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Old 10-19-2000, 08:38 AM   #1
macguyver72
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Do symbol

I have been studying Aikido in Japan for almost two years. Our dojo was remote, but very closely tied to the Aikikai World Headquarters. I recently moved back to America (my home country), and visited several dojos, all different styles of teaching with different affiliations. Each was interesting, but I noticed a common thread: a dis-proportionate number of shodans and above, at least in my opinion.

The promotion basis that I found at these places seemed to be very rapid, compared to what I was used to seeing in Japan (I should be testing for san-kyu, and I've been in for almost two years). According to some of the dojos, I should be preparing for shodan right now, at least ikkyu. So then I started thinking...(bad news): why would it be so different? I came up with a theory, which has no researched data to support it.

Americans seem to hold the idea of a "black belt" as a sign of great achievement in martial arts. Now I understand that most dojos are not in business to empty our wallets, but they do have financial responsibilities. If membership becomes too low, some can go out of business. If shodan is awarded early, and the focus is on long term growth, maybe an American group would have less trouble with retention. The students would feel accomplished, but at the same time most would understand that the road has just begun (the Japanese word "dan" actually means step: "shodan" means first step, as if you didn't know already).

I could have it all wrong, but it seems to me that I was called upon to perform a sundry list of techniques when I tested for 4th kyu. From reading the local dojos' literature, I shouldn't have studied that until 2nd or 3rd dan, maybe.

Understand that I'm in Aikido for the long haul, and I'm not criticizing another group or association. It's become a way of life for me, and I enjoy the mental, spiritual, and physical aspects as one package. I am simply trying to understand the situation and see if others have shared my confusion. Someone told me once that while the teaching styles may be different, the end product is the same. If you could gather a group of 7th and 8th dans from all different teachings, you would find the same things: well-developed ki, supple movements, and confident but mild-mannered attitudes. I believe that to be true, so maybe I'm wasting my time by questioning a dojo's teaching system. I should just get out there and find a mat to get back on.

Regards (and apologies for the long post),
Michael Guill
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Old 10-19-2000, 10:29 AM   #2
ian
 
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Ai symbol grades

I understand your concern, when I started around 12 years ago there was a student who refused to grade because he thought that it was "non-aiki". I never really bothered about grading myself for the last 8 years but now I regret it because I feel that when you first go to a club or training you are judged initally on your grade, especially if you are not wearing a hakama (as discussed in another thread).

However it is difficult to assign periods of time to development. I know myself that I was a very quick learner and progressed to 2nd kyu quite quickly, but then progress was very slow and much more subtle. I would think that the grades don't really matter other than the 1st dan or 1st kyu grades (where you wear symbols to distinguish you). I don't think everyone necessarily has the capability of reaching these grades, no matter how hard or long they train. I would expect a 1st dan to know all the widely practised techniques within aikido, to have fluid movement, power, to have a good martial attitude and to be able to help lower grades from a wealth of training experience (which to me, 2 years is too short).

Elevating students prematurely does not do anything for the image of the club - I much prefer training with a mediocre 2nd Kyu than a poor 1st dan. Mainly because the 2nd kyu still has 'beginners mind' which can often be lost as you are given higher grades. Aikido is so intimate that you can easily tell when someone is much poorer than their grade suggests.

I failed my first ever grading - not so much for lack of technique, as finding it difficult to remember all the different technique names and react quick enough when they were called out. However it has made me respect my own grade and I would not accept a grade which I didn't think I had earnt (which is, admittedly very much set by the club I started in; which seems to be your position).

In a few words I would say, don't worry about it. The grading system is there to encourage you to practise and to help you formalise your training; knowing you are going to have an intensive and tiring exam under pressure really helps you to focus. The actual grade you receive is probably irrelevant - if you go to another club and you don't feel up to your current grade compared to them, ask to be re-graded.

In some ways we are only as good as our last technique.
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Old 10-19-2000, 11:19 AM   #3
REK
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I agree. I would even go so far as to say that you should work to meet whatever standard is higher. If your personal standard requires better quality of practice, take that standard into the dojo with you. If you don't think you should be a ...kyu then train until you should. But be aware: not everyone will have this approach. I think it's about finding the training that fits for you (as I implied on another thread...)

