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Old 07-06-2004, 10:28 AM   #26
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

I wrote this during one of the last discussions of this topic so I thought I'd recycle it rather than reinvent the wheel:

In my opinion the "I'm not into rank" thing is a form of false humbleness that simply masks a reluctance to step up to the plate and take the risk and deal with the pressure of testing. In saying it's "no big deal" the student makes it a big deal and is avoiding it. I
will occasionally let students slide on testing when I know they have a great deal of pressure in their lives outside the dojo. What they need at that time from their Aikido training isn't more pressure. But they know that at some point I expect them to get on with it.

One of the few times in your Aikido career that you will have to step up and put it all on the line is testing. The point isn't to recognize ability (although that is a result), but rather to get that individual to make a concerted effort beyond a routine level of commitment. Ability isn't the point, it is making the jump to a new level that is the whole point of testing.

We test during seminars and there will be dozens of people, including many heads of other dojos, attending. There's a lot of pressure not to get out there and look like a fool. Also, my students are quite aware that their performance reflects on the dojo and myself. My own teachers don't see me more than a couple times a year at camps and seminars. The only real way they can judge what I am doing as a teacher at my dojo is by the students I am turning out. This puts even more pressure on the person testing. Since this is a martial art and not just a social club I consider that pressure to be quite valuable. Students find out quite a lot about themselves in the process preparation for and then the doing of the actual test.

I think that it is precisely this "finding out" that the anti-testing people are really avoiding. Having to face whatever stuff you have is not usually something people willingly go after.

It's been many years since I had to worry about testing. But last year (Expo1) I was invited to demo at the Aiki Expo. Getting up in front of seven hundred people, many of them teachers of various arts whom I highly respect, reminded me of what I had felt like when I was testing so many years ago. It had that "No more time for practice, no more second and third chances, just get out and do it now" feel that a martial encounter has. Any screw-up would be there for all to see, permanently, as they were filming. It reminded me why the ritual of testing is important in the development of the kind of spirit that I am looking for in my students.

I am surprised at how many say things along the lines of the Sensei shouldn't make you test, or that it should be up to you when you feel like doing it.... One of the functions of a teacher is to encourage you to make those jumps that come with facing things you don't want to do.

Finally, testing has a social function within the dojo. No one can prepare for a test alone. When candidates prepare to test the whole dojo community is involved. The beginners support the effort by being patient with the fact that for a bit of time they don't get quite the attention from the seniors as they are focusing on working with the test candidates. All of the candidates' peers and seniors have to step up to the plate and put in extra effort, sometimes within class and often after hours, to help the candidates prepare. The energy of the whole dojo rises when testing is approaching. If the candidates do their job, they actually pull the whole dojo up in their wake to a higher level of effort. The beginners see a wonderful example of focused training which can be quite inspirational for them.

I think that the arguments for testing far outweigh the arguments against, both for the individual and the dojo as a whole. I think some folks opposed to testing have a "button" which they ought to look at in an honest fashion.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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Old 07-06-2004, 10:48 AM   #27
happysod
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

George, very nicely written and argued but I couldn't disagree with you more.

I honestly couldn't care whether people grade or not and no I don't think it's either an inherent flaw in that student's psyche or even a sly insult at all others in the dojo. To imply either of these about an individual I believe is insulting.

While I take your point concerning it being a ma, so sensei gets to set the rules (no I'm not into full democracies in the dojo), I think the testing business reflects more on the political and social setup of the association/dojo/teacher than any particular benefits concerning gradings.

I'll happily agree with your assessment of how a grading can improve a dojo. I'll even agree with you in part concerning the pressure aspect of gradings (although previous threads have lead me to understand that a large minority see grades as almost tedious rather than testing).

I've also seen the converse where testing becomes all the dojo does and we have the belt chasers so beloved by all come to the fore.

At the end of the day, grades (and gradings) are artificial measures of a competence which widely vary from association to association. Now I deal solely with adults (which may colour my reasoning) but the idea that anything so artificial is going to affect how I interact with someone on the mat is one which I find is rather sad. If they can bounce, they can train, anything else is gravy.

