TESTING RATIONALE AND OBJECTIVES
Here we continue to look at the levels and aspects of practice in Takemusu Aikido as set out by Lewis Bernaldo de Quiros and how these relate to the TAE grading syllabus. Before proceeding further, please read parts 1 and 2 of ‘Levels of practice, ability and understanding in Takemusu Aikido’ and part 1 of this article, all of which can be found on this blog.
The TAE syllabus can be understood as both a roadmap to acquiring the basic techniques and as a check on one’s level of progress in the understanding and embodiment of the Principles of Aikido. Technique and Principle should be understood as two interrelated aspects with Technique the outer form and Principle the inner dynamic that gives life and meaning to the practice.
The grades can be broadly divided into four main areas as discussed below:
6 – 4 kyu
3 – 1 kyu
Shodan – Yondan
Godan and above
6TH – 4TH KYU
The emphasis at this entry level is on developing ukemi and footwork plus a clear sense of direction and basic movement skill (front and back, entering and turning) in the context of basic solid technique (kihon waza) both with weapons and empty-handed training. Attacks at the ‘grasping’ level are emphasised (katate, morote, ryote, and kata dori) and the basic format for Aikido training, that of a ritualised agreement (kata) where attacker and receiver take turns practicing prearranged techniques (nage and uke format), is established.
At the body level the focus is on coordinating hands and feet and relaxing the body weight downwards into the ground as the principle of being balanced is emphasised throughout.
3RD – 1ST KYU
Ukemi, footwork and being balanced remain the primary focus points. Once the periphery of the body (i.e., hands and feet) are more coordinated and the weight is more ‘underneath’ (underside), further Principles such as being whole and coordinated and being centered are explored, along with the Relational Principles of non-resistance, joining and following (awase), which receive more focused attention.
The objective by 1st kyu is to have a clear idea as to the basic techniques as well as a clear idea of the primary principles governing body use, relationship and the generation of power (kokyu ryokyu). 1st kyu is essentially a pre-test for shodan and thus the requirements for this next exam should be consulted when preparing for 1st kyu.
SHODAN – YONDAN
SHODAN: KATAI (SOLID)
Shodan literally translates as ‘first step’ and at this first level, the emphasis is on the solid development of the kihon (katai kihon) forms. Technique should be solid and clear, grounded, heavy and balanced. The basic principles of body use (being grounded, being integrated and balanced, being centered and calm) and the basic relational principles (listening, joining, connecting and leading) are not just abstract ideas, but can be distinguished in one’s experience, albeit at a ‘first level’.
Shodan is the culmination of the training and development undergone through the kyu ranks. As such, at this level, the following aspects, which are introduced to the student form the very beginning of training, should form a solid framework for practice and all future development:
Uke-nage format of training: Kata is understood as a cooperative effort where uke gives nage measured pressure in his attacks and nage measures the power of his techniques in accordance with uke's ability to take ukemi. In this sense, this training format is a cooperative engagement and precludes competition. There are no winners or losers, only learners.
Levels: Basic solid to more flowing dynamic with everything in between.
Awase: What harmonising with an opponent ‘is’ and is ‘not’. An understanding of the Principle of Non-Resistance.
Kokyu ryokyu: ‘Whole body power’. The power we are seeking to develop in Aikido is a ‘whole body power’ generated from our connection with the ground, directed through our centre and expressed through our hands (or any other peripheral contact point).
This power, and to the extent that we are able to generate it, should be clearly distinguished from using part of our body in isolation to bring about a result (commonly known as ‘forcing’).
The key focus here is Intention: That is, to understand that Aikido is not a means whereby opponents are simply defeated, but that it is a martial art whose ideal is the restoration of harmony beyond the opposites of winning and losing. The ultimate aim of training in Aikido is not to be just an effective fighter, but to not have to fight at all. However, this ideal is not attained by avoiding conflict and hard training, but by entering it directly and going through and thus beyond it. It must not be forgotten that to be able to overcome an aggressive adversary with Aiki entails that the martial and mental skill of the aikidoka are superior to those of the attacker. In this sense Aikido is clearly a Budo.
NIDAN: YAWARAKAI (FLEXIBILITY / SUPPLENESS)
The emphasis remains on the kihon solid level, but the ‘hardness’ and ‘sharpness’ that were more predominant in the techniques at shodan, have their ‘edges taken off’. The exam is essentially the same as for shodan with a few technical additions, but now the form should be ’smoother’, more flexible and supple in execution. Balance and connection are ‘deeper’. The development from shodan is one of going toward more ‘internal’ aspects in both feeling and hence technical execution.
SANDAN: NAGARE (FLOWING)
After the first two levels, which focus on clear solid basics at the static level, the emphasis at sandan is on taking the ‘yawarakai’ quality developed at nidan into movement. The main issue here is not only the ‘heavy underneath’ quality of one’s movement with its inherent sense of deeper balance, but also being able to maintain connection at three fundamental levels: (i) with the ground, (ii) with oneself and (iii) with the other – and to know when connection at any one of these levels is lost, and hence make the appropriate corrections (and reconnections) in real time.
YONDAN: KI NO NAGARE (FLOW OF KI)
Yondan is the last rank for which extensive technical examinations are carried out. Upon reaching yondan, in essence, the first stage of basic training, has been completed (although this never ends as such). The instructor, who up to this point, has been serving as a guide and ‘mirror’ for the student’s experience and learning process, is no longer necessary for further development. The student can now mirror his or her own experience and evaluate accurately the feedback received from his or her actions. He or she, has learned ‘how to learn’.
From a technical perspective, at yondan one should have a detailed knowledge of the Aikido technical repertoire, plus a full understanding of the various levels of practice (kihon through to ki no nagare, plus, henka, oyo, and kaeshi waza and Takemusu Aikido) in addition to a firm understanding of the principles that give the techniques their power and the art its meaning.
Yondan completes the basic training level of the art. For godan requirements, please see the TAE syllabus that can be found at https://traditionalaikido.eu/gradings.html