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Old 10-20-2000, 09:07 AM   #4
George S. Ledyard
 
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Quote:
macguyver72 wrote:
I have been studying Aikido in Japan for almost two years. Our dojo was remote, but very closely tied to the Aikikai World Headquarters. I recently moved back to America (my home country), and visited several dojos, all different styles of teaching with different affiliations. Each was interesting, but I noticed a common thread: a dis-proportionate number of shodans and above, at least in my opinion.
Actually. from what I have seen, it is just the opposite in general. The typical situation in Japan is that of the university Aikido club. You join as a Freshman and can expect to emerge with a Nidan by the time you graduate.

I have met people from various Japanese dojos and it is my experience that they are generally not as proficient as their American counterparts at the same rank.

That said, there are exceptions. I have trained with people from Shingu who trained under Hikitsuchi Sensei and the training was uniformly high grade. Most of the dojos in the US that I know of take somewhere around 4 - 5 years of consistent training to get to shodan. Some choose to go longer. I know one school where it takes about seven to nine years so their shodans are pretty much on the par with other peoples nidans.

In my opinion the training in the states is better on the average than what is being done in Japan. If you were forunate enough to train at a very good dojo there you might have a scewed idea about training here. But people who have had the good fortune to train with an excellent teacher here look around and say the same thing about what they see going on in many schools both here and in Japan.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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Old 10-20-2000, 09:18 AM   #5
macguyver72
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I'd welcome more thoughts on the matter...

Now I have something serious to rant about (I think): I practiced with the dojo in question, and I was surprised to find that many of the techniques that I was taught as a beginner meant little (if anything) to the class that I visited. I share the opinions stated above that a shodan should have a well-laid foundation for all aspects of the art.

I met more than one black belt that looked at me blankly when I named the exercises. And the fact that no one wears hakama didn't strengthen my opinion of the place. It sure seemed pretty watered down to me, but I was careful not to seem arrogant or better than anyone. For example, I led a katate tori attack into a spiraling immobilization, and when I had the opportunity to use gokyo, I was told that I was using too much power, when in reality I was bottling up my ki, barely exerting any pressure. Hmmmmm...so much for Japanese pain and submission.

There also did not seem to be any termination to practiced movement, a concept that had me thoroughly confused to say the least. The freestyle dancing that goes on is indeed very harmonious, and encourages balance and spontaneity, but seemed to leave out the "disabling the attack" part. In fact, maybe I just picked the wrong day, because no singular immobilization or projection technique was in focus the entire class. It makes me wonder that if I play by their rules and memorize a little footwork, I should be deemed shodan in their club (by the club's literature, a student should achieve shodan in 18 months...hmmmm). I think I'd rather have the pinning, throwing, and a hard-earned sankyu.

One last note: I did gain something from the class...it wasn't all negative. However, I left wanting more.

Thanks for all the input, and I'll keep reading the aiki-literature...
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Old 10-20-2000, 10:07 AM   #6
BC
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Ai symbol

I agree with George. I haven't been to Japan, but everything I have heard has been that in Japan it can take as short a time as two years to become a shodan, and in the US it generally takes longer. The most common explanation I have heard for this is that outside of Japan, a black belt is considered to be an expert, whereas in Japan, it is not that big of a deal. Thus aikidoists outside of Japan are held to a higher standard in terms of experience and abilities. My impression has been that the time it takes for students to test for shodan is due mostly to the student's sensei, and what criteria they (the sensei) set for promotion. I can tell you that in the dojo where I train, it generally takes a minimum of six years before testing for shodan, and we have people who have trained for over fifteen to twenty years and are nidans. This doesn't appear to bother anybody, as our Shihan was just not one to promote students quickly. Just my two cents worth.

-BC
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Old 10-20-2000, 11:08 AM   #7
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shodans, nidans, are all rank to me......

Being "proficient" is the ideal of an individual's standard, if you try to "compare" people of other dojos to your "standard" you will most likely be disappointed regardless of whether you are in Japan or here. Also, consider that your own technique may be quite "proficient" while I'm attacking you, but fail miserably when someone, say, of Ledyard sensei's experience attacks.

So where do we draw the proverbial line here between being proficient or not. Does your own concept of proficiency remain the same? Even when you become better (ie. more proficient) in your execution of technique? What baseline are you measuring other's proficiency against? Yours? Saotome sensei's? Big variation there huh..........

Proficiency in Aikido is different for each individual that is lucky enough to find and practice this fine art. I can not speak for anyone else, but for me, after attending various seminars and other dojo's etc.., I've learned not to put too much stock in rank or intrest in who you train with. I'm more interested in how well you execute technique when I'm attacking you on the mat.

