Traditional Aikido Europe (TAE) – Grading Syllabus and Rational (Part 3/3) - By Sensei de Quiros


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’ that can be found in this blog.


Mind and body are not considered as being separate in the martial arts, but as inseparable aspects of our experience. The progression through the ranks as described in Part 2 of this article is also a progression of greater sensitivity, not only on the physical level, but on the mental level as well. Specifically, we seek to develop and deepen the following basic mental states (among others):

  • Isshin. To be able to focus attention intensely, making a ‘feeling-connection’ with our partner’s whole body.

  • Zanshin. To be able to maintain a broad awareness which registers the changes in our environment beyond the immediate engagement demands of the moment. This awareness should take in and fill out the six basic directions: above and below, front and back, left and right.

  • Mushin. To be able to remain calm and clear under pressure. To appreciate that ‘calmness’ is not an action we take to manipulate ourselves, but is our natural state once reactivity is abandoned.

Reactivity’ here is defined as a defensive reflex based on self-preservation which does not take into account the broader parameters of the situation. An action that does take these into account in a balanced and responsible way and is hence a more intelligent action, we call a ‘response’. Aikido techniques, born as they are from an ethical position of seeking resolution to conflict rather than increasing it, are examples of ‘inspired responses’.

These three ‘states’ that consciousness can take (among many others); focus, openness and calmness, should be felt as increasingly accessible as we progress in the art, particularly at the more advanced levels. These are states we access regularly in daily life, but in Aikido we seek to develop them further by honing them under pressure and making them more accessible under stress. An increasingly refined consciousness of the perceptual distinctions within the following domains of relational experience of an engagement:

  • The physical aspects: weight, centre (high or low, diffuse or concentrated, contained or expressed, etc), distance, angles, direction, speed, momentum, ‘body-feel’ (the feeling of density or lightness within our own and our partner’s body), sensitivity to ‘chain-locking’ our partners articulatory system within techniques, etc.

  • The energetic aspects: vibrant and full or weak and dull. Expanded or contracted. Sharp or soft. Low or high, etc.

  • The mental/emotional aspects: present and focused or absent and/or dissipated. Calm or agitated. Aggressive, defensive, defeated, afraid, confused, hidden, etc.

None of the above relational distinctions are new as we perceive them in daily life all the time. Our task in Aikido is to become more conscious of these aspects and not to make the assumption that our levels of ability and degree of sensitivity in these matters is a given and is therefore ‘fixed’. As we progress in the Art and as our trajectory of development becomes more ‘internal', it becomes clear that the endless work of improving our technique is dependent and driven by the changes we make on the more subtle mental and energetic aspects of our experience.


The kyu ranks introduce and build up an understanding of the principles of Aikido via the basic techniques both at kihon as well as flowing levels. This will bring the student to the ‘first step’ of shodan where all the basic elements for further growth in Aikido are in place. The testing emphasis underlying the first four dan ranks is as follows with the more senior ranks (godan and above) deepening the ability and knowledge attained through these levels.

  • kata kihon: hard solid basic

  • yawarakai kihon: supple basic

  • nagare: flowing

  • ki no nagare: flow of ki

These four distinctions within the traditional two levels of kihon and ki no nagare practice were often used by Saito Morihiro Sensei in his teachings and represent a progression of qualitative development when practice is done correctly and mindfully.

The main difference between the last two levels is that at the nagare level the emphasis is on a solid ‘thick’ fluid connection maintained throughout movement. At the last level this connection is further refined as to timing, distance (ma-ai) and connection (ki musubi) such that the connection and control from centre to centre can seem almost ‘without physical contact’ at times as the energetic and mental aspects of control and connection are emphasised. This is the most difficult level to explain well. The experience with Saito Morihiro Sensei was that simply upon initiating an attack the feeling was that of being instantly ‘smothered’ and unable to move freely as Sensei would seem to have immediate control over uke’s centre and intent.

This is obviously a very advanced level of connection and control, and at yondan, there should be ‘glimpses’ of this ability, which should give a sense of direction and possibility for future development.

The Founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, has further illustrated these qualities with the following poem:

Techniques employ four qualities

that reflect the nature of our world.

Depending on circumstance

you should be

hard as a diamond,

flexible as a willow,

smooth flowing like water,

or as empty as space.

- Morihei Ueshiba

Development in Aikido is endless and the above TAE syllabus, with its various levels, are merely guidelines in a process of growth. Beyond yondan, aikido is a matter of continuing insights into Aiki, both in regular training at one’s dojo and in the greater dojo of everyday life. The further one develops in Aikido the more one leaves behind any ideas or ambitions as to attainment of any kind. ‘Beginner’s mind’ (shoshin), humility and gratitude are the real hallmarks and fruits of sustained, committed and sincere practice in Aikido:

There are no contests in Aikido.

A true warrior is invincible because he contests with nothing.

Defeat means to defeat the mind of contention that we harbour within.

- Morihei Ueshiba

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