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Old 10-30-2011, 01:44 PM   #14
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Get Over It Already!

Nafis Zahir wrote: View Post
Today we see so many people obsessed with getting their black belt. Something about the black belt makes many people over-train and then once they get it they think that it is something special and that now they are 'bad asses' or someone who has special powers. It has really gotten crazy. For the ones who are serious about training, they quickly realize that they have just reached the first plateau. So I have an idea for when I open a dojo. What do you think about this - A new students joins the dojo and he/she gets a gi and then I give them a black belt to wear. And when they give me that curious look I say to them "Take it, Wear it, Get over it already!" I want then to wear it so that the novelty of having a black belt will wear off very early in their training. I would like to hear what Aikidoka here think about this idea. Remember, it's just a belt and it doesn't mean you are a yudansha.
In the old days when Saotome Sensei presided personally over the majority of Yudansha testing the ukes for the tests were the most senior folks present, usually dojo cho. That was, of course, back when all of us were still taking ukemi... before the wear and tear took its toll. So if you were testing, you had the very best ukes in the whole organization. Typically they would give great attacks, good speed and commitment, but they didn't have an "attitude" and didn't think their job was to get out there and try to mess you up. Rather they'd give the kind of attacks that would allow someone who was well prepared to really show what he or she knew. On the other hand, if you weren't well prepared, they'd eat you alive. Even for the best prepared, there was always a moment in the test when they'd push you to a crisis point. Often, it was the knife takeaways when the late Paul Kang Sensei would come in at light speed, stick you and be gone before you had even thought about what technique you'd be doing. In other words, he'd attack quite a bit above ones "pay grade". No one expected a Shodan or Nidan candidate to actually be able to handle this well. Sensei just wanted to see what would happen when you got pushed to failure. The most important thing was to never give up. I remember one of my friends missing three attempts to execute a takeaway and on the third attack he simply went straight to the center and knocked Paul Kang flat. Saotome Sensei and Ikeda Sensei laughed and clapped and that was clearly all they had been waiting for, it didn't have to be pretty, it just had to be something you dug deep for. After that. Kang Sensei attacked in a more civilized way that was designed to allow my friend to show his technical repertoire.

We also often had to do something on our tests which we simply weren't expected to be able to do. On my own Shodan test, Saotome Sensei had me do a randori against three people with shinai. It consisted of me running around the dojo with three attackers beating me mercilessly while Sensei laughed his ass off. My point here is that our testing in the old days was a balanced mix of opportunity to succeed at what we knew along with the opportunity to fail. At the end of our Shodan tests back in 1978 Sensei looked at everyone and laughed saying "You all died..." No one walked away from tests back then with some unrealistic idea about how great he or she was.

I miss those days. Now, often the ukes on tests are only marginally senior to the person testing... often they look at the opportunity to take ukemi as a place to show off for the Shihan. They don't really understand how to adjust their ukemi to fit the level of the person testing. They either don't attack with real intention or they think they are supposed to get out there and screw with the guy testing. So you get a mix of people whom you think might have some skills but they simply can't show them because their ukes are so wretched or they can't show what they know because the ukes are not attacking in such a way that they can respond with clean kihon waza. Often candidates get through their tests never having been pushed past their limit a bit or they never got a decent chance to demonstrate what they really knew.

Anyway, I think that if a test is properly run with ukes who understand their role in the testing process properly, the properly prepared candidate walks away from the test feeling empowered but at the same time humbled. He or she should come out of a test with a very realistic idea about what they need to be working on for the next level. If someone walks away from a Shodan test feeling like a bad ass, the test wasn't done properly, in my opinion.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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