I believe rank (in it's true application) only helps to establish the amount of time (be it long or short) one has spent practicing a particular art. It does not however, establish ones proficiency in that art.

Because I've made Aikido such a large part of my life, I stopped tracking the time I spend training, yet I'm asked to test anyhow. I do so, but not with the goal of reaching any particular "level" of rank. I do so because as a member of the dojo I must also share the responsibilities of proliferating this art and representing the dojo to all current and potential students.

Just another view......

Dan P. - Mongo
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Old 10-20-2000, 08:04 PM   #8
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Quote:
macguyver72 wrote:
I have been studying Aikido in Japan for almost two years. Our dojo was remote, but very closely tied to the Aikikai World Headquarters. I recently moved back to America (my home country), and visited several dojos, all different styles of teaching with different affiliations. Each was interesting, but I noticed a common thread: a dis-proportionate number of shodans and above, at least in my opinion.

The promotion basis that I found at these places seemed to be very rapid, compared to what I was used to seeing in Japan (I should be testing for san-kyu, and I've been in for almost two years). According to some of the dojos, I should be preparing for shodan right now, at least ikkyu. So then I started thinking...(bad news): why would it be so different?
Michael Guill
My experience has been a little different. I started studying aikdo when I was in the States, but I've been practicing in Japan for three and a half years now. At the dojo I attend now, rankings UP TO SHODAN are earned a little sooner than the dojo's I went to in the U.S. I think you will find a variety of standards for grading in the aikido community. I've seen some dojos and teachers that I have not been impressed with in Japan and the U.S. But, I've also seen many in both countries that upheld very high standards for their students. You may also find that different teaching methodologies play some part in how quickly a student developes. In short, it's a big world and everyone is different. I hope you find a dojo that has standards your comfortable with.
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Old 10-21-2000, 07:29 AM   #9
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: shodans, nidans, are all rank to me......

Quote:
Mongo wrote:

I believe rank (in it's true application) only helps to establish the amount of time (be it long or short) one has spent practicing a particular art. It does not however, establish ones proficiency in that art.
Actually, at this point I don't think that rank means anything in regards to competence unless you know who the teacher is and how long they haver trained with that teacher. Then you have to be familiar with how that particular teacher grades to have some idea what the rank might mean as far as competence.

A rank really just indicates how a given teacher feels about a given student at the time of the promotion. A teacher will not generally put his seal of approval on a student by giving him a Black Belt unless that student is reflective of what that teacher thinks is important. That could mean technical ability or it could mean being a nice person and helping out in the dojo a lot.

The higher the rank in question the more reluctant the teacher will be to award that rank unless that teacher is really invested in that student and visa versa. People will not necessarily judge you too definitively if one of your shodans is kind of a putz. But if one of your yondans is a putz they are going to think you are as well.

George S. Ledyard
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Old 10-23-2000, 11:46 AM   #10
Guest5678
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Re: Re: shodans, nidans, are all rank to me......

[/b][/quote]
Actually, at this point I don't think that rank means anything in regards to competence unless you know who the teacher is and how long they haver trained with that teacher. Then you have to be familiar with how that particular teacher grades to have some idea what the rank might mean as far as competence.
[/b][/quote]

Good point here however, on the other side of the coin, I would not make the mistake of formulating an opinion of the teacher based on the performance of the student either. I say this because I personally don't believe you can actually teach anyone anything....... you can only help them discover it for themselves. After all, it's their body and mind and you can't just jump in there and show them how things "feel". Whether a student is grasping the concepts being taught is just as dependant upon the students ability to learn as it is the ability of the teacher to teach.

I never have been able to figure out this ranking thing anyway. There are guidlines of course, but as Ledyard sensei stated, it's really up to the particular sensei of a particular dojo....... strange thing this rank.

Train hard, Play hard, Live easy.

Dan P. - Mongo
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Old 10-24-2000, 01:02 PM   #11
Nick
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I must say, I do agree with the above posts in that in the Occident, those who have shodan are considered an expert.

However, IMO, when it comes down to it, rank really doesn't mean that much. If for instance, I'm a shodan in an art. Does that mean I can defeat anyone that is not a shodan in the same or 'better' art? Probably not. Rank means only as much as it means to you, when the time comes to 'use' your Aikido. Let's hope when your time comes that you've been focusing on your waza and not your rank.


