To Test, or not to Test
I've never been a big fan of the testing process in Aikdio.
At my first Aikido dojo, the only way to get tested was to be really chummy with a senior student. If you were lucky, they'd take you under their wing and give you a couple private 5 minute lessons before class. After that, at sensei's discretion, you might be asked to test at some point in the future, but for me, after about 6 years, that point had still never come.
At my second dojo, the only way to test was attend as many seminars as possible (to show your devotion) and then again hope and pray that some day sensei would notice you and ask you if you wanted to test. After a couple years, I still hadn't been asked to test.
At my third and fourth dojos (in Japan) the sensei were shocked to learn that I had never been tested and couldn't believe North American dojos were like that. Immediately I was asked to test and told that the test cycle was every 4 months.
The process was great. If you wanted to test (and had attended enough classes) you simply had to let them know and pay the test fee. Then a couple weeks before the test, a senior instructor would partner with you and spend half the class going over the test until you knew everything perfectly. The actual test was simply a formality (no seminars required).
It was in Japan that my listed rank finally started catching up with my actual ability. But then something strange happened. I was no longer asked to test. Every time I enquired, I simply told no without any explanation.
Students who had joined our dojo after me--and with no previous Aikido experience--were being tested ahead of me and bypassing my rank. I was stunned. Several senior students were just as shocked as I was, and the harmony in the dojo was certainly disrupted.
Then I met a fellow gaijin student from another dojo in Japan, and when I explained the situation to him, he nodded. "Of course," he said. "They never let white guys test as often, after a certain level. The only way to get tested from here on in is to make it plainly obvious in the dojo. You have to thrash some black belts. Only then the sensei won't be able to ignore you."
I couldn't believe this, but over the next few months saw how true it was with my own eyes, but I left Japan without testing again.
Now back in North America, I'm at a dojo where only devotion to sensei, chumminess with senior students, and $eminar attendance gets one invited to test. But I'm no longer interested.
At this point, I'm simply tired of the politics--in Japan and North America--around testing. I've reverted to the technique in Japan: revealing the holes in the techniques of senior students. But I do this not because I want to test, but but because I still need to learn where the holes are in my own technique.
I believe deeply in Aikido, but I have left behind the politics, rituals, brown-nosing, and approval-seeking surrounding the testing process at most of the dojo's I've attended.
My belt will continue to blacken, but only with sweat.