After the Aikido Test: viewpoints from the Students of Kiryu Aikido
From Thinking to Flowing
By Bob Lumley
testing for Gokyu
One of the most important things I took away from testing was not to over-think the technique and to just flow as best I could and let my body remember the hundreds (if not thousands) of times it has gone through the technique over the past year.
I remember before the test when John-san was practicing with me, I confused myself on Shomen-Uchi Ikkyo Ura because I was second-guessing myself as to where my feet should go. Once I stopped overanalyzing the technique and did what I had been practicing before, I became more comfortable and felt a stronger flow.
Another lesson re-learned is that waiting for one's performance is more stressful than the actual performance itself.
I saw the importance of the uke's role in testing as well as training. Les-san's role as my uke was great. His experience, knowledge, and attitude certainly contributed to the success of my testing.
A Beginner’s View of Testing
By Keith Gremban
testing for Yonkyu
It’s been a few days since Aikido testing. What am I left with? How do I feel? Did I embarrass myself? Did I embarrass my seniors? Did I embarrass my Sensei?
Testing is a part of life. We’ve all taken tests since the day we entered elementary school. Yet, at least to me, there is a big difference between school testing and Aikido testing.
In school, each of us tests in private, and our answers are known only to ourselves and our graders. Our confusion, our stumbling for the answer, our false starts and mistakes are hidden from view. The scores are confidential. Success--or failure--is personal and private.
Aikido testing is different. In Aikido, as in other martial arts, we are tested in the open, exposed to the critical eyes of our instructors, seniors, peers, and juniors. Our performance is public, and our hesitations and mistakes are laid out for all to see. But this is as it should be. Aikido is a martial art. Aikido is about fighting. Aikido is about ignoring the urge to panic and instead reacting appropriately to the situation.
I’ve practiced other martial arts and taken tests before. It was easy to be calm and collected while sitting on the side of the mat, waiting for my turn. But, when my turn came and I moved onto the mat with John-san, who was my uke for the test, I felt my pulse increase and my muscles start to twitch. Despite telling myself that this was no big deal, that everyone in the room had been through testing and understood the pressure, I found myself getting nervous.
I tried to focus on my uke, but the faces and eyes around me clamored for my attention. The first technique was called out--Shomen-Uchi Ikkyo--and I was my own worst critic as I executed the technique stiffly and robotically.
“Crap!” “That was awful!” “I must look like a real beginner!” were among the thoughts that went through my mind.
Fortunately, John-san is a senior student and in good condition. He popped up off the mat and came at me again and again without giving me time to think about what I was doing.
It worked! Before long, I was too focused on execution to worry about who was watching, let alone what they were thinking. I have no idea how my techniques looked to the audience-- all I know is that I executed the techniques as naturally as I could. Hey--I didn’t get hit!
I’m looking forward to seeing the video of testing so that I can judge my performance for myself.
An interesting discovery for me was realizing how much I could learn by watching other Aikidoka in their tests. In class, we get to watch Sensei execute techniques with the uke chosen for that technique. Then, we pair off and try the techniques with our partner.
In testing, I got to see how other students--ranging from beginners to black-belt candidates--execute techniques. I was amazed at how much I could learn from observation. Seeing the same technique executed by a number of individuals at different levels of experience allowed me to observe subtle differences that I would otherwise have never noticed. I’m looking forward to applying my observations in future practices.
Testing is stressful--no argument about that. But, the benefits outweigh the negatives. Testing helps prepare us for the mindset that will be needed in any fighting situation, and lets each of us understand where our strengths and weaknesses lie.
By Kara Stewart
testing for Nikyu
Right after the test (ok, I admit: during the test) I was compiling quite a lengthy mental list of things I need to work on. Shuffling less in my suwari waza and hanmi handachi techniques and moving with more of the elegance I see in my Sensei and Sempai. Getting my Sankyo grip right the first time. Improving the vital entering aspect of my Irimi-Nage. Throwing out, not down. Being continually aware of Keith-san, my good-natured uke for the test. Bringing Zanshin to my work from the time we bow in to the time we bow out.
All good things, all things I will be working on in the coming days, months, and years.
As the days pass after the test, though, the technique list has quietly flown away, leaving space for all sorts of life lessons to come roost in my mind. Some notions fly in, barely slowing their wings as they chirp to get my attention before flying out the open back window. Others land on the top perch and start walking around, inspecting the place--looking for the nest they can spend some time in.
Taking care of this moment is one lesson that’s settling in for a lengthy stay.
During the test, I reminded myself to slow down and enjoy this moment. This wasn’t a race to simply check techniques off my list and get them over with. It was a chance to spend a few moments doing something I love with people who share this passion.
