidoists
I think it's ridiculous.

I would have a hard time taking such an assignment seriously.

Peter Goldsbury 03-02-2005 05:38 AM

Re: Exam Question for Beginning Aikidoists
I do not think that many university and college courses in aikido are taught here in Japan. In my own university students have to take sport and physical education as part of their liberal arts education before they proceed to their majors. This involves practical training on the pitch or mound and also much desk study.
The Aikikai requires a paper as part of the examination for 2nd dan 3rd dan and 4th dan. For 2nd and 3rd dan the paper is a 'kansoubun' 感想文 that sets out what one feels about the art. for 4th dan the paper is a 'shouronbun' 小論文 short thesis, that deals with issues and presents some reasoned argument.

As Peter R has mentioned, this is fully in the samurai/bushi tradition of having a good blend of bun 文 and bu 武.

Best regards,

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