The Testing Milestone

My dojo along with a few other dojos in the Colorado area (Tanshinjuku & CastleRock Aikido) have just finished testing this past weekend. For each of the students it is a important milestone in their progression in the art of Aikido. You can see and feel that all of the students that tested put in a lot of hard work, thought and growth in their techniques and basic understanding of the art. At the end of the day however we must all get back to the dojo and continue our trek down the path.

For some students it is very hard to get past the feeling of focusing their whole effort into preparing for the test. Also, a lot of instructors base their curriculum around these testing and narrow the focus of the student and the classes. I think of testing as one of the school’s many tools. This tool is to be used along with many other types of tools that we use to shape and form the basis of learning for each of the students. Testing is a very narrow focus in the scheme of Aikido. Yes, basics should always be focused and considered in our daily training, but it should not block our learning and our mental model of Aikido.

Aikido is a large expansive art that has so many components, techniques, and levels that to put all of Aikido into a few techniques for testing is impossible. As an instructor I believe the small set of techniques that are tested upon to one show that the student understands the names and execution of the techniques. Furthermore, can demonstrate their understanding of the techniques for the practice and reflection they have put into their training. If you see five people do a basic technique like Shomen-uchi ikkyo or a more advanced technique like Irimi-nage you should be able to see subtle differences in the way each of the students employ the techniques.

As a student you should always be looking through all the technique and try to learn the names of the techniques of all the levels below you and attempt to learn them for a few levels above. Then when your instructor teaches a technique during a training session you recognize the name and make an effort to focus on learning and practicing one or two distinctions that practice. Then next time that technique is taught try to work on what you learned or were working on from the last session and then pick one one or two more. So on a so forth. Over time you will have many ideas and concepts for a technique that you can then put into your daily practice. For instructors I think that we can use the testing process as one of our tools to help the students move forward along their paths. However, I believe we should not make this a focus for all their training. It may take a little longer, but the students with a broader understanding of the whole of Aikido will be much stronger and adjusted in the end.

– What do other people (students, instructors) think of testing, and how it helps or hurts training?

–ps congratulations to all the students who tested. Keep up the hard training!

Comments (2)

KaraSeptember 12th, 2008 at 2:37 pm

For me, testing is sort of like the aperture of a camera. I appreciate the focused practices leading up to the test, and I appreciate expanding that view after the test.

Because Aikido is so vast and virtually infinite, I appreciate focusing on a discrete list of techniques for a little while as we gear up for a test. I feel this smaller list helps me get these few techniques a little clearer, a little cleaner, and a little deeper. (And hopefully I can apply that learning to other techniques.)

I feel this smaller focus helps me prepare for that small moment of time on my Aikido journey that is the test, and I appreciate that.

When the test is over, however, I appreciate getting back to the vastness of Aikido practice and exploring everything else that my teacher wants to share. Not just a handful of techniques, but the nuances, intent, and reasoning behind why we do what we do and why we’re training the way we’re training in this martial art.

This isn’t the best analogy… but for me testing and the preparation leading up to the test is sort of like eating only one food group for three meals a day for two months — and preparing that food the same way every time. It requires discipline and focus, both good things. Then, when the test is over, I look forward to being able to eat fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy, and a dessert now and then. It’s like the whole world opens up again.

I also feel very strongly that any progress I might make leading up to testing is hard fought and hard won. If I’ve progressed, I worked hard to do so. I don’t want to let that go. Instead, I want to build from that place and continue progressing, not backslide and have to start over. That is just too much work and I guess I’m lazy!

So I do my best to keep working and improving from that point – also fully knowing there will be ups and downs along the way.

It is also fun to look back at the techniques required in past tests and realize that my thought as I prepared for Gokyu, for example — “my goodness, this is a challenge and I have a lot of work ahead of me” — is the exact same thought I have as I prepare for my current test, whatever level that may be. I imagine that’ll never change, and that’s good. There’s always more to learn, refine, and improve.

John PriceSeptember 19th, 2008 at 12:59 pm

It’s interesting to think in terms of goals for Aikido and testing.

Of course, testing sets our sights on very defined goals. It gives us reason to reach for and obtain these goals. And to congratulate each other for how well we achieve our goals.

And as Kara-san points out, we take the time to focus on a specific set of goals. To concentrate on them, refine our techniques around them, we make strides in progress that are hard fought and don’t want to slip back on…

Being able to perform (or at least perform better) under pressure is often one of those goals. Testing has the capacity to show us how we’ll do. Sometimes it’s nothing more than test ‘anxiety” but sometimes its also the pressure we put on ourselves to do well, to represent our dojo, fellow students, and Sensei in the best way we can. Our heart rate will climb, breath quicken, movements get smaller and faster. We know this will happen so we work hard to prepare for it. We slow down our techniques, make bigger movements… We focus on our breathing…

But all these testing goals are just a small part of the grand scheme aren’t they? If we only use testing to set our goals in Aikido how limiting that would be. Plus, I dare think that some students would soon find it not to be enough and drop out.

What each of us needs to do is determine our goals along the way and not only use testing goals. Whether it’s something as straightforward as learning to breakfall for the first time or more nebulous, such as “I will learn to blend better with my nage” these are the goals that will push us forward. As long as we have these goals and work to achieve them we’ll continue to grow.

Testing is a great way to set and focus on goals but it definitely shouldn’t be the only way.

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