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Old 09-17-2007, 09:47 AM   #1
Avedan Raggio
 
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Question significance to testing/belt rank?

Good morning. This has been on my mind for some time, and I would like your input: What is the significance of testing to you? The significance of higher (or any particular) belt rank?

One of the things that drew me to aikido in the first place was the lack of competition and the absence of tournaments and so forth. We try to keep our egos off the mat, because training with them becomes problematic. We generally train only with white or black belts, not with the entire rainbow. Often one cannot see whether the person which whom one is training is wearing a white or black belt under their hakama, and cannot further determine what kyu or dan rank the person has achieved anyways. I've never asked, because it seems a bit rude, and doesn't really seem important in the context of simply training-- which is what we should be doing on the mat anyways.

I have found (in my meager three years of training) that I can learn as much from a complete beginner as from someone who has a reputation in the dojo, and who I know has been training for some time; I just learn different things. We train to improve our own training, and to allow others to do the same.

So, really, why test? What does it mean to say 'I passed my ___ kyu or my ___ dan test, when the person with whom you train might not be able to tell, or might not care? Why do *you* test? What does your rank mean to you? What do you think it means to other people?

I do not mean to be derisive or offensive to anyone by questioning this; I am honestly open and curious, and would greatly appreciate any comments or insights you are willing to share.
 
Old 09-17-2007, 10:18 AM   #2
gregstec
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

Saotome Sensei once said at a seminar that rank in Aikido is not important - but that the amount of Aikido in your heart is (paraphrase)

Like you I have trained with ASU members where all wear hakama and there is no 'belt blindness' on the mat - your training is at the appropriate level of your partner at the time and there are no assumptions of skill based on a recognized belt level of rank - you and your partner just train and learn from each other.

In our independent dojo we follow the ASU practice of allowing all to wear the hakama just for this reason.

Greg

 
Old 09-17-2007, 01:26 PM   #3
RBPierce
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

Testing isn't (or shouldn't be!) about ego and rank. Rather, they serve as training aids, milestones. For the student testing, they provide some focus and structure to his training and gives him the opportunity and encouragement to really "dig in" to what a technique is all about.

For the senseis, they provide an opportunity to see a student at his best (hopefully!) They show the senseis where attention may need to be focussed in future training, and again provide some structure to teaching.

Tests are about growing and training- not about ego.
 
Old 09-17-2007, 02:30 PM   #4
Ron Tisdale
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

Rank in aikido usually seems to be a reflection of your relationship with your instructor, and the other members of your dojo/organization.

Personally, I try not to make too little, or too much out of it. It's a part of aikido, so when necessary, I test like everyone else.

Best,
Ron

Ron Tisdale
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Old 09-17-2007, 05:55 PM   #5
G DiPierro
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

Quote:
Avedan Raggio wrote: View Post
So, really, why test? What does it mean to say 'I passed my ___ kyu or my ___ dan test, when the person with whom you train might not be able to tell, or might not care? Why do *you* test? What does your rank mean to you? What do you think it means to other people?
Rank exists in martial arts for one reason, and one reason only: it is a very effective marketing and political tool (I'm not talking about teaching licenses; those have a few other purposes). Judo was the first art to use the numerical ranking system, and it was adapted from the Japanese board game go as a way of quantitatively measuring skill through competition. Other arts, including today many non-japanese arts, have subsequently discovered that numerical ranking and colored belts are very useful in creating, maintaining, and controlling a large membership base, so now most of them use some version of this system. (I've written about this previously at a bit more length in a few threads, including this one.)

Most martial arts organizations (especially the big ones) are basically multi-level marketing schemes, and like other such entities they must work hard to motivate people to want to move up the hierarchy. Thus, they will put a lot of emphasis on rank, and encourage their member dojos to do the same. You will find a lot of people in aikido who believe that rank is very important, and this is usually because they have been repeatedly told it is important by people that they respect. Also, our culture in the US usually lends a lot of weight to rank in martial arts, which is to the advantage of those who would claim or issue it. Finally, those who are insecure about their own skill level, whether or not they should be (and in aikido, many of them rightly are), will tend to cling to something like rank as a measure of their accomplishment in martial arts, since it is all they really have. Of course, when asked people will come up all sorts of other reasons why rank is important to them, but all of them tend to some variation on these few basic themes.