What a gift, I realized. Being able to test means I have two strong legs and two working arms, eyes to see my uke, ears to hear the swish of feet across the mats and the slap of an outstretched hand in a breakfall. What a blessing.
My test wasn’t perfect…but perhaps it was. In those few minutes on the mat, I learned more deeply that this moment is all I have. I can’t know what tomorrow will bring, much less the next hour. So for this moment, I will be present with what I’m doing, cherishing whatever opportunity is happening right now.
Whether it’s entering more deeply for Shomen-Uchi Irimi Nage, writing an article for work, spending time with a friend over lunch, or enjoying the company of my horses, this moment is the one that matters.
When the test was over, I yearned to bow in and test again, right then. Not so I could do better on a few techniques, but so I could spend a few more moments practicing Aikido for the joy of it.
It’s here. It’s gone. So this moment, and the next and the next, I’ll choose to spend as wisely as I can.
Taking Things for Granted, Or How Did I Get Rug Burns on My Elbows?
By John Price
uke for Yonkyu test
At the end of testing this time around, I noticed my elbows felt like I’d scraped them across a carpeted floor over and over. Seeing as how there was no carpeting on the floor of the dojo, it had to be the fabric from the inside sleeves of my gi that rubbed my elbows raw.
I was Keith-san’s uke, and one of the techniques he did was Shomen-Uchi Ikkyo. This means pretty simple ukemi: you slide onto your stomach and then your side as the nage takes you down to the mat. No high-flying breakfalls from koshi waza here. Just follow the nage’s lead and go to the ground. Simple.
But then, if it’s that simple, why were my elbows complaining? I’d done ukemi from Ikkyo (and its brothers Nikyo, Sankyo, and Yonkyo) for several years now. Even when taken down rapidly by the senior students and Sensei, I’d never rubbed my elbows raw (nor really suffered any “injury” or pain…oh, there was the time my knee ground into the mat but that’s a story for another day). So what happened this time?
Lately my focus has been on my ukemi. It needs a lot of work. Breakfalls in particular are something I’m working on--my feet just don’t want to leave the mat. But until now, I’ve not thought a lot about simple ukemi from techniques like Ikkyo or Nikyo. After all, that ukemi was simple. What I needed to work on were the bigger things: my rotation point, following the nage’s lead, blending correctly.
My elbows have got me thinking differently. All those “bigger” things are there in “simple” ukemi from Ikkyo. I need to work on them there as well. I’ve taken this “simple” ukemi a bit too much for granted, looking past some of the basics that always need reviewing.
Truly, the bigger lesson learned here (or rather reaffirmed, as deep down I already knew it but hadn’t focused much on it lately) is that even the “simple” and “basic” things in Aikido need to be constantly revisited and looked at again with fresh eyes. Never take them for granted. There’s a life lesson here as well (isn’t that always so).
Testing Outside the Dojo
By Les Steveson
testing for Shodan
I like the reason behind testing. Testing not only prepares us for the dojo, but it also prepares us for challenges outside the dojo.
If we as students have no goals other than to accumulate time to make it to the next grade, we’re cheating ourselves in several ways. First, if that’s our mindset, we’re not really committing to the daily practice of a martial art. Testing pushes us to challenge ourselves to learn and improve our techniques and learn the language. Simply accumulating time will not offer that.
Also, a martial art should challenge us mentally, physically, and tactically. Through hours and hours of practice, we become good and can mentally push through anything. This sets us up to deal with physical challenges that also may present themselves.
A martial art at times is "hard" on the body and the mind. Just think of one time that you have hurt yourself and then pushed through. Without martial arts training, you may not have been able to do that. Of course, if we’re physically unable to workout, then we must step aside for awhile. Being unable to practice is when the mental preparation and discipline sets in. It is sometimes difficult to get hurt. We still we want to practice, practice, practice, but in reality we should be resting.
Through my years studying different martial arts, I’ve found it is always good to test for rank. The process brings the Sensei, students, and families together and makes them stronger. The reason is simple: because there is a bond of trust, loyalty, and respect within the martial arts community. Everyone should respect everyone just for the simple fact that they are a human being and everyone has something to offer.
I have a final thought on the benefits of the tactical challenges presented by studying a martial art. I believe we are always martial artists, whether we’re in the dojo or not. A lot of people who practice martial arts sometimes forget that even when they take their gi off, they still should be practicing martial arts, no matter where they are.
It's easy to see an example of this.
The next time you go into a convenience store, notice how many people are unaware of what is going on around them. Look at them and think how easily they could become a victim of a crime because of their poor mental, physical, and tactical mindset. The committed study of a martial art could help these people develop more awareness and a safe mindset in their everyday lives. In my practice--whether it’s for an upcoming test or during the next Aikido class--if I plan for the unexpected, the unexpected never happens.