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Old 07-13-2006, 08:18 AM   #1
aikidoc
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Brown Belt Syndrome

I don't know if this has been discussed before. There seems to be a phenomenon that occurs around 2nd kyu (brown belt level if using colored belts). Some of the characteristics I have noticed:
1. Training gaps: they stop training for long periods or start becoming scarce or irregular. Some stop all together. It generally starts with excuses-someone in class is pissing them off; they are bored; life is taking over, etc., etc.
2. Ego takes over: they start thinking they are as they sometimes say in Texas "all knowed up". It is characterized by quickness to correct others even those who outrank them, trying to stop others while doing ukemi, and claimed boredom-they are not learning anything new (even though the still don't have the basics down).

I have thought about this over the years and wonder what others think about it or if they experience it. My feelings are there is somewhat of a quick fix mentality with us yanks. We want everything in the instant mode and 4 years of training is definitely not instant. I also rationalize that it could be due to people simply not being cut out mentally for the discipline necessary to be a lifelong martial artist. It frustrates me to see people go so far and then falter-especially when they have talent.

Anyone else experience this? Do you have solutions?
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Old 07-13-2006, 08:30 AM   #2
gdandscompserv
 
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

how many "brown belts" have you seen this phenomenon in doc?
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Old 07-13-2006, 08:40 AM   #3
Mark Freeman
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

Hi John,

I've just lost one of my brown belts, just before he got to take his shodan test ( a coincidence? ), life seemed to get in the way. I think the reasons for stopping are many, some of which you highlight. I think it may be more noticeable at around this level, because they have come so far, it is a shame that they don't continue. We don't have the same concern for a 5th kyu dropping out, do we?

Maybe at this level, the commitment needed to really 'get' the art starts to become apparent and the thought scares them into submission?

We as instructors have to live with the frustration, there is not much else we can do about it. Our commitment to the art is ours, we cannot give it to others, they have to find it within themselves.

I would speculate that there is a similar drop of plateau when the serious student has to face the prospect of teaching to others what they know. Now there's an even bigger level of commitment to frighten off the faint hearted.

In general, we in the west do buy into the instant gratification culture peddled by the ones profiting from our child-like gullability. Practicing a 'do' is not something that fits into that mould. Lifelong commitment to anything is not an easy choice to make. The rewards are not fully realised for quite some time, although many including myself, find an instant increase in general wellbeing the moment aikido is started.

Do I have any solutions?... No...sorry

regards,

Mark

Success is having what you want. Happiness is wanting what you have.
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Old 07-13-2006, 08:44 AM   #4
Clayton Drescher
 
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

Riggs Sensei,

Hope you all are doing well...
Unfortunately for me I may have a case of this syndrome myself (though I have perfectly good reasons! )

I had to leave my dojo in San Francisco a few weeks after attaining 2nd Kyu. I've have been away from aikido for just over a year now (married, moved, now commute) and there is a definite gap in my life, I must return to the art as soon as the situation allows.

I hope I avoided the two problems you mentioned during the course of my training. While I was training in SF I was a full-time grad student and I was able to spend much more time at the dojo than I did on campus. I always had a great time with the people I trained with. I did get bored on occasion, but I attribute that more to burn-out than anything, so occasionally I would take a week off to clear my mind and let my body rest.

I really hope I avoided the ego problem. My dojo was predominantly yudansha. Everyone else was either my level or near it or super-beginners (where I could feel justified slightly adjusting their technique). I always felt like a student, and in no situation to teach anyone anything, and was perfectly satisfied with that. It helped that there were lots of black belts to correct the beginners so I never had to anyway. I can imagine there might be a problem with the brown-belt syndrome in a dojo with a broader cross-section of student levels and less senior students.

If I had been able to stay at my dojo in SF, I can't imagine taking large amounts of time off, my friends were all getting their shodans and that is a real goal of mine. It could have been attainable fairly quickly if I kept my regular training schedule. Now that goal has shifted much further down the line, and I have come to yearn just for the act of training at all, even if a black belt isn't in the immediate future.

Best,
CD
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Old 07-13-2006, 09:57 AM   #5
aikidoc
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

Hi Clayton: good to hear you're still at least thinking about training. I'm sure different situations get different responses. You were luck in that you had high level talen around you. We have a mixed group although being small we are top heavy with 4 black belts. You'll have to drop by and train in the finished dojo if you get back to Midland during the holidays. We always enjoy having you. Check around, there might be something close to you-lots of dojos in California.