Incidentally, I happen to know your teacher and I don't get the impression he cares much about rank. Last time I saw him he went on at length about how meaningless rank is as a measure of actual ability. However, he still operates within a system where rank is very important, and that system really is larger and more powerful than he is, so for the most part he still has to play by its rules. Since you train in his dojo, you do too, but luckily for you your job is much easier than his.
 
Old 09-17-2007, 09:28 PM   #6
Ketsan
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

Rank is in the eye of the beholder. What does my rank mean to me? That I'm closer to doing what I'm doing now in a hakama and black belt than I was at my previous grade. Hopefully I'll be doing it better but I don't see how changing my uniform or gaining a higher rank affects my daily training and therefore I see no point in it.

What does it mean to other people? Depends on the person. To my instructor it defines how picky and grumpy he should be when I do a technique
It doesn't mean much to the other people in my dojo, no-one can remember what rank I am, including my instructor.
What does it mean to anyone else? Probably nothing. To the uneducated eye I'm a total beginner because I wear a white belt, to the uneducated in general the term "2nd kyu" is totally meaningless. Women certainly aren't impressed .
To other Aikidoka it means that at best I tenkan without falling over, know which end of the bokken to hold and can occasionally do something right .

Why do I grade? Well I'm at HQ dojo during the gradings anyway so I may as well get up and grade. That may change when they ask me to take dan grade and pay up 500 to attend summer school for a week, get graded and have Doshu sign a certificate for me, all so I can get back to training the week after in a skirt and a black belt.
 
Old 09-17-2007, 10:30 PM   #7
Shannon Frye
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

Well said.

Shannon


Quote:
Alex Lawrence wrote: View Post
...
To other Aikidoka it means that at best I tenkan without falling over, know which end of the bokken to hold and can occasionally do something right .


"In the end there can be only one"

www.AikidoFellowship.com
 
Old 09-18-2007, 02:31 AM   #8
Boblyn Patton
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

Grading is... an acknowledgement that you know more now than before, and that that means there's even more you don't know and have yet to learn?
 
Old 09-18-2007, 02:58 AM   #9
Pauliina Lievonen
 
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

Inside our organization I can fairly accurately guess who's what rank, so it does say something meaningful about people's abilities, but only inside the organisation. We have a pretty clear grading syllabus with specific points that people should pay attention to at different grades, and in my experience preparing for a grading does seem to increase peoples skills. As to the question of ego - if sensei asks me to grade, to me the least "egoistic" thing to do is to do what I'm asked and not make too much of it either way.

I can see how if there were a lot of people grading who didn't seem to have the skills for that grade that would bother me, too. But in the end it's really none of my business, it's up to the teacher.

kvaak
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Old 09-18-2007, 03:19 AM   #10
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

In my experience; Generally students that focuses on achiving rank progresses faster than those who dont. Mostly because they set clear goals (learn new parts of the curriculum, improve aspects that are needed for higher ranks such as posture, awase etc) and train more.
 
Old 09-18-2007, 09:59 AM   #11
Basia Halliop
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

I like it... it gives you a kind of curriculum, gives you something more precise to aim for in terms of 'improvement', and the more tests you watch the more you have a sense of what is expected at each level...

This is all assuming that your dojo uses ranking that has some reasonable degree of objectiveness (I mean, ideally it shouldn't that matter much if you tell people your rank or not because if the system is reasonable, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise when you tell them anyway, at least within your dojo).

So personally, I can really see the use as an individual learning tool.
 
Old 09-18-2007, 11:43 AM   #12
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

I want to be an instructor some day with my own club. This is why I peruse rank. Nobody wants to train with a Sankyu instructor.

