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Old 04-15-2014, 05:54 PM   #1
"AIKIFRUSTRATIONS"
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Test Grading, Curriculum, & Frustration

Hello all, I have some questions about test grading and curriculum at the higher levels. I'm coming up on my 2nd Kyu test. As I get closer to black belt a few concerns have presented themselves to me.

We are a young dojo. We are a rural dojo. I am one of the senior members. Their are no black belts(other than Sensei). We are only able to train twice per week...3 hours, give or take, total. We have a couple of younger/newer students as well so not every minute of each class can be spent on our specific testing curriculum. Much of the responsibility to prepare for the tests falls on the senior students like myself. I don't mind that at all. I believe that's part of the students responsibility. However, I've become a bit frustrated with the powers that be about the incredibly vague curriculum. I have a testing guideline and some dvds that were filmed quite a few years ago with the founder of our organization to go off of. Some techniques shown on the dvds seem to longer be a focal point. At least as far as what I can decipher through the test guidelines. Sensei has taken time to sort out some details on what we're looking to achieve through various techniques in the testing, but again nothing from the organization. It feels at times that we're out on an island. I've written a letter to the organization. I have also voiced these concerns to Sensei. He shares much of the same concerns. He's tried speaking with some folks in the upper tier, but little has been done up until this point about clarifying and updating the curriculum. My concern is this... when I test for black belt it will be done in front of the organization's committee. Will I be held responsible for a lack of knowledge about technique variations that were never emphasized? If these things are not communicated to us how are we to know what exactly is expected? Maybe this is completely normal?

Any thoughts would be greatly anticipated.
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Old 04-15-2014, 06:55 PM   #2
Janet Rosen
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Re: Test Grading, Curriculum, & Frustration

It sounds to me just at first reading of your initial post that what will really be graded is not so much your learning/technique as much as your instructor's teaching...and so it really is up to him to get clarification ahead of time.

Janet Rosen
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Old 04-15-2014, 08:19 PM   #3
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Test Grading, Curriculum, & Frustration

Hello,

You mention that you are coming up for 2nd kyu and so I assume that you have taken previous kyu grading tests. How were these conducted? Did the candidates know what was expected beforehand and were they prepared in a way that you consider to be adequate?

In my own experience (exclusively Aikikai), the basic grading syllabus set out a bare minimum, which was expanded and supplemented, and in my own dojo I have graded every single student, from 5th kyu, which is where we begin, to 3rd dan, which is the present grade of the most senior student (who began 12 years ago). The grading syllabus is the basic Aikikai grading syllabus, but I have never trained in an Aikikai dojo where this bare minimum has not been supplemented with additional material.

Since we started, there are a number of dan ranked students who still train at the dojo (where they started as beginners: they have not left because of work etc) and we also attract a number of yudansha from other dojos. So I think our beginner students are left in no doubt about what they have to do in order to acquit themselves adequately in a grading test. In any case, on an average day half of those training are yudansha.

So, given your circumstances and the information you have provided, I wonder at the quality of the support you are receiving from your organization.

P A Goldsbury
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Old 04-15-2014, 08:26 PM   #4
odudog
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Re: Test Grading, Curriculum, & Frustration

Your sensei should be in charge of getting the details from the organization. His role demands that responsibility. You however should do your own test run. Attend the blackbelts testing before your turn to get eyes on instruction.
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Old 04-15-2014, 08:48 PM   #5
lbb
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Re: Test Grading, Curriculum, & Frustration

Presumably you're able to train with other dojos in your association at seminars, summer camps, etc. I'd make the most of those opportunities -- that is where you will get the chance to train with seniors and learn the grading standards that are supposed to be used in your association.
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Old 04-16-2014, 12:17 AM   #6
Adam Huss
 
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Re: Test Grading, Curriculum, & Frustration

What organization are you associated with (if you feel comfortable saying, maybe you have brethren here that can help)?

I am from a small federation of around 30 dojo. We have two styles of aikido in our group with two different curriculum. Most dojo try to have their black belt tests conducted at one of our seminars throughout the year (though that doesn't always happen, of course). Our two directors realize the curriculum may be interpreted, or executed, with some variance as we have dojo spread around the US and Canada. We have an annual instructors seminar where emphasis is placed on fleshing out standardized kihon waza - but not everyone can make it, and we can't cover everything. Our national director's biggest emphasis is on standardization within our particular dojo, or region. So long as all the instructors are teaching "kihon waza: ryo katatori tenchinage" the same way, he is happy. If one of our students tests at a national seminar and does something different than what the grading senior is used to, all that student has to do is know why he is doing it that way - basically can that student explain the why's and how's of that particular technique variation? If so, he's good. If the seniors aren't satisfied, or want to see something else, that student's dojo cho will be told after all testing is complete and they have their senior instructors meeting.