As to concern with 5th kyu, yes, I have a concern about why people drop out-especially if they are talented. However, I suspect a lot of that has to do with the art just not fitting them personality wise. I also have less investment in my time and effort working with them at that level. I fully appreciate the work they have done to get to 2nd kyu and to me it seems a waste not to stick it out. I appreciate the new students as well and hope they all stick around. Unfortunately, many find that it is not a quick trip and for whatever reason choose to not devote the time and effort. Some can't do it for financial reasons.

I have seen this with about a half dozen brown belts. I personally have difficulty understanding why it happens since I did not experience it myself. In fact, I did the opposite. I significantly increased my training when I hit 2nd kyu from 5 days a week to 7 and 2-3 days of double training (early morning and evening classes).

Mark: I like your comment that people have to find the commitment within themselves.
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Old 07-13-2006, 10:00 AM   #6
gdandscompserv
 
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

my sensei had a way of "beating" the ego out of us.
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Old 07-13-2006, 10:19 AM   #7
CNYMike
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

The problem of people dropping out is common to all martial arts, not just Aikido. 18 years ago (!? where does the time go?), a Shotokan karate teacher told me that if you start with 100 beginners, only ten will be there after a year; of those 10, 1 will reach Shodan. And if you have 10 shodans, only 1 goes farther. That's why I always say up to 90% of the people who start MA quit within a year. I don't know if it's that bad in Aikido -- the dojos I go to seem to have a pretty solid following -- but it's there.

And it's not just MA. Someone told me that at the start of the year, gyms will get a rush of new members because they've resolved that this year, they'll get in shape; by June, they're gone. Is it the culture of "instant gratification"? A valid answer but too pat, somehow.

As to ego, it can sneak up on you and work on you when you think it isn't; you can watch for it, but the damn thing is stealthy. Also, personally, I am a senior student in a couple of the arts I do but rankless, so far, in Aikido, so minding my place is tricky. I have to watch for it!
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Old 07-13-2006, 10:21 AM   #8
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

This is something I've been thinking about quite a bit recently: I have been second kyu for about a year now, getting close to nine years in aikido. My perception has been that as my experience grows, so do the durations of the plateaus in my training. However, the gradients between plateaus also are getting steeper. When I go from one plateau to the next these days, it feels like a much larger jump in understanding than I was experiencing four years ago. This makes for a frustrating situation because as the sense of learning going from one plateau to another accelerates, but the time between such changes increases, it tries the patience much more. While on the plateau, I find myself wondering if I am stagnating. What I have to remind myself is that the changes occur to a large extent as a result of my observational abilities -- and those can be improved and cultivated during those long plateaus.

Also, there is a change that occurs in motivation as one becomes a more senior student. I must admit that there are more and more days when I go to the dojo more out a sense of obligation to the group than I do because I want to for the sheer enjoyment of it. During those long plateaus, when one does not have the same sense of learning some new revelation everyday, it's just not as much fun. I sometimes go only because we have a whole bunch of beginners and I feel obligated as a more senior student to be there to help. Sometimes, that sense of obligation feels a little heavy. It makes me empathize for my teachers in a way I never thought of until recently. And it makes me respect their love of the art and training in ways that I could never appreciate. I try to think about that when the sense of obligation gets a bit heavy and I just don't feel motivated. It's something that insipres me today that I could not have comprehended four years ago.

Last edited by cguzik : 07-13-2006 at 10:26 AM.
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Old 07-13-2006, 10:23 AM   #9
CNYMike
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

Quote:
John Riggs wrote:
..... As to concern with 5th kyu, yes, I have a concern about why people drop out-especially if they are talented....
My first karate sensei told me athletes would take to karate like fish to water, but they'd be gone in weeks. The screw ups with two left feet and ten thumbs are the ones who stick around. (After 21 years, I guess you can figure out which group I was in. ) Counterintuitive but true.
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Old 07-13-2006, 10:49 AM   #10
ajbarron
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

Interesting discussion. What about Shodan regression syndrome ???

Following my Shodan test I knew I would have to take a break, especially since my partner had given me free rein to train as much as I wanted to prepare, and the child chauferring, house renos and lawn work were being neglected.

I took my break, started practicing again feeling that I would reduce to 2 to three times a week from my test untill after the summer ( about 4 months). Now I'm going through a " where's my white belt stage". I feel as if I need to start all over again, nothing works well and I'm constantlly not being able to catch on to techniques!!

It's frustrating ,but, being a long time "participant" in many activties I understand what a plateau and and regression are and I'm on the regression slide right now.

Thought I'd share.

Cheers
and keep on rolling.