Of course I also want to make sure I'm technically as good as my rank suggests. I wouldn't want to be a judo black belt who can't throw anybody.

- Don
"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough" - Albert Einstein
 
Old 09-18-2007, 12:26 PM   #13
Mark Freeman
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

In my run up through the kyu grades, I was heavily goal/grade focussed. I got to 1st Kyu before I realised that getting the next grade was not what aikido is about. It is a welcome relief when you realise this. You can just start to relax and just practice. Since then I have been awarded higher grades, they sort of just come, the longer I stay and just practice.

I like the grading system, it serves me well as a teacher for the benefit of my students, we have a highly structured and comprehensive curriculum, which revolves around the grading system. Many techniques are not taught until the student has reached a certain level. This provides a good learning model for students to progress, and moreover prepares them for some of the more demanding areas of practice e.g. weapons.

I have little doubt that aikido can be taught effectively without the grading system, however I'm glad to be a part of it.

regards,

Mark

Success is having what you want. Happiness is wanting what you have.
 
Old 09-18-2007, 01:41 PM   #14
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

Quote:
Don Magee wrote: View Post
I want to be an instructor some day with my own club. This is why I peruse rank. Nobody wants to train with a Sankyu instructor.
To some extent this is true, as most people tend to attach a great deal of importance to rank, both within martial arts organizations and in our society in general. Certainly, the clueless masses will always gravitate towards rank over skill; this is why, at an aikido camp I attended a few years ago, Moriteru Ueshiba's classes were far more popular than those of Nobuyoshi Tamura. Ueshiba has the rank, and that's what most people want, even though it is obvious that his skill level is nowhere near that of Tamura.

However, the discerning student can tell the difference between rank and skill and will seek out those with skill, regardless of rank. Without rank, you will have less students, but they will be of higher quality. I myself claim no rank in any of the arts that I teach yet I have students who hold dan-level rankings and are instructors themselves in other arts. As far as I know, guys like Akuzawa and Dan Harden also claim no rank, yet they are still quite publicly attracting students, also in many cases ones that are advanced practitioners or instructors in other arts. In fact there are entire arts (taijiquan is one example) where there is no ranking system yet they don't seem to have any problem finding students, even if they don't have quite as many.

There is no question that rank is very effective marketing tool, and if you want to build a large dojo or organization then rank will be useful in helping you do that. But is not necessary in order to teach or attract students, and in my experience (in several arts and organizations) the kind of students who are primarily interested in rank and organizations that award rank is much different than the kind who train just for the sake of practicing the art without needing to ascend some formal hierarchy in the process.

Of course, I'm referring mainly to non-competitive arts here where rank is awarded primarily on political rather than technical grounds. It's a little different in arts like BJJ and kendo where rank has a more direct correlation to something technically meaningful (and as an aside, one thing I respect about kendo is that they not only test for rank all the way up 8-dan, but the ZNKR 8-dan exam is one of the hardest exams to pass in the world in terms of failure rate; compare that to the typical aikido organization that only tests up to 3- or 4-dan and where almost everyone passes these 'tests').

Last edited by G DiPierro : 09-18-2007 at 01:47 PM.
 
Old 09-18-2007, 04:12 PM   #15
Conrad Gus
 
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

I was told by a shihan that there is value in the process of testing. Preparing for a test and the event of the test itself are a chance to practice aikido under pressure, which is very different from just doing keiko all the time with no real scrutiny or consequences.

He said that a single test is worth something like two months of practice in terms of aikido lessons learned.

He didn't particularly emphasize that it was the rank that was important, but the process.
 
