Gradings yes, Gradings not

Receiving a Dan Grade Certificate

The Training Syllabus of every martial arts organisation is a bare list of grades and techniques. Each syllabus also indicates minimum training times required between a test and the following one, but no further explanation is supplied. That’s not a big help, especially if we consider how delicate this matter is


The Dreamers & the Lazy Bunch
Some of students read the training syllabus nearly every day, mostly focusing their attention on the minimum training times required between tests. These practitioners are in love with themselves and usually dream of wearing a black belt after a few weeks from picking up the art – and actually give up training after a few months, when they throw their uniform in the attic of the house.
Other Martial arts students ignore their training syllabus all together. They consider the syllabus book to be an obscure tangle of weird foreign words and are resigned not to be able to learn their awkward pronunciation – not even over ten years of practice.

The Examiner
The training syllabus doesn’t bind the examiner in his job. He is not obliged to follow it technique by technique if he feels right to do so. When appointed the examiner receives the training syllabus as a guideline. Its purpose is to create a common basic standard in every dojo of the organisation.
Examiners are required to stay as close as possible to the syllabus. However, the only duty for the examiner is to make sure that students respect the specific training times required for their grade.

Training Times
If you add the minimum training times required for all grades up to black belt, in most of best Budo organisation it is possible to reach the Shodan after about 3-4 years and 700-800 hours of continuous training. That is less than two hours of practice a day, every day of the year, Christmas and St. Patrick’s day included. University courses are definitely more demanding.
It is obvious that the minimum times are suitable for nobody. Being realistic, it would be all right if you put in 50% of that time. That way it is possible to reach the black belt grade within about five or six years of steady practice.

If you have practiced hard, grade!

Should I apply?
If you seriously commit yourself to Aikido practice, if you are regularly training and you feel that you are making progress, once you are beyond the minimum training times required, it makes no sense not to apply for the following grading test.
The Technical Board of each organisation has determined the necessary waiting times between tests. These times are not be multiplied by ten in the name of a full technical mastership which a Mudansha (a non-black belt grade) will never obviously have.

What is a Kyu Grade
In Japanese language the words for “black belt” don’t exist. In the old martial styles there was a grading system totally different from today.
Basically, to obtain a Menkyo Kaiden, the final certificate of a school (Ryu), would have meant the mastership of the Art. Lower level certificates were Shoden, Chuden and Okuden, Initial, Median and Deep Transmission of the Art.
When a trainee earned a certificate of a Ryu, he would have been a kind of initiated person of such a school. Roughly speaking, the traditional grading system can be related to the Dan grades system, started up by the Judo founder, Jigoro Kano, at the beginning of this century.
In the old martial styles grading system like the modern Kyu grades and belts of different colours did not exist. Kyu grades are an invention of the 20th century, when, with the huge diffusion of several of these arts, in Japan and then elsewhere, the need was felt to have grades for non experienced people.
Why wasn’t this need felt before? We must remember that in the feudal Japan a new follower of a warrior school would have been already an initiate. Since childhood the Samurai was educated for that purpose. In that manner the whole old Japanese nation for many centuries was in power of the caste of the warriors, namely the Samurai, a chaste closed and not so numerous.
At the end of last century feudal Japan collapsed and there were no more Samurai. The Japanese lost their condition of being ‘initiated people’, becoming similar to those Westerns to who, in a few years, Martial Arts were going to be taught.

The Objective: to become an “Initiate”
Going back to our subject, we could say that the Kyu grades are the ones of the non-initiated people, those who are learning the seven notes willing at some stage to compose their own music.
From this point of view, Kyu level is the equivalent of the Primary and Secondary school for those who aspire to degree, master degree and profession. It will be better to remember that a person needing twelve years to cover the six years course in the National School would be universally considered a sort of half-wit.
Therefore be careful, do not wear yourself out waiting to leave the condition of the ‘non-initiated’, from where most of the Aikido students never come out. That is very sad, because normally, if you commit yourself to whatever activity, you are not supposed to do so to enjoy its surface only, but to catch its essence.
One must practice moderately, keep unbroken continuity, foster a sincere mind while learning orthography, grammar and syntax of his favorite martial art, going through the relevant tests.
This is the work that everyone has to face during the Kyu period and the examinations will be as frequent and continuous as the wish for learning increases.
When this stage is over, one will master the basics and become an ‘initiated’ person. Standing on your own feet, finally, you can make a new start.

In this sense, the real martial art practice is the one starting when you get your Shodan, not to be translated as ‘Black Belt’, but as the ‘Grade of the Beginning’.

Copyright Simone Chierchini ©1991-2011Simone Chierchini
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5 thoughts on “Gradings yes, Gradings not

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