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Old 10-07-2001, 10:31 AM   #1
Runewolf
Location: Vancouver, WA
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Choosing a dojo... Does the sensei's rank matter?

As an absolute newbie who has never practiced aikido before, I have the daunting task of choosing between several different area dojos. How much weight, if any, should I put on the rank of the sensei? For example, if sensei A is 3rd Dan, sensei B is 4th Dan, and sensei C is 5th Dan, should I lean towards choosing sensei C's dojo, other things being equal? Since I've never stepped foot on the mat, I have no other objective means of evalutating the skills of the teaching staff other than rank. Is there even a major difference between the skills of a 4th Dan and a 5th Dan? As a total beginner, obviously any of these sensei could and would teach me a great deal, but any opinions regarding how much emphasis, if any, one should place on the rank of the sensei would be appreciated. The "advice" in the "Aikido Student Handbook" is pretty general, so if anyone has any other helpful input as to things to look for in a dojo, or things that one should avoid, I would much appreciate it.

Thanks,
Eric

PS: Is USAF membership important?
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Old 10-07-2001, 11:14 AM   #2
PeterR
 
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Rank is never the best indicatior of either quality of instruction, technical skill or an understanding of Aikido.

It is still an indicatior and should be considered however

When I came back to the west I went looking for an Aikido dojo to practice in - I knew what I was looking for and what I was most likely trying to avoid. I chose not to train with the most highly ranked individual (Godan) and in fact trained mostly with a Nidan although this person was under the tutelage of a Yondan who I did weapons training with. One of my sempai from Japan came to the area two years before I did and made the same decisions.

The ins and outs are not so important - just that there are people who have trained with some of the best in the world that don't hold that much weight to rank.

In your case - watch a class, see how the instructor interacts with the students, see how senior students interact with junior, are they having a good time, are these people you could like. Its possible you will spend serious time there - choose well.

Peter Rehse Shodokan Aikido
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Old 10-07-2001, 11:22 AM   #3
jimbaker
Dojo: Aikido of Norfolk/ Aikido Society of Memphis
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Re: Choosing a dojo... Does the sensei's rank matter?

Hey Eric,

The problem is that all ranking systems are not equal. It heavily depends on the organizations awarding the rank. There are currently some 60 different Aikido federations in the US, all awarding Dan ranks.

Dan ranks usually reflect the amount of time the person has studied Aikido, generally expressed in the number of days or hours they've spent on the mat. Of course the person must know their stuff, but the time factor is a cutoff used by most groups.

So, if a student has 1100 hours of practice, in one group they would qualify for 1st Dan, while in another group they would qualify for 4th Dan!

And this is just for people who are members of some Aikido organization. There are many self-promoted "sensei" out there. You are "safer" staying with one of the big groups, especially if you move to another town. You can find a list of the big groups rignt here on Aikiweb, under the "links portal".

Your best bet is to go to each dojo and find the one that "fits" you. The most important factor in learning Aikido is just showing up! If you really like the dojo, you'll show up more. You might find that you like the lower ranked teacher best.

And have fun.

Jim Baker
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Old 10-07-2001, 01:08 PM   #4
mj
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Quote:
Originally posted by PeterR


......watch a class, see how the instructor interacts with the students, see how senior students interact with junior, are they having a good time, are these people you could like. Its possible you will spend serious (!) time there - choose well.
PeterR has hit the nail on the head as far as I'm concerned.

Remember Goldilocks!

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Old 10-07-2001, 01:12 PM   #5
mj
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Oops, where are my manners.

Hi Eric!

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Old 10-07-2001, 07:28 PM   #6
Chocolateuke
Dojo: Muhu Dojo
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I just have 1 thing to point out to a rank is not entirly a indicator of time my sensei is a nidan and he has been teaching/ training for about 30 years. he just cant test he would have to go a long distance and he cant go.... but he has had invinations for testing and I have seen some other higher ranking aikidoka who like the dojo... so.. there is the odd ball that cant test even though he is ready.

Dallas Adolphsen
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Old 10-07-2001, 09:33 PM   #7
jimbaker
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Quote:
Originally posted by Chocolateuke
I just have 1 thing to point out to a rank is not entirly a indicator of time my sensei is a nidan and he has been teaching/ training for about 30 years
Quite true.