Old 09-19-2007, 09:37 AM   #16
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

Conrad

Sounds about right
 
Old 09-19-2007, 09:44 AM   #17
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

Quote:
Conrad Gustafson wrote: View Post
I was told by a shihan that there is value in the process of testing. Preparing for a test and the event of the test itself are a chance to practice aikido under pressure, which is very different from just doing keiko all the time with no real scrutiny or consequences.
That's a good point. Most people in aikido usually train in a fairly low-pressure environment where uke always takes a nice fall and there's never any (overt) conflict allowed on the mat (this environment is often what people in aikido mean when they talk about "harmony"). For them the pressure of getting up in front of people and being scrutinized can be a challenging experience. However, if all of those testing are going to pass their 'test', then what purpose does this alleged test serve that a simple demonstration in front of the same people would not serve?

Does the potential, however remote and inconsequential, for failure increase the pressure? If so, would the process not be even more beneficial if the possibility of failure was greater (ie, if it was really a test)? What about if it were a competition where two people were being tested against each other? Wouldn't that be even more pressure? What about a real fight, on the mat but outside the bounds of training rules and customs, where the consequences of failure are much greater than just a little public embarrassment? Surely one would learn even more from such an experience than they would from a test that they are almost certainly not going to fail (and even if they do the consequences are not that great).

I would agree with your shihan that increasing the pressure and consequences to a level above what is found in the typical aikido dojo is a valuable and perhaps even essential training device. However, I don't consider the so-called tests I have seen in aikido, almost always with a very compliant uke, to be anywhere near adequate for this purpose.

Last edited by G DiPierro : 09-19-2007 at 09:48 AM.
 
Old 09-19-2007, 10:40 AM   #18
Ron Tisdale
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

I personally am not aware of any Yoshinkan affiliated dojo where there is no possibility of failing a test. I've failed tests myself.

What dojo are these? Do they represent all of aikido, or only a portion?

Best,
Ron

PS. For me personally the consequences were that I spent quite a bit of time (almost every training session, between 5 and 6 days a week, for about two months) prepariing for the re-test. But hey, that was just me...

Ron Tisdale
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Old 09-19-2007, 11:46 AM   #19
JAMJTX
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

The significance will vary from school to school and your rank mostly means nothing outside of your school. Even within an organization, other schools may not recognize ranks from your teacher.

Some organizations will put out a syllabus with minumum requirements. Although they can not be subtracted from, some may add t it

I'm really convinced that all ranks are political in atleast some way. I know very good martial artists with no rank and lesser ones with high ranks. And it's nothing new:

"In 1837 Matsudaira Awaji no Kami Takamoto wrote a blistering commentary on martial arts instructors...
He charged that teachers not only refused promotion to those who have trained hard but also awarded certification to favored students without regard to actual ability. As a consequence, skilled students might lose confidence in their teacher and leave the school." Hurst: Armed Martial Arts Of Japan: Swordmanship and Archery.


This was even before the Kyu/Dan system.

The entire ranking system should just be scrapped and belts of all colors done away with. This will help bring an end to some of the ego, politics and the cash cow that test/certificate fees have become.

Jim Mc Coy
 
Old 09-19-2007, 01:55 PM   #20
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

Quote:
Ron Tisdale wrote: View Post
I personally am not aware of any Yoshinkan affiliated dojo where there is no possibility of failing a test. I've failed tests myself.

What dojo are these? Do they represent all of aikido, or only a portion?

PS. For me personally the consequences were that I spent quite a bit of time (almost every training session, between 5 and 6 days a week, for about two months) prepariing for the re-test. But hey, that was just me...
My experience is primarily with the two major aikikai-affiliated groups in the US (USAF and ASU). I've seen many dan tests (and a few kyu tests) over the years in both groups and have never, to the best of my knowledge, seen anyone fail a test. I'm told that decades ago failure was much more common in both groups; in some cases even everyone testing would be failed. I guess they finally realized that failing people was bad for business, so instead they started making the time in grade requirements longer (especially in the case of the USAF, which on paper requires nearly four times as many practice days as the aikikai hombu does for shodan) and then just passing everyone who tests.

I've also been in dojos where a significant amount of time from every class was spent helping one or two people prepare for an upcoming test that they were sure to pass anyway. This preparation would usually begin several months ahead of the test, possibly even six months or more in the case of dan tests.
 