Andrew
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Old 07-13-2006, 11:05 AM   #11
mriehle
 
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

Quote:
Andrew Barron wrote:
Interesting discussion. What about Shodan regression syndrome ???
I don't think this is the same problem.

When I got my shodan it felt like everything I did got worse. And I didn't take a break. My teacher tells me it's just your perceptions changing. I trust him, so...

...well, anyway...

...same thing happened at nidan.

I think that lends credence to his argument. Still...

...am I getting better or worse?

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Old 07-13-2006, 11:11 AM   #12
aikidoc
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

As to regression and plateauing, I tell my students the following: focus on basics. It is likely you have become sloppy with them and the sloppiness is inhibiting your ability to move ahead. Ufortunately, everyone wants to do the "cool" fancy techniques. I try to integrate them in the training with the emphasis on doing good basics being necessary to make the cool stuff work. Recently, I did one hour on basics and 3 hours on kaeshiwaza. It was fun, although I may have spoiled them on looking for ways to get out of nikyo and kotegaeshi.

I haven't seen shodan regression syndrome yet. THe ones I have there now are as dedicated as one can expect. Perhaps this group I have in the Brown belt ranks will experience it. Don't know.

Last edited by aikidoc : 07-13-2006 at 11:13 AM.
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Old 07-13-2006, 11:17 AM   #13
Bronson
 
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

Thanks Chris, I was going to write out my ideas but you already did it for me

I think that as we train we will encounter different transitions. Transitions in how we move, learn, think, feel about the art, etc. It's at these transition stages that you're likely to loose people. Our bodies and minds seek to maintain the status quo. All change, even change for the better, is resisted at some level. If you can resist the resisting you can make it through to the next phase.

I remember once when I almost dropped out. It was much like Chris said, aikido training had lost that specialness in my life. It took on a much more mundane quality... like brushing my teeth. When I wake up in the morning I'm not excited to brush my teeth, but I do it everyday and if I happen to miss a day it niggles at the back of my mind.

For me the trick was to embrace the transitions. I had to learn to know them for what they were and that if I persisted some new learning or phase was bound to come. The interesting thing is that now when I hit one of the transtitions I often become excited again. My techniques don't work, I question my commitment, I feel like I should just quit... but at the back of my mind I'm excited to find what I'll learn on the other side of the transition so I stick it out. It's worth it every time.

Interestingly I think this continues throughout life. I've been told that the founder of our style Rod Kobayashi used to call Godan, Go-Down; as at that point he had noticed peoples commitment and ability start to wane.

Bronson

p.s. George Leonard's book "Mastery" speaks to this subject very well.

"A pacifist is not really a pacifist if he is unable to make a choice between violence and non-violence. A true pacifist is able to kill or maim in the blink of an eye, but at the moment of impending destruction of the enemy he chooses non-violence."
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Old 07-13-2006, 11:33 AM   #14
gdandscompserv
 
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

Quote:
John Riggs wrote:
focus on basics.
i LOVE basics!
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Old 07-13-2006, 11:56 AM   #15
aikidoc
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

Bronson, I like the transitions perspective. Although I'm not sure some see it that way while training. They simply see they are bored or geez I've done ikky over a hundred times.
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Old 07-13-2006, 12:27 PM   #16
Bronson
 
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

Quote:
John Riggs wrote:
Although I'm not sure some see it that way while training. They simply see they are bored or geez I've done ikky over a hundred times.
You're right, they don't. It takes a certain amount of trust in your Sensei when they say "it's normal, just keep training." Eventually you come to realize for yourself that it is normal then you can step outside of it and look at it for what it is.

I was also thinking about all the different things I've tried and quit over the course of my life. For whatever reason Aikido has been the one thing that I've connected with enough to structure other aspects of my life around. For some people it's gardening, or ball room dance, or quilting, the important thing is to find something that you connect with enough to loose yourself in. Maybe those who permanently quit Aikido just haven't found it yet, maybe they never will.

Bronson

"A pacifist is not really a pacifist if he is unable to make a choice between violence and non-violence. A true pacifist is able to kill or maim in the blink of an eye, but at the moment of impending destruction of the enemy he chooses non-violence."
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Old 07-13-2006, 12:47 PM   #17
aikidoc
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

It connected with me in many aspects as well. Different strokes for different folks I guess. I do try to let my students know they are not the first to go through these issues.