I can see the benefits in gradings, I'll even admit to leaving one of my own overly long. However, I wouldn't put them at the forefront of training needs either.
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Old 07-06-2004, 12:00 PM   #28
BC
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

I remember one of my sempai reflecting upon his kohai who stopped after receiving his shodan. He basically said he had wished he would have stayed, because aikido gets really interesting after about fifteen years.

Robert Cronin
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Old 07-06-2004, 12:47 PM   #29
Ron Tisdale
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

Hi Ian and all,

I have to agree with George, Peter and Jun on this one. I've been in places where there is testing, and where there is not...and I'd have to say that in my view testing can be a valuable asset if its done in a correct way. I've seen just as much ego come into play in places and people who don't test as in places and people who do.

Quote:
I see the grade and black belt test as nothing more than a belt and another person who thinks himself superior to others!
I have seen and still do people who should have never been give the titel most days in my dojo...
I do not want to be one of them!
Its funny how this statement seems to me to be a prime example of the very thing the poster decries...

That said, it wouldn't surprise me if there were plenty of people who choose not to test for personal reasons that are just fine...its a personal matter in the end between you and your school/instructor.

Ron

Ron Tisdale
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"The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind."
St. Bonaventure (ca. 1221-1274)
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Old 07-06-2004, 03:25 PM   #30
otto
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

Ledyard Sensei:

Am I correctly reading from your post , amongst other things , that students under your instructions do have a debt to you (for the time and effort invested on their development) , and that debt is best repayed , at least partially , with their compromise and finally by giving their best performance at their various grading test they will encounter on their aikido careers?.

If so , thats the they I personally feel towards grading , its just a way (maybe the only) to show my teacher ;and his peers and superiors ; "this is what i've become thanks to you".

Just one publicy way of saying "domo arigatou sensei".

Yours respectfully

Ottoniel Ojeda.

Last edited by otto : 07-06-2004 at 03:28 PM.

"Perfection is a Process"
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Old 07-06-2004, 06:31 PM   #31
aikibum
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

IMHO, there are two sides to this: one side saying the journey matters more than the testing, the other saying testing matters more than the journey.

I personally take a more moderate course; testing is important in that it hones and polishes your skills. Yet, (and I think O sensei would agree) to truly to get at the heart and soul of Aikido, you have to open yourself to everything around you. Not to get too metaphysical, but in a sense we Aikidoka are in the dojo everyday.
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Old 07-06-2004, 09:09 PM   #32
Jerry Miller
 
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

Perhaps the question is should testing be part of the journey. Certainly if it becomes the whole journey then you are missing the point.

Jerry Miller
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Old 07-07-2004, 07:59 AM   #33
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

Quote:
Ottoniel Ojeda wrote:
Ledyard Sensei:

Am I correctly reading from your post , amongst other things , that students under your instructions do have a debt to you (for the time and effort invested on their development) , and that debt is best repayed , at least partially , with their compromise and finally by giving their best performance at their various grading test they will encounter on their aikido careers?.

If so , thats the they I personally feel towards grading , its just a way (maybe the only) to show my teacher ;and his peers and superiors ; "this is what i've become thanks to you".

Just one publicy way of saying "domo arigatou sensei".

Yours respectfully

Ottoniel Ojeda.
I hadn't quite thought of it that way but certainly, I am evaluated by my own teachers by what they see as the product of my efforts in my own school. Since my teachers only see me a few times a year, this is the primary way in which they form an idea of what I have been doing during that time. So, it is important to me how they do.

On the way to the dojo one day when we were scheduled to have yudansha testing Sensei said to me "You know, student not do well on test, not their fault, YOUR FAULT." This is not something I have forgotten.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
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Old 07-07-2004, 01:43 PM   #34
gilsinnj
 
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

Here's a couple good explanations that we've been given by our Sempais and Sensei.