Old 09-19-2007, 02:43 PM   #21
Ron Tisdale
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

Not my experience...and the aikikai is not a monolith, either.

Best,
Ron

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Old 09-19-2007, 04:35 PM   #22
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

Quote:
Ron Tisdale wrote: View Post
Not my experience...and the aikikai is not a monolith, either.
It would be interesting to compare the failure rates of dan test in various organizations. For example, the failure rate (in 2005) of the ZNKR 8-dan exam that I mentioned earlier was 99.1% (12 applicants passed out of 1357 -- keep in mind the requirement to test for 8-dan is having been 7-dan for at least 10 years). My guess would be that in the USAF the failure rate over the last several years for 1- through 3-dan (these are the only dan ranks for which they test) would be close to zero. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it is exactly zero, though I would be very surprised if it was even as high as 5%. I would also guess that the ASU numbers are similar, though I don't expect either of these groups (or any other aikido groups) to release that kind of information. Of course, anyone who knows for sure or cares to speculate about their own organization is welcome to do so.

Anyway, the failure rate of dan tests is not the only issue I mentioned. Although increasing the possiblity of failure would also increase the pressure and create more adverse consequences for a bad performance, I still don't think it would come close to what you would experience in a real fight as long as we are talking about the the extremely compliant ukemi that is typical in most organizations. If you let people start to really attack then maybe you might have the beginnings of something useful.

Last edited by G DiPierro : 09-19-2007 at 04:39 PM.
 
Old 09-19-2007, 04:56 PM   #23
JAMJTX
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

I read some where that the the All Japan Kendo Federation had some discussion on eliminating the 9th Dan because the failure rate at 7ty-8th level. That may not be the best solution, but it does illustrate the problem.

I think for the most part people just can not train the way they used to.

Not speaking only for Aikido, but other arts I trained in: I always felt like I got good training but always knew that I did not get the same training that my teachers or even some of my seniors got.

Now my own students are saying they would like to train the way I did. But they can't - unless they want to quit thier jobs and get divorced.

Unfortunately, we have to use "belt ranks". But I'm looking more at a "review" as opposed to a "test". When somone is ready for promotion, I'll run them through the requirements just to make sure we got everything covered. If not, or they screw up, then we'll just do it again some day. So, although it is possible to "fail", I won't let them do it unless I'm pretty well convinced they are going to pass. This is the way my Karate teacher did it. In 6 years I only saw 2 people "fail".

Jim Mc Coy
 
Old 09-19-2007, 05:43 PM   #24
Conrad Gus
 
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

Quote:
Giancarlo DiPierro wrote: View Post
However, if all of those testing are going to pass their 'test', then what purpose does this alleged test serve that a simple demonstration in front of the same people would not serve?
I agree. That's why Inaba Sensei fails people regularly. I was choked when I failed ikkyu. I mean I screwed some stuff up but it wasn't THAT bad (or so I thought). Sensei said something along the lines of: "You don't understand -- everybody fails at least one test!"

I recently read on the Kobayashi Dojos website about their recent testing. Kobayashi sensei wrote that the nidan tests were so good that he HAD to fail ALL the sandans. He also wrote something like "good luck next year"! That's what I call pressure.
 
Old 09-19-2007, 05:49 PM   #25
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Re: significance to testing/belt rank?

I came back to edit but too late...

I also saw a lot come and go without ever testing and some were there for a long time.

In another Karate class with the same kind of standards we had 2 guys start the same time. They didn;t know each other before just started the same day. They were both "green belts" about 5th kyu when one started talking about how is friend who started around the same time was a black belt already. Sensei just told him to go to that school then - which he did. He came back 6 months later wearing a black belt while his old class-mate was still wearing green. So Sensei had them spar. Needles to say, the new black belt got creamed (actually knocked out).

I'm sure there are a lot of dojo where there are stories like this. It just goes to show that rank means nothing.

Jim Mc Coy
 

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