Bronson, I was up in your neck of the woods (a bit south-Dowagiac) over the 4th of July. It made me home sick. I worked for a year at the Fisher Body Plant in Kalamazoo when I was a bit younger.
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Old 07-13-2006, 07:33 PM   #18
raul rodrigo
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

I went through the brown belt syndrome for three years. Was stuck in a plateau at first kyu where I wasnt getting any better and I was wondering if I was better off just leaving. So I would disappear from my dojo for weeks or months at a time. There was always a work reason I would cite, but really it was as if aikido—my aikido, anyway— had lost all flavor.

Then for a number of reasons, I seemed to break through a wall in early 2004 as I trained for my shodan exam. My progress since then surprises me still (I have video, so I know how I used to move). Which is not to say that aikido is no longer hard. I still get frustrated. But now I'm working on very different problems.

For me it was a question of faith and commitment—was I willing to put in the time and effort to (maybe just maybe) get the breakthrough to the next level? For years it was easier just to blame the art itself or just disappear. I was sure that the next level called for more than I had.
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Old 07-13-2006, 11:31 PM   #19
kocakb
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

I am in the brown belt syndrome

I started to miss the classes and for a couple of months, I go training once a week (or less)...as you all mentioned above, I have good reasons, too; like feeling less improvement (which is in fact not true, truelly I am not honest to myself and I learn everytime something new), biggest reason is always: "I am too tired today", "it is too hot today"...and I catched myself a few times thinking to quit aikido totally...

I don't know how I will overcome this situation. I even realized that I am spending very little time in aikiweb. In the past, I used to read most of the threads in the forum, now just visiting the side for a few seconds, glancing at the topics and closing the window

it was the same today, until I saw this topic. And I felt a bit embarrassed after reading what you all wrote. However, I don't know the solution. When I get up mornings, I make a decision to go to training, and loose my willing after work...
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Old 07-14-2006, 06:38 AM   #20
Amelia Smith
 
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

Ah, brown belt syndrome! I see a lot of that going on with particular people, and I wonder if it's more about them than the stage of development, since for some brown belt syndrome seems to last six years or more, while for others it's only a couple of months. One more dimention of brown belt syndrome which hasn't been mentioned above is total insensitivity to uke, which for some reason seems to go along with the rest of it.

I trained less for about a year while I was a 2nd kyu, partly because of the demands of graduate school and perhaps because I was at a slightly different style of dojo that I didn't like so much as my old dojo. Mostly, though, it was graduate school. I did take a break for about 6 months after shodan, though, to do some travelling (in an area where there was no aikido, and practically no martial arts of any kind). When I came back I found myself the senior student in most classes, and that situation has continued to the present (2 years later). I haven't been bored so much as frustrated by the occasional lack of other students. I think that for those long, later plateaus, you need to transfer a lot of your attention to teaching, and get some sense of progress from the progress of newer students -- withour overcorrecting.

So, I think I missed most of brown belt syndrome. Whew!
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Old 07-14-2006, 06:55 AM   #21
Dan Hover
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

along certain lines, I have noticed that Brown Belts and even some shodan tend to be rougher at seminars, as if to prove that they are deserving of a rank or somewhat "better" than you. This I think maybe the flip side to the quitting/boredom coin. It seems to me that at Brown belt, the deshi reaches that stage like a teenager who wants to rebel against parents and make a name/identity for him/herself. In this case the student acts against the sensei or the "group" which is the dojo. Which developmentally is okay and somewhat normal. It then leads to either leaving the group with some need for recognition unfilled (IMHO that need is a class to teach, that they really don't deserve) or assimilate back into the fold realizing the responsibility to the dojo, other students, both higher and lower ranked than they, and more importantly the art itself.

Dan Hover

of course that's my opinion, I could be wrong
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Old 07-14-2006, 07:06 AM   #22
aikidoc
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

Bulent's comments suggest that some brown belts "burn out". Perhaps overtraining is the issue.

I have definitely noticed Dan's observation about seminars. I used to do a lot of seminars when I lived in Southern CA. I avoided brown belts and when I could identify them new shodans. If I ended up with one I invariably got tweaked pretty hard-when you work with your hands it is important to protect them. I rarely had a problem with 3rd or higher dan ranks. The brown/shodans seemed to all think that everyone could or wanted to be thrown as hard as they could muster. Often their technique set up was scary or they simply muscled you as hard as they could. I learned to watch and choose carefully to avoid injuries.
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Old 07-14-2006, 10:38 AM   #23
John Boswell
 
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

As a personal note of experience, being one of the brown belts that had disappeared from the mat for a while, I wanted to touch on one thing.

Yes, life gets in the way, but everyone will have that. It happens. We deal with it.

But for Brown Belts (and perhaps for new Shodans as well?) there is a lot of pressure.

