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Old 11-24-2007, 04:03 AM   #96
G DiPierro
Location: Ohio
Join Date: Mar 2002
Posts: 365
Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

John Riggs wrote: View Post
Really-they why do they use such titles as sifu indicating a rank?
Sifu is an honorific form of addressing a teacher, not a rank.

Yoga? It's not a martial art so I don't get that comment. It's a stretching system.
Your post did not mention martial arts, you only said that without ranking you think a system will disintegrate into chaos. In fact, you brought up the idea of testing in an academic setting by means of comparison. Yoga is one example of a system that does not have a ranking system. If you want to stick to martial arts, I gave the example of CMA -- as far as I know, none of them have any ranking system at all. Do some research and see if you can find one that does, barring modern mass-market "kung-fu" that has copied the Japanese belt system. If you want another example, look at the Russian Systema. Also no ranking system. I could give you other examples as well. Your statement that without ranking an art (martial or otherwise) will descend into chaos is clearly contradicted by the several systems that do not have rank. You can choose to ignore this evidence but that doesn't change it or make it go away.

You seem to pose more rigidity on a system than I see present. Koryu's have a set of techniques you must learn. Aikido has a set of techniques divided over ranks. You could make the argument that koryus are rigid as well. I see nothing in the present system that stops exploration as long as you meet certain criteria to advance within the system and demonstrate the tenacity and commitment to do so.
Koryu and aikido are very different in their approach to technical knowledge. Koryu are by nature technically rigid in that you are learning certain very specific techniques of the art. A scroll or license means that one has learned some of these techniques, and an advanced license means that the recipient has learned many additional techniques that are not taught to beginners. Once you have learned all of the techniques, you are done. You get the highest level scroll and are considered to have learned the entire art (except for perhaps a few secrets only given to the next headmaster).

In aikido, all of the techniques are taught right from the beginning. Advancement lies not in learning more techniques but in becoming better at the performance of the same basic techniques that everyone else knows. As the ranks get higher, testing becomes more centered on freestyle rather than repetition of specific techniques, and then at a certain level knowledge of specific techniques is no longer required for promotion at all. Unlike koryu, aikido is by nature not technically rigid (in fact, it is far less rigid than other disciplines I have studied that do not have testing or ranking systems).

I'm not trying to convince you one way or the other by the way. People's brains are organized differently and react to things differently. Some migrate toward structure, others abhor it. It is obvious you are uncomfortable in a structured system as you find it limits you. Personally, I don't find them stifling since I do what I need to for conformity while not conforming and pursuing aspects that interest me. Although your critcisms may have some validity, it is unfair to assume that everyone would feel comfortable in a system you feel suits you. It is also unfair to assume that the issues you bring up are not being addressed. I know of others who are addressing such issues as well at several levels. Your tendency however is to lump us all into the same pot.
Just because I don't think the contrived and artificial structure imposed by testing in aikido makes sense doesn't mean that I am in any way uncomfortable with or somehow inherently against structure. I practice and teach a koryu that consists of a small number of techniques done over and over again without variation. Also, the style of yoga that I practice is easily the most structured one in common existence. It consists of a fixed sequence (actually 6 of them, although many people will never get past the first or maybe second) that everyone learns and practices the same way. I've tried other styles and learned some useful things from them, but I find that following the highly structured approach of this particular style works well for me right now. What would be a problem for me in yoga is if someone were to tell me that I couldn't practice a certain pose not because I can't physically do it, but because I'm not politically ranked high enough. This sounds ridiculous but it is exactly how people think in aikido.

In yoga, there is a fundamental honesty that I find lacking in aikido: if you can do a pose, it is obvious that you can do it, and if you can't it is obvious that you can't. It has nothing to do with who you are or how long you have been practicing and certainly nothing to do with politics. There are people who might practice yoga for 10 years and never be able to advance past a certain basic level of practice, and there are people who will practice for less than half that time and already be moving on to very advanced sequences. People progress at their own paces and in in their own ways, and although everyone would probably like to be able to do the crazy advanced stuff, a big part of the practice is learning to accept and work with your own body and its limitations. Everybody knows how advanced they are relative to someone else just by watching them practice, not that it really matters unless you are considering someone as a possible teacher. Unlike in aikido, there are no cooperative ukes to cover up for your shortcomings and make you look good because you are politically important.

The problem that I see with testing in aikido is not that it imposes structure, but that it imposes exactly the wrong kind of structure. The standards and criteria that I see being propagated through the ranking and testing system currently used in aikido seem to me to be sapping the art's martial and spiritual vitality rather than maintaining or increasing it. When political rank becomes more important than what people can actually do, as it already is now in many places in aikido and probably will be in more in the future as a result of the trends I have observed, an art has begun what could very well be an irreversible decline into play-acting and pretend martial arts. I'm sorry to see that happen to aikido, which is one reason I take the time to write about this, but that's what seems to me (and some others) to be happening.

Last edited by G DiPierro : 11-24-2007 at 04:10 AM.