For example: the above-mentioned technique was talked about last instructors seminar. We were talking about the kihon tenkan variation. Some people were doing an immediate pivot on contact, while others were doing a cross-step pivot. Our director explained both ways were correct, so long as everyone within that dojo were taught in a congruent way, so as not to confuse or frustrate newer students. The whole point of doing this? When we all get together at these national seminars, the federation directors can observe how all the different people from the various dojo are doing things, and adjust fire from there during instructors seminars. Particularly if you come from a larger group, I would imagine the seniors there recognize the "telephone game" factor in a martial art as dynamic as aikido, and would take that into account when you test.

Pretty much most seminar yudansha gradings I've seen, the candidates are testing in groups (depending on a lot of factors), and aren't really bothered during the actual test. My group also requires the candidate to teach a technique, submit an essay, and endure oral examination. During that time, the student may be asked about why he or she did certain things...but generally I can't see anyone holding something like you doing an archaic variation of a basic technique against you. Especially if your fundamentals are sound and you can explain why you did what you did.

TL;DR You're probably good, bro. :0)

Ichi Go, Ichi Ei!
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Old 04-19-2014, 01:36 PM   #7
"AIKIFRUSTRATIONS"
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Re: Test Grading, Curriculum, & Frustration

Thank you to everyone for your replies. It's very much appreciated!

Quote:
Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
I assume that you have taken previous kyu grading tests. How were these conducted? Did the candidates know what was expected beforehand and were they prepared in a way that you consider to be adequate?

So, given your circumstances and the information you have provided, I wonder at the quality of the support you are receiving from your organization.
My 5th and 4th Kyu tests were pretty well structured. The curriculum was pretty cut and dry. They both went relatively smooth. With the 3rd Kyu test I started seeing problems arise. The lack of structure and communication from the organization started showing itself. As I'm sure is the case for most organizations, the 3rd Kyu test is where the material gets more involved. There is a lot material covered for 3rd Kyu. Sensei taught us his interpretation of the curriculum for the test. However, as we were testing one of the Sensei's from a sister dojo had a different interpretation of the curriculum. He asked to see a variation of a few techniques that was not ever mentioned anywhere on the Test Guidelines. That really through me for a loop and got my wheels turning about this sort of thing being a possibility in the future.

I would also agree with your statement the lack of support from the organization.

Adam Huss -
"What organization are you associated with (if you feel comfortable saying, maybe you have brethren here that can help)? "

I'd rather not say. I don't feel like it is my place to do so. I will say is that there is some restructuring goin on within the organization. I believe that could be the cause of these issues.
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Old 04-19-2014, 02:08 PM   #8
Michael Hackett
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Re: Test Grading, Curriculum, & Frustration

Dear Aikifrustrations,

It sounds like a sensei problem and not an organizational problem to me. We are an Aikido of America (AAA) dojo and have published test requirements for each rank from mudansha to yudansha. A test candidate is required to perform specific techniques at each rank, to include those of previous rankings. A Second Kyu candidate would be expected to know second kyu requirements and those of the lower ranks as well. Variations of each technique are taught by the different sensei and there is often a slightly different flavor from dojo to dojo. The candidate will generally pass his test if he can perform the basic technique called for in the requirements. If he can also do variations, so much the better. I will note that at the higher kyu ranks and dan ranks, variations are the norm and I can't remember a test I've seen that didn't include them, not as a specific requirement, but as a demonstration of skill.

Without seeing your test requirements, it seems as if you should be prepared to perform the basic technique and should show whatever variations your sensei teaches you. If your sensei doesn't have any variations to teach you, the leadership of your organization will probably discuss that with him.

Good luck.

Michael
"Leave the gun. Bring the cannoli."
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Old 04-19-2014, 05:55 PM   #9
sakumeikan
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Re: Test Grading, Curriculum, & Frustration

Hi,
Teaching guidelines are exactly that - Guidelines. You are not alway required to do every waza in a grading. I have seen gradings which quite frankly were overlong. Any competent instructor only has to watch a few waza to discern what level of excellence an applicant has.
My own teacher stated he could tell a persons rank the moment the person came on the tatami.
I have not quite reached that level of discernment but I feel I can tell when a student is competent or not. Cheers, Joe.
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Old 04-19-2014, 10:47 PM   #10
Adam Huss
 
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Re: Test Grading, Curriculum, & Frustration

Quote:
Anonymous User wrote: View Post

Adam Huss -
"What organization are you associated with (if you feel comfortable saying, maybe you have brethren here that can help)? "

I'd rather not say. I don't feel like it is my place to do so. I will say is that there is some restructuring goin on within the organization. I believe that could be the cause of these issues.
I totally sympathize. Political movement within an organization can be quite frustrating. I definitely experienced that at my karate dojo, and to a lesser extent at my aikido dojo. Its my opinion that one of a dojo cho's responsibilities is to protect his students from organizational politics so they may focus on training. Hopefully that Happens for you. I know how important a shodan test can be. Heck, I prepped for mine by breaking up with a long time girlfriend and being uchideshi for a year. All the best, brother, and hang in there! just keep training.