Speaking for me personally, I hold the rank of Shodan in high regard. I know many people consider it to be a "first step" and a rank indicating "ready to start learning" etc., and you can say that all day, everyday till you are blue in the face. HOWEVER, I personally hold the rank of Shodan in very high regard, I place a lot of responsilbity on that rank, I expect a certain amount of quality from anyone with a black belt and believe that any Dan rank is deserving of respect.

Because of that viewpoint, I feel a tremendous amount of pressure in training up for and the eventual testing for Shodan. Furthermore, if I personally feel that I am not ready for the rank, or not worthy, I will not test for it! All due respect for Riggs Sensei, who has taught me so much and guided my aikido path from day one, but I have a an opinion on Shodan and I'll not test until I'm ready and THEN ask for his blessing to test... and wait for that blessing.

Lan Powers, brother-in-arms and all around good guy, has passed me in rank for two reasons: First and Foremost... he is better than I am. His skill in aikido is definitly there! He was a near natural in aikido due to years of martial training and I give him a lot of credit. He's good. He's modest and humble. He can plant anyone on their butt and seriously hurt them... but he'd much rather shake your hand! He's a good, good, good guy... and he's a skilled martial artist.

The second reason Lan has passed me in rank (I had joined aikido 6 months before he did) is because I got the hell out of his way! Lan is a generous fellow. He caught up to me and wanted to go through the ranks together, brother with brother. As much as I appreciated the thought and gesture, I felt extream pressure to "keep up" knowing full well that I never would be able to. Am I beating myself up? Maybe a little. But at the same time, I did NOT want to hold him back! I did not want him to feel he had to wait on me, or help me along, in order for us to remain ranked together.

Thus... I disappeared for a short time. Just long enough to push him on ahead of me. Underhanded? Maybe. Sneaky? Darn right. But it took the pressure off of me, pressure I didn't want or need.

I'm not in aikido for rank. I'm in it to learn, to become a capable martial artist and enjoy the Way that is Aikido. My way isn't for everyone, and may even be looked down upon by some. Sorry, that's just the way of things for me.

So, to anyone out there with wayward 1st kyu's, ask them if they are feeling the pressure. And when they say "no," ask them again. Everyone feels SOME pressure. But if it is keeping them off the mat, find a way to take the pressure off and get them back ON the mat.

In the end, we all do this because we enjoy it. If we aren't enjoying it, then what is the point?

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Old 07-14-2006, 12:23 PM   #24
aikidoc
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

I don't think I put you in the syndrome category. You always come back after your hiatuses and that's good. Your last was because you were a new pappa and that's totally understandable. Don't short change yourself though, you are progressing just fine. The only pressure you are feeling is self imposed. I don't start putting it on you seriously until we get to that testing point. Otherwise, I put the same amount on everyone no matter their rank. It is my understanding that the Japanese don't put nearly as much esteem to shodan as you do. I do like the fact that you respect the rank; however, don't let it become a stressor. With all you guys approaching or at black belt I have as much stress just keeping you guys challenged with new stuff .

John does pose an interesting question along this line though. Do 2nd and 1st kyus feel stressed or pressured by the black belt looming ahead and the concomitant change in roles-especially in smaller dojos where your status increases?

Last edited by aikidoc : 07-14-2006 at 12:36 PM.
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Old 07-14-2006, 01:51 PM   #25
aikidoc
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Re: Brown Belt Syndrome

Quote:
John Boswell wrote:
I'm not in aikido for rank. I'm in it to learn, to become a capable martial artist and enjoy the Way that is Aikido. My way isn't for everyone, and may even be looked down upon by some. Sorry, that's just the way of things for me.

So, to anyone out there with wayward 1st kyu's, ask them if they are feeling the pressure. And when they say "no," ask them again. Everyone feels SOME pressure. But if it is keeping them off the mat, find a way to take the pressure off and get them back ON the mat.

In the end, we all do this because we enjoy it. If we aren't enjoying it, then what is the point?
Pursuing rank is always a personal choice and testing in my opinion is a personal competition not one with others.

I'm not sure I agree with taking the pressure off 1st kyus on the way to black belts. Part of earning the belt is dealing with the pressures inherent in getting the belt. Being under pressure should not make one enjoy what they are doing less. I do probably create pressure at the 2nd and 1st kyu level since I tolerate less sloppiness and expect more refined technique and in depth understanding of the art. If one defines that as pressure, then so be it. To me, I am throwing down the challenge to raise one's level of aikido. It's easy to cruise along at a certain level of competency but requires commitment and focus to elevate one's level. I hope my students are never comfortable with the "status quo" and are always in a learning mode.
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