High rank doesn't necessarily mean a lot of training time. Low rank doesn't have to mean less training. I knew a Sandan who had founded two dojos and had students who became Godans. You have to check with each organization.

There are no set rules for rank.

Jim Baker
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Old 10-07-2001, 11:59 PM   #8
TheProdigy
Dojo: Aikido Kokikai Delaware
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With all things being equal as you said, it is hard to tell. The answers so far describe why, and how to pick based on rank.

I think you should train with the group that you feel best with. And under the system's philosophy that you most agree with.

For me, my 1st day into a dojo, not truly knowing what was happening on the mat it didn't make much difference. The thing that struck me the most was my sensei(now current aikido teacher). I must say, there was something special about himself, I really don't know what, but I left that day feeling more respect for him than any other person I knew. The community there is a great one as well, very open and at the same time very oriented to understanding the art. Ever since I've been an aikidoka.

With this in mind, it is these things that I think will ultimately guide your choice in which dojo is right for you... How you feel about the sensei(teacher), the environment of the dojo, and of course if aikido(or that style) is right for you.

Good luck on your path,
-Jase

Jason Hobbs
"As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life."
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Old 10-08-2001, 12:45 AM   #9
Datamike
Dojo: Aikibudo Turku ry.
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Thumbs down Quality vs. Amounts

I think there have been most of what you can say about this matter. Like mj mentioned, Peter hit the nail. Ranks are often a very poor way to demonstrate a practitioner's advangement in Aikido, or in any martial for that matter. It doesn't really matter how many techniques you know, the quality of your technique matters more. I would rather do one technique perfectly than do twelve poorly. As a teacher and instructor one must be able to do multible techniques with precision. The rank doesn't tell you this. It might give you a clue of the instructor's abilities but just how accurate is impossible to say, until you have seen that person teach and do technique.

Don't get me wrong, ranks are a good way to indicate a person's abilities but I rather see for myself before drawing any conclusions.

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Old 10-08-2001, 07:00 AM   #10
ian
 
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A difficulty with aikido compared to many other martial arts is i. its not competitive [exc.tomiki] and ii. it is not judged based on your ability to do solitary techniques (mostly) e.g. punching.

Much of aikido comes from a sudden understanding - whether physical or intellectual; like lots of little enlightenments. These understandings will differ from person to person, and therefore people who have trained for longer and reached higher grades have had more time to reach these understandings. However sometimes people are just not open to them and so there progression is poor.

Probably the best instructor I have ever trained with was a second Dan (and I have trained with many 6th Dans and above - in fact 6th Dans actually train under him). However this is partly because he has not graded since training in Japan with Ueshiba.

Unfortunately as a beginner it is hard to know who you consider to be the best - and often the best person for YOU depends where you are on the path of aikido at the time. If you are just starting aikido, generally there is little choice and you have to train with the local dojo (though you should visit as many other instructors as possible on courses). However once you have trained for a while you should then know who you wish to train with if you want to do it full time.

Ian

P.S. please excuse me everyone if I come across with a 'lecturing' tone in my writing - its just the quickest way to write for me. I'm a fun guy, really!
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Old 10-11-2001, 02:23 AM   #11
Datamike
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Smile

Quote:

Originally posted by ian P.S. please excuse me everyone if I come across with a 'lecturing' tone in my writing - its just the quickest way to write for me. I'm a fun guy, really!
You write just fine

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Old 10-11-2001, 08:14 AM   #12
Estproph
Dojo: Aikido of Northern Virginia
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As an almost absolute newbie at aikido myself (training 4 months), I think given the situation you're describing, rank won't even enter into it, all other things being equal. 3rd, 4th, or 5th dan sensei all know a great deal more aikido technique that a beginner. What is far more important at beginning stages IMO (it is for me anyway) is how someone gets along with sensei, because that will govern how well and how easily you learn techniques.
If you're not comfortable with a sensei's teaching methods, you will not learn as well. For myself, I lucked out. The dojo I train in was the first one at which I watched classes conducted, because it's only a couple blocks from my office. Fortunately for me, the sensei is a very patient and easygoing instructor, and demonstrates what is wrong in technique and how to correct it instead of bullying and browbeating. I personally don't learn well in cases where an instructor is domineering or abusive (but that's just me, you may feel differently). My advice would be to see each of the instructors in action if at all possible, so you can get an understanding of how they teach and how well you'll learn from them.
Good luck!
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Old 10-11-2001, 10:37 AM   #13
akiy
 
