First, I am not a yudansha, I am a 4th Kyu... So I have taken two tests in 10 months.
Ranking....I have been thinking about this for some time. Especially lately as we have just started out test prep month at my Dojo.
Testing or demonstrating (as I have heard that some Dojos do, but never experienced), seems to me to hold a couple of purposes that were not apparent to me when I started Aikido.
The first purpose for me is an even more intense focus than I normally have. I get a feeling that I have to be able to do techniques as well as I possibly can. Normally I put a lot of effort into my aikido, (I am there training as hard as I can every day that the dojo is open during the week), but around test time I train even harder, focus even harder, and generally train with one or two of my Sempai that I am going to have as Uke on my test. AND ONLY on those techniques on my test.
This focus on a limited (Remember I am still in the kyu ranks) number of techniques, is amazing. I can feel each of them change daily during the test prep month. The techniques that I start with, even if they were on the last test, feel nothing like the techniques that I end with. It is truly amazing!
The other thing that happens is that I begin to see the areas that I can't quite make work yet, (damn that nikyo hand change in the air!). This FOCUS, and Intensity on part of the whole of physical Aikido coupled with the little added stress that is doing the techniques in front of your sempai and kohai is very effective, I feel, in helping to grind the techniques for me, (I am no where near polishing them yet, still working on getting the slag ground off to find the metal underneath!).
For someone that generally is good at tests in the outside world, and rarely puts any thought into them, the tests in Aikido are very important to me, I worry and have anxiety about them well beyond anything else that I have done in outside the dojo.
Part of this stress, or anxiety for me is the thought that; I am going to be graded by someone, my sensei, that is awesome at the art. I know that he is going to see all the holes, and all the mistakes, some of which I am not even aware of yet. Also that the grading of the individual is really a grading of the whole dojo, did we all do our best as a community to make sure that the person being tested really is the best that we could help her be? When I have not tested, I have held my breath on the line, while the person testing did a technique which I knew they found difficult, and felt the release of everyone's breath around me when the test taker did it well.
As one of my Sempai said, "Don't we all feel that we are given a rank that we then have to grow into?"
The things that scare me most about going up the rank ladder are the ways that those that are your juniors look to you for advice, knowledge and support, when you KNOW you don't have perfect aikido, that you are doing things you know are not quite right, and hoping like hell that they don't see them and make your mistakes their mistakes....
Sorry if this was a little off topic...