1. The three basic levels of testing that we use in our style are
- 6th kyu (first test) = you can fall without hurting yourself too badly.
- 2nd kyu (brown belt) = you know how to defend yourself, or you know the basic physical Aikido techniques and know how to use them in a combat situation.
- 1st dan (black belt) = you know how to defend yourself and use Ki to do it, or you don't need to rely on stength to do Aikido techniques any longer, you've discovered Ki and can use it to your advantage.

The basic idea here is that once you've discovered Ki and can use it at will, everything about YOUR Aikido changes. Its almost like starting over.

2. Think of the kyu ranks as grade school. You advance up through the the different grades (ranks) learning different things as you go. At first, you learn basic things like arithemetic and reading (techniques), but as you get farther along you are expected to learn more advanced concepts like calculus, phycology, and history. These are similar to the more advanced concepts of relaxation, centering oneself, and Ki energy.

Achieving a black belt is like being handed your high-school diploma. Some people might think that they don't need to go any farther, so they stop training and learning. Other people decide to go for college degrees or higher. Those people have decided that now that they understand the basics of how to learn, they need more knowledge. These are like the people who decide to continue practicing and advance through the dan ranks. As you spend more time studying, you learn more and may get your Masters or PhD (2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. dan ranks).

Hope that makes sence to people,
Jim
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Old 07-07-2004, 03:51 PM   #35
Ron Tisdale
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

Quote:
Mark Delgado wrote:
IMHO, there are two sides to this: one side saying the journey matters more than the testing, the other saying testing matters more than the journey.

I personally take a more moderate course; testing is important in that it hones and polishes your skills. Yet, (and I think O sensei would agree) to truly to get at the heart and soul of Aikido, you have to open yourself to everything around you. Not to get too metaphysical, but in a sense we Aikidoka are in the dojo everyday.
I think testing in SOME dojo is an important part of the journey...in others, they do other things to function in much the same way (demos, competition, rigorous free-style, etc), so that testing is not part of their journey. As long as you get to the same place, and enjoy the journey...but I do have a preference for myself, having tried both.

Ron

Ron Tisdale
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"The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind."
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Old 07-31-2004, 04:12 PM   #36
Lyle Laizure
 
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

In the beginning of our training we are learning a lot of new things. From the basic technique and philosophy to etiquette and protocol. Although we are learning a lot of new things I do not think we are really internalizing them or fully understanding them. We are very much still in an infant stage in our training. I think shodan is looked at as the beginning because now that you presumabley have a solid understanding of the general basics one begins to really understand and internalize the arts and make them his/her own.

Attaining a blackbelt doesn't mean you are going to be in this internalization stage. For some it may happen sooner or later. Whether or not one tests is up to the individual but having the rank doesn't make you better or worse.

Lyle Laizure
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Old 08-03-2004, 04:01 AM   #37
maikerus
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

I've often found that the test, or the passing of the test, is not when you achieve the "knowledge" of the rank.

It seems to me that once you've passed the test is when you have some knowledge of the skills that you should be working on and learning more about that are appropriate to that rank. Once you've passed the test you can start working on them with confidence and then get better at them until you're ready to take another test, so you can start working on improving a more focused set of skills inherent in that next test.

If this idea makes sense then tests can be considered personal landmarks or goal posts along the way that give an individual a finite set of skills to be working upon and discovering more about at any one point.

Of course, one could argue that we are continuously getting better at everything and working on all our skills so that each time we step on the mat (or walk through a crowd) we are working on improving the set of skills that we know.

A test just formalizes this a little more. Some people may want or even need that structure to understand what part of the journey they are working on as opposed to trying to work on everything they've seen, done, heard or felt at any point in their Aikido career all the time. Then again, some might not.

Just a thought...

--Michael
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Old 08-03-2004, 10:15 AM   #38
akiy
 
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

Quote:
Michael Stuempel wrote:
I've often found that the test, or the passing of the test, is not when you achieve the "knowledge" of the rank.

