014) Week of December 1, 2008: Portals and Paths

This past week six students took and passed their respective tests.  They ranged in age from 11 to 60 years of age.    Their accomplishments are as follows:

9th Kyu Test

Alexander Isaacson

Zander Bolgar

7th Kyu Test

Seth Feder

6th Kyu Test

Kyle Abrams

5th Kyu Test

Eugene Spagnuolo

Shawn Bader

3rd Kyu Test

Rene Guarnaluce-Arce

Studying Aikido at Aikido Arts of Shin-Budo Kai is simply one of many paths that people can take in their lives.  I am always deeply honored that students have chosen this particular path.  The journey will is life-long and involves a lot of twists, turns, steep ascents, precipices, and portals.  Here is a brief guide to this path.

9th Kyu – 6th Kyu

These tests are for the children only.  In many respects, these tests begin as “budo basics” and  Aikido techniques are slowly enter into the requirements.  The initial requirements focus on the foundations upon which all martial arts rest upon.  They learn how to stand, walk, move, and fall in a manner that is safe and has “martial-arts integrity.”  My concern is not teaching a child to look “cool” “martial” or any other useless facade.  My concern in helping a child to develop core body strength, flexibility and centered movement, while learning how to remain safe.  These foundational skills can be used by a child in almost any physical arena. An academic equivalent to what is being taught would be pre-school primer skills.

In many respects, children who have not yet taken their 9th kyu tests are dipping their toes into the water.  Passing their first test is in many respects a turning point.  They either begin the process of being dedicated students, or move on to try other things in their lives.  For the students who remain, it is a clear sign that they are really students in this school and are in pursuit of something that they find value in (supported by the parents as well).  For the children who move on to other things,  the test certificate is simply an artifact of time spent at a particular activity.

As the children progress through the ranks, the budo basics that they have been developing are woven into the fabric of the curriculum of techniques that are required learning at Aikido Arts of Shin-Budo Kai.  The expectations that I place upon simply increase.  As senior students, they are expected to set examples for the less experienced students.  This means that they model how to learn serious information in a fun environment.  They are to model control, humility, caring, while executing techniques at increasing levels of skill and proficiency.  Once a child has passed the 6th Kyu test, they have now entered into the realm of requirements that all teen and adult students are required to master.  This may mean that the child simply requires more hours than a typical adult to master certain techniques.  This school does not sell black belts!  Black belts can be purchased in a variety of stores and essentially have no real meaning.  This school will never function as a McDojo, seeking to “advance’ a child for the sake of money and the child (and family) needs for external trappings of apparent achievements.

5th Kyu – 1st Kyu

5th Kyu and 4th Kyu are tests that cover a limited range of Aikido techniques.  For adult students, the budo primer skills that they and the children are taught, will be demonstrated through the execution of the techniques.  The first test that adults take, is typically a larger psychological hurdle than a physical hurdle.  Unlike children, adults are acutely concerned with how they look, what they can accomplish and how they perceive that they are doing.  There is typically a sense of relief at the end of this test, not because of the requirements, but because of the pressure that this person has put to bear upon him/herself!  The 4th kyu test does not have the same psychological burden as the previous test.  There are simply more techniques and I am looking to see a “cleaner” execution of those techniques.

3rd Kyu- 1st Kyu

Weapons criteria are now introduced into the curriculum.  First, the use of the Bokken is introduced, followed by the Jo.  As the Aikido techniques become more numerous and the level of execution is considerably higher, the student must now demonstrate “budo basics” with weapons.  The biggest “achievement” during this process is the requirement of wearing a hakama (the black pantoon that is worn on top of the dogi) after passing the 3rd Kyu.  Each test requires both a quantitative and qualitative leap from the previous test.

Dan Rankings

1st degree black belt is called “Shodan.”  “Sho” means beginner!  In essence, everything up until this point has been like learning the letters in the alphabet.  This is called “Kihon Waza”, which essentially looks for the mastery of the basics.  The person who passes this first dan test is essentially demonstrating an ability to easily form words and put them into sentences that make sense!  In many respects, the learning process has JUST BEGUN.  Unfortunately in this country, people mistakenly look at having achieved a rank of Shodan connotes some degree of mastery within a particular martial art.  This is both a dangerous and arrogant way to think.  As a person progress through the dan ranks, mastery within a particular art is developing.

Tests are going to be one easily viewed portal along the path of Aikido with Aikido Arts of Shin-Budo Kai.  Many students are already discovering that these portals are not the important ones (that is unless you are solely focused on collecting artifacts along the path of life).  The real portals that students are discovering emerge in the real process of development within the study of Aikido.  It typically emerges as a frustration in trying to replicate a particular type of movement or skill set.  Suddenly, this movement or skill set becomes easy to do and something that was a struggle just happens without much thought or effort.  The portal that was passed opens up a new and exciting path.  This short-lived joy is replaced by the new emerging struggle of the next portal that becomes evident along the way.  This is pattern that tends to be part of life itself.  Each path has undiscovered portals that we toil to pass through followed the amazement of what lies in front of us.  Then the struggle begins again!

I for one, relish this path of Aikido.  I am deeply honored that some of you have chosen to allow me to be a guide along your own personal path in Aikido.

Marc Abrams Sensei

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