PROPER ETIQUETTE IN TESTING AND PROMOTION
A paper by Shihan David Isgett
As in other disciplinary studies, examinations and promotions are an integral part
of one's education the martial art of Aikido. And, as in other academic
endeavors, they should be seen as part of the overall educational experience, not
as end-goals in and of themselves. All too often, students of all subjects
occasionally place undue emphasis on the various testing and evaluation procedures,
raising them to a lofty status that overshadows the very art itself.
It would be as if a traveler became so obsessed with the vehicle, that he forgot
to enjoy the voyage.
When the student becomes so emotionally entangled with the testing process that
he/she loses sight of the very teachings themselves, then it becomes a growth-inhibiting
problem. In the martial arts particularly, (albeit not as much in Aikido
as in the more competitive styles) where rank too often overlaps with the ego, it
can be really difficult to put rank in its proper perspective.
The mature student should never confuse their ego with their rank in the first place,
but our "what's bigger is better" culture sometimes re-enforces the idea that one
is somehow a "big shot" after achieving some significant rank or position in the
dojo. This stems from the failure to recognize that achieving rank is
but part of a lifetime process, not the ultimate goal of study. This
should be a particularly easy pitfall for the Aikidoka to avoid, because more than
any art, ours is the most difficult and humbling to learn.
The misplaced importance with the rank is a result of it being seen as the goal
of our study, rather than, as our motto states: "to unify mind and body, and to
become one with the universe". There is nothing in our motto that says
the goal of our study is to become a black belt.
The purpose of ranking in our system is to recognize meritorious efforts, and to
serve as personal yardstick for each student to mark his or her own development.
Moreover, each student must understand that his/her progress is viewed in comparison
with their own past efforts, not those of their classmates. If one is
only comparing one's progress against his own past achievements and not that of
his classmate's, then personal egos will not interfere with class harmony and continued
HOW TO ACT BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER TESTING
The life of the Aikidoka is properly one of constant and diligent training, punctuated
by periodic reviews of basic Aikido skills. Naturally, as one develops,
the skill level should be more crucially examined. It is important to
reemphasize that these tests are to serve the student as a way to point out strengths
and weaknesses so as to encourage more productive study.
The actual criteria for each test is ripe material for another paper, but suffice
it to say the veteran students can verify as to the increasing level of intensity
as the rank goes up.
It may be constructive to point out that technically, the term "rank" is being used
loosely here. "Dan", or black belt levels are "ranks". "Kyu"
levels are referred to properly as "grades". Both graded and ranking
students share the same moment of stark terror whenever Sensei calls them on the
TESTING MARKS THE COMPLETION OF RANK, NOT THE MEANS OF ACHIEVING IT
This little fact should take a load off the prospective candidate. One
does not get rank because he/she "passes" the test. The test is merely
a formality: when one is asked to test, the rank or grade has already
been realized. Students of Aikido are being tested 100% of the time,
both on the mat and off.
Development in our style of Aikido should reflect not only standard levels of physical
skill, but also a commensurate level of emotional and mental maturity as well.
That is why it is an absolute no-no in manners to ever ask the Sensei "when am I
going to be tested?" because you are always being tested. The very act
of bothering your teacher about your testing shows a misplaced emphasis on the rank
itself, and indirectly shows a lack of confidence in your instructor's ability to
evaluate your level of skill. One may feel the temptation to compare
one's own performance with that of a fellow student who either has been in Aikido
the same length of time, or who was tested for the same grade. This
is never constructive, because if you compare negatively it will discourage you,
and worse still, if one is of the opinion that he/she is more skilled than a contemporary,
it can cause developmental problems resulting from the inflated ego.
The actual forms involved in the testing ceremony are to be observed conscientiously,
however these forms are not germane to this paper. Mock tests are always
demonstrated at testing periods to show the proper form. Here, the intention
is to emphasize the proper attitude toward the testing procedure.
It is also considered bad form to ask if you passed after the test.
This would in fact show that you maybe didn't have the patience and mental development
to match your considerable physical acumen.
SUENAKA SENSEI IS NOT THE ONLY EVALUATING YOU
Although the ultimate authority and final decisions are made by the director of
Instruction, all of the Yudansha are involved in the decision to promote or not.
The Shihans are called upon to critique the ranking students. All students
are constantly being monitored by their seniors, so be alert: Sensei
Big Brother is watching you.
RECEIVING THE SHO-SHO
Finally the day comes when we are honored by the presentation of certificates.
As we all have seen, it is a special and proud moment, that should be viewed with
reverence and a spirit of humble appreciation. As an instructor, it
is really a wonderful event. When I think of how proud I am of all the
students, it gives me a glimmer of how proud of us Suenaka Sensei must be.
We should all be inspired to redouble our efforts, to try to be the very best Aikidoka
so that we are worth to be students of the very best of teachers. If
we could all have the opportunity to travel to other dojos and even observe their
testing, it would give us the true appreciation to have such rigorous standards.
Please enjoy all aspects of the Aikido experience and make every effort to help
all of us be the very best that each of us can be. I believe that enlightenment
is a lifetime goal, but I also believe that none of us can make it until we all
make it, so let us work together for our common goal.