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Old 07-11-2000, 07:46 PM   #3
Dojo: Uni of Western Australia
Location: Western Australia
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 15
belts and rank

the Uni of West Australia Aikido club uses a coloured 5 belt system.

i wore a white belt from 1991 until 1996 when our head teacher came over from japan and ended up grading me purple (2nd kyu). while i could have kept wearing the white belt i was beginning to feel needful of a badge of some sort, qualifying myself in the eyes of novices that i had something to teach.

there was a deficit of teachers after our japanese sensei left, an irony because he'd graded 6 shodans. most of them were heading overseas at the time, a weird coincidence. there were times where i was the most senior person on the mats and i knew that the aikido club was going to need some senior students, just to hold things together and train the rank beginners.

this accompanied the beginnings of my sense of our dojo's special style and my role/responsibility - giri - in transmitting that style in the way i learned it. i choose that latter phrase carefully as i doubt i can ever transmit it in the way i was taught it, i cannot hope to be the confluence of teaching influences that have shaped my aikido to what it is today. i can simply transmit what i've learned, i.e. what's important about aikido to me.

nowadays i am not nearly so opinionated, but back then i was making a personal statement: i wasn't interested in grades or hierarchies, therefore i wouldn't take on the trappings of an experienced student. i insisted on being at the far left of the class lineup. the only people i let sit to my left were people in civvies who understood and felt embarrassed that someone more experienced than them was sitting to their left.

one of the advantages of being at the far left of the class in a white belt, was that for training i felt compelled to get to a senior grade as quickly as possible. i consciously chose my training partners, and there was no stigma placed upon me for selecting the most senior people i could find because i was a white belt and in theory everyone was more senior than me.

being at the far left also made me feel more humble. i somehow felt closer to a beginners perspective if i sat with them. i enjoyed making complete newbies feel welcome, showing them what to do and stuff like that.

with hindsight i wonder if i was also afraid of being graded. perhaps i didn't want someone to tell me that i wasn't the "bestest and fastest" learner of aikido ever. maybe i didn't want to feel like there were any limits to my abilities. or that if i failed a grading that i'd wasted the previous seasons' training time for nothing. historically speaking our sensei would be lucky to hold one grading per year.

dunno really why i didn't get into the grading system. but whatever those reasons were, they began to become less important as i saw the grade/belt not as an achievement yardstick but rather as a teaching tool. the grade doesn't mean that my aikido is better or worse than someone else's, i get less and less certain that it's possible to compare people's aikido anyway. it does mean that i've been on the path longer than a beginner though, and that i can show the path ahead for the beginner's first few steps.

one strong reason for my taking on a coloured belt and a grade was because of my experiences in another dojo during all of 1994. the belt system was a black and white affair. the number of times i got told what was good and what was bad by idiots who thought i was a newbie, convinced me that some sort of visual prompt denoting seniority would be helpful. i guess i always could have asked people what their grade was, but i was too shy.

while the white/black system may work in some dojos, i think coloured belts can be helpful if they're not focussed on the competition, as giriasis and erik said.

Uni of West Australia Aikido
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