---
Nick Porter
"Do not fall into the trap of the artisan who boasts twenty years of experience, when in fact he has had only one year of experience-- twenty times."
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Old 08-21-2006, 11:39 AM   #12
Walter Martindale
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Re: mostly ranting, politely, of course

Mudansha, Yudansha...
Well, I started in 1993, was tested sankyu in 1996, went to NZ in 1997, practiced occasionally there, attended 3 seminar/gasshuku in Auckland and/or Christchurch at which Masuda sensei was guest shihan. Last visit to Tokyo (part of a trip to Gifu related to my coaching job) I visited Aikikai Hombu and attended one of Masuda sensei's sessions. He struggled to remember where he'd met up with me, and when I reminded him "New Zearando, sensei" he asked if I was shodan or nidan. (Chigau, sensei, nikyu desu). Ikkyu test was about a month later back in Canada. Shodan test coming up sometime this twelvemonth.
Do I worry about the grading? Not a lot, I had a shodan from Judo in the 1970's, practice quite a lot where I'm the low guy on the totem pole. Was 6 years a sankyu in Aikido, and have never been a yonkyu in either Aikido or Judo. My senseis at the time would better be able to answer why I skipped that one. However
The higher the rank, the more you're supposed to be able to help others learn, and the more you should be able to learn from others when you practice with them, no matter how new or experienced they are. That's my view, and I'm sticking to it, whether or not this reply is off topic quite badly.
Have I had to call upon Aikido "outside"? I don't think so. Do I look for incidents to test my abilities? no. Do I hope to go through to cremation without having had to test my abilities in a "real" incident? yes. How much will rank matter at that time? not a whit. When the time comes, will I have had a positive effect on more people than a negative effect? Sure hope so, and "rank" will only matter at that time if I've been lying around undiscovered for a few days or more.
this is getting morbid, and I've got work to do...
Walter
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Old 08-21-2006, 12:05 PM   #13
ChrisMoses
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Re: mostly ranting, politely, of course

Hi Michael, welcome to the board. Like George, it's been my experience that the time to Shodan is typically a lot longer here in the US than in Japan. I think a lot of this has to do with the idea that black belt means you're done. A lot of US dojos see people leave shortly after getting their shodan, so they've stretched out the time that it takes.

(warning HUGE generalizations ahead)

I think you're also experiencing the difference between the way people train and think about aikido in the US vs. Japan. In Japan, it's been my experience that people start doing more jujutsu like movements from static with a decent ammount of resistance. You do these kihon over and over at a moderate pace. The idea is that eventually, a lot later, you can soften up and start doing the subtle stuff, but initially you have to just get the gross movements down. I would also classify the type of aiki that goes on in general as an active connection, where there is a real and perceptable force exerted on uke to produce the technique.

In the US, there is a lot more emphasis on passive connection, where nage tries to lead a moving uke into the technique without exerting any real force on uke, sometimes at all. A friend of mine says that the US only does "seminar Aikido." In other words, we try to do all the fancy/subtle/higer level stuff all the time as the day to day practice because that's what we see at the seminars when Shihan come over to teach. In Japan, there seems to be more root in solid basic movement in the day to day classes. You might get to do something really difficult and interesting at a seminar, but when you go back to your regular dojo, it's back to katatedori ikkyo for two hours...

And just in case someone forgot: *this post contains gross generalizations and does not apply to every dojo or line of aikido here or in Japan.*
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Old 08-21-2006, 04:49 PM   #14
crbateman
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Re: mostly ranting, politely, of course

WARNING!! TIME WARP...

Walter and Chris, you do realize that this thread is six years old, right??
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Old 08-21-2006, 05:13 PM   #15
gdandscompserv
 
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Re: mostly ranting, politely, of course

Yeah, yeah...it's an old thread but I wanted to say something anyway.
I have trained in several dojo's since returning to America from my home away from home, Okinawa Aikikai, and I have yet to experience aikido on the level that I experienced it in Yamaguchi Sensei's dojo.
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Old 08-21-2006, 05:38 PM   #16
ChrisMoses
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Re: mostly ranting, politely, of course

Quote:
Clark Bateman wrote:
WARNING!! TIME WARP...

Walter and Chris, you do realize that this thread is six years old, right??
Nope, but I do now. I just saw *new* and didn't bother to check the first dates...
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