It seems to me that once you've passed the test is when you have some knowledge of the skills that you should be working on and learning more about that are appropriate to that rank. Once you've passed the test you can start working on them with confidence and then get better at them until you're ready to take another test, so you can start working on improving a more focused set of skills inherent in that next test.
Saotome sensei has written about the same thing in his essay, "Yudansha Ranking":
Quote:
Mistugi Saotome sensei wrote:
Yudansha ranking is given for many reasons, not just technical ability. Just because a person receives a certain yudansha rank does not mean that he or she has attained that ability at that moment. It means that I feel the person is on the threshold and will grow into that rank with the pressures of added responsibility.
Also from the same piece:
Quote:
Mistugi Saotome sensei wrote:
To train for shodan:

You are training to become a beginner, no longer just a guest in the dojo, but a student with very real responsibilities. One must study the basic technical form and basic physical principle until the correct movement is automatic and feels natural.
Here's a link to the whole essay:

http://www.aikidofaq.com/practice/yudansha_ranking.html

-- Jun

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Old 09-16-2004, 09:54 AM   #39
Aikidoiain
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

To make an analogy -

I was a drummer for well on 30 years. Throughout that time I continued to learn new things. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that "the more you know, the more you realize you still have to learn".

Therefore, there is no end.

Once you climb to the top of one plateau (thinking that you've "arrived") you look up and see an even steeper climb ahead! And it goes on....

I think the same applies to Aikido.

It's just a thought.

Iain.
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Old 09-16-2004, 10:24 AM   #40
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

Analogy amendment -

There is no end - only more beginnings.


Iain.
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Old 09-16-2004, 05:23 PM   #41
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

Quote:
Iain Smith wrote:
Analogy amendment -

There is no end - only more beginnings.


Iain.
One can use the anaolgy of learning to write. One has first to learn the alphabet, then acquire some vocabulary and basic spelling. The rules of grammer come next. Only at this point can you start to actually write.

All of the training you do as you approach Shodan is just to acquire the basic skills which form the building blocks that later combine to create Aikido. It is true that until Shodan or so you don't know enough to be able to process what the senior folks can tell you. This is why some people say that you don't really start learning till Shodan. You have, of course, been learning but it isn't really the art yet, it's the components.

Aikido is to martial arts what literature is to writing. You need to master the alphabet, vocabulary, and grammer to be able to write but you spend the rest of your life refining your writing to create literature. Aikido is the same. If you have been trained properly you know most of the components at Shodan which will combine to create Aikido but you can't really do it yet. Later on you will understand those components in a very different manner and you will be able to do Aikido on some level. Then you can spend the rest of your life finding out what your own true expression of the art is and making it your own. That's when your practice starts to be an "art".

Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 09-16-2004 at 05:26 PM.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
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Old 09-16-2004, 07:09 PM   #42
Aristeia
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

Here's another analogy. I did a BA in philosophy. I seriously considered doing Masters, but went on to do a Japanese course instead. However a good friend of mine did do his Masters. When I asked him about it he said the difference was in the Bachelors programme you were learning about philosophy, in the Masters you were doing philosophy.
I think that's quite a good comparison. By Shodan you should have the basic skills to stop learning "what is Aikido" and start doing aikido not by rote learning of the techniques but by applying the underlying principals they are derived from. In this way you can start re-inventing them for yourself. MTCW.

"When your only tool is a hammer every problem starts to look like a nail"
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Old 09-16-2004, 08:26 PM   #43
stuartjvnorton
 
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Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

<random mutterings>

Dude, the rank doesn't mean a thing.
It's just a general indication, but big deal.
Like your 20-year no-kyu. Anyone who trians with her for 2 minutes should have a fair idea of how good she is.

The statements about non-graders losing interest after a while have a point (up to a point ;-): some people need a different belt/grade to feel like they are progressing, or the idea of an upcoming test to keep them from losing their way. Some don't. Simple as that.

I like Lynn's take on the kyu, shodan/nidan, sandan thing. Seems quite accurate from what little I've seen of things.
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