Ranking is awarded through a formal demonstration of specific techniques that you have learned. There are 6 ranks leading to black belt called kyu starting with 6th kyu and counting backward up to 1st kyu. After 1st kyu you begin preparation for shodan (1st degree black belt). Ranking is awarded separately for Aikido and Iaido.
Shodan is the name for a first degree black belt. Shodan literally means “beginner grade.” To those unfamiliar with martial art ranking a black belt might imply mastery, but this is not really the case. You will be very competent by the time you achieve your black belt, but shodan really means that you are ready to begin the journey. Kyu ranks might be thought of as preparation. You real understanding of the art comes after shodan.
Rank testing is an important part of training. It allows you to measure your progress and be accountable for the things you’ve learned. Ranks confer seniority in the school and in the aikido community at large, but they are not for comparing individuals to each other. Factors of age, physical ability and limitations must all be respected among individuals. Aikido is for your own development, not a means to compare you to others.
To facilitate your progress each month you will demonstrate your progress and push the edge of your abilities in a monthly tech review. The study of Aikido focuses on developing mastery in a several key areas.
- Fundamental empty hand Aikido technique.
- Application of technique including changing (henka waza) and counter (kaeshi waza) techniques.
- The Aiki Body – correct posture, balance, grounding and internal connection and power generation.
- The use of Aiki ken and jo in ken/jo no tebiki and ken tai ken/jo.
- Ground applications (katame waza) – controlling the situation on the ground and various escapes.
- Ukemi – the ability to receive techniques in a flexible manner through proper rolling and falling.
Students are required to present a brief demonstration every month. The techniques are of your own choosing from the following:
- One kokyuho technique from either gyakuhanmi katatedori, aihanmi katatedori, morotedori, ryotedori, ushiro tekubidori or seated kokyu dosa demonstrating posture, internal balance, breath control, grounding and extension of power.
- One Aikido technique from your next test.
- A change from or a reversal against this technique (5th kyu and up only)
- One ken/jo no tebiki from your next test (5th kyu and up only)
- One ken tai ken/jo from your next test (4th kyu and up only)
- Katame waza – one ground submission plus one sweep or escape (separately or combination)
- Ukemi – one partner or solo ukemi that is appropriate to your rank/experience and physical ability.
Select different techniques each month. Prepare yourself in advance, know what you’re going to show and move directly from one technique to the next. Demonstrate each technique one or two times. Make all your movements clear and concise. Your Tech Review should take about 2-4 minutes.
Technical review will be conducted either:
- The first Tuesday of each month at 8:00pm following the second class
- The first Saturday of each month at 11:00 following the second class.
If you are unable to attend either of these classes then speak with the instructor prior to these times to arrange a different time.
During your review the instructor will make written notes for you on your performance which will include areas in which you are doing well and areas which you can focus on polishing and improving.
Testing is by mutual consent of student and instructor. Testing is held on a regular basis and the test times will be posted at the dojo. Be sure to communicate with the instructor in advance if you intend to test so that you can be fully prepared. Getting a class partner with whom you can prepare is also very helpful. Be sure you are fully prepared to show each technique from your current exam requirements and all techniques from your previous exams. Prior to your test date you must arrange with another student to have them serve as your uke (partner). For lower level kyu tests you will need just one uke. For upper level kyu test and dan (black belt) tests you will need 2, 3 or more uke to assist you.