Ichi Go, Ichi Ei!
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Old 04-19-2014, 11:00 PM   #11
Adam Huss
 
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Re: Test Grading, Curriculum, & Frustration

Quote:
Michael Hackett wrote: View Post
Dear Aikifrustrations,

It sounds like a sensei problem and not an organizational problem to me. We are an Aikido of America (AAA) dojo and have published test requirements for each rank from mudansha to yudansha. A test candidate is required to perform specific techniques at each rank, to include those of previous rankings. A Second Kyu candidate would be expected to know second kyu requirements and those of the lower ranks as well. Variations of each technique are taught by the different sensei and there is often a slightly different flavor from dojo to dojo. The candidate will generally pass his test if he can perform the basic technique called for in the requirements. If he can also do variations, so much the better. I will note that at the higher kyu ranks and dan ranks, variations are the norm and I can't remember a test I've seen that didn't include them, not as a specific requirement, but as a demonstration of skill.

Without seeing your test requirements, it seems as if you should be prepared to perform the basic technique and should show whatever variations your sensei teaches you. If your sensei doesn't have any variations to teach you, the leadership of your organization will probably discuss that with him.

Good luck.
Mr Hackett,

Definitealy all good points. I think the OPs frustration comes from various interpretations of how those techniques are supposed to be done. For example, Toyoda Sensei used to do Kata Kiri Gaeshi by stepping side to side in the first few movements. Various dojo cho emulated This, not realizing the only reason he was going side to side - vice progressig forward - was because the Tenshinkan dojo was much wider than it was deep, and didn't allow for much forward movement. Those kind of miscomunicstions can occur even when you have direct contact with your technical director, let alone when you have sparse contact. It can be quite frustrating being taught one thing is kihon all year long then seeing many people doing something completely different at a seminar or, is forbid, a test!

Ichi Go, Ichi Ei!
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Old 04-20-2014, 06:21 PM   #12
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Re: Test Grading, Curriculum, & Frustration

I sort of second Dr. Goldsbury's opinion, with a twist. I'd lay it at your instructor's feet, but you explained that the association seems to be ... what I would call "in flux." It's changing, maybe because the upper tiers of the maybe-previous (??) organization/association are trying to decide which way to do things for a coherent whole in the structure? Pedagoguy, if I spelled that right, is a big deal as you move forward, and you are right in the middle of a great example of exactly Why it is such a big deal.

1. What are we teaching?
2. Why are we teaching it?
3. How are we going to teach it?
4. Why are we going to teach it that way?

If you can't answer those questions as an upper-rank person, there's no option but for your student body to be confused.

I find it interesting that the kanji character for kuzushi illustrates a mountain falling on a house.
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Old 04-20-2014, 10:11 PM   #13
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Test Grading, Curriculum, & Frustration

Quote:
Anonymous User wrote: View Post
I would also agree with your statement the lack of support from the organization.
There was a context to my question that might not immediately be clear.

I do not think that the fact of a large organization like the Aikikai directly impinges on the grading tests in the average dojo. In fact, one of the distinctive features of the Aikikai used to be that it is not at all the name of a style of aikido. The second Doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, had a distinctive way of doing aikido, but this was not shared by the senior instructors within the Aikikai. I was directly taught by some of these senior instructors and I learned at first hand how different they were. In the years before I became a yudansha, I trained at four different dojo, each with a distinctive way of executing kihon waza. So, from very early on I learned three important facts about aikido training at that time.

There are different way of executing the same waza.
There are different names for the same waza.
Different waza are sometimes requested in grading tests for the same kyu rank.

So I think the issue in your case lies at the point where the organization interfaces with the life of the local dojo. In my case, there is no interface, since I am the dojo-cho, and I have no organizational links with other local groups. However, the main group has a central dojo, with a shihan of 8th dan rank, and several satellite dojos, each with a local instructor. I used to be a member of this larger group and I have seen local instructors being roasted by the shihan because their way of doing the waza required for a particular kyu test was not the 'correct' way (= the way preferred by the 8th dan shihan). The students never failed, but the local instructor was severely chastised and some of the local dojos gained reputations for a poor level of technical training and instruction.

Best wishes,

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 04-20-2014 at 10:14 PM.

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