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Quote:
Originally posted by Estproph
As an almost absolute newbie at aikido myself (training 4 months), I think given the situation you're describing, rank won't even enter into it, all other things being equal. 3rd, 4th, or 5th dan sensei all know a great deal more aikido technique that a beginner.
True, but one thing that low-ranked instructors (let's say, 4th dan and below) often have a harder time than those who are more experienced in the art in teaching aikido principles. From what I've seen, a lot of low-ranked teachers spend their time focusing only on the techniques without being able to neither explain nor demonstrate the principles that make the techniques work (as opposed to just showing the kihon movements).

Just my thoughts.

-- Jun

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Old 10-11-2001, 10:45 AM   #14
PeterR
 
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Hi Jun;

I've noticed enough exceptions that I really think it is an over generalization.

Quote:
Originally posted by akiy

True, but one thing that low-ranked instructors (let's say, 4th dan and below) often have a harder time than those who are more experienced in the art in teaching aikido principles. From what I've seen, a lot of low-ranked teachers spend their time focusing only on the techniques without being able to neither explain nor demonstrate the principles that make the techniques work (as opposed to just showing the kihon movements).

Peter Rehse Shodokan Aikido
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Old 10-11-2001, 04:27 PM   #15
Marty
 
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hi
I was reading this post and I can't agree more that rank is quite varible. my sensei holds higher ranks in outher styles of aikido then the one he instructs in. I think the most improtant thing is the atmosphere. find a phlosiphy that agrees with you and the outher way around. I reguraly train with a shodan when my sensei is a godan I find in some ways easer scince the shodan has not made the same jumps it is easer to relate the ideas. inouther words my sensei's understanding is sooooooo above mine that we have comunication problmes.

sorry for rambling and good luck

Marty
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Old 10-11-2001, 07:27 PM   #16
guest1234
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I would agree with most who've said the important thing to a beginner is how you feel in the dojo (sensei and students combined for the total effect). But say even that is equal? I would slightly change Jun's comment. I think it is often valid, but I've also seen exceptions (a shodan who taught me some very important principles, and a sandan who obviously is fixed on the-feet-go-here-now-here-now-here come immediately to mind). So better would just be, look at not only how they teach (abusive or supportive, etc) but what they are teaching (mindless adherence to The One Right Way, general principles from which new techniuqes come, etc) and go for the approach you think you like better (there are those who like being secure in The One Right Way, so I'm not about to say that approach is without merit, just doesn't appeal to me).
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Old 10-11-2001, 09:20 PM   #17
Trevallion
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rank?

The quality of teaching depends upon many variables, most of which have already been mentioned;rank, methodology, experience, the atmosphere created by the teacher, etc. Above and beyond these qualities, or talents, one should seek out a dojo which simply "feels" right. In most instances, one guided by their soul will choose most wisely.

"The heart of a virtuous person has settled down and he does not rush about at things. A person of little merit is not at peace but walks about making trouble and is in conflict with all."

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Old 10-12-2001, 01:24 PM   #18
Erik
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The other thing to consider is that most of the time the person teaching the beginning classes isn't a 5th dan anyway. Assuming he/she is doing a good job of developing their students and has been around awhile it's very likely you will be learning from a shodan, nidan or sandan depending on the environment. Certainly, you will have more direct contact with your sempai than sensei for some time. When I started the head instructor had 20+ years in the art but I very rarely had any idea what he was talking about and I cringe at what I saw him teach as ukemi. Fortunately, he had a couple of nidans around who took care of those details.

As to the USAF. They are simply a branded Aikido Association here in the US. There are a whole bunch more of them and personally I don't see any one of them as more or less viable. I wouldn't go out of my way to find a USAF dojo nor would I go out of my way to avoid one. The same thing pretty much applies to all the organizations that I know of. I also wouldn't disregard the independents. There really is no such thing as a good housekeeping seal in regards to assuring that you'll get the best Aikido for you.
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