The Dan Exams

Dan Grade Exams Need of a different vision
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Dan Grade Exams
Need of a different vision.

The subject of exams has always been a controversial topic. How to properly assess a candidate taking into account the various factors to consider? How to assess in the candidate his/her maturity in Aikido and technical knowledge, without neglecting other factors such as age, innate aptitudes, perseverance, interest, the place that the practice of Aikido occupies in his/her life, etc.?

The things that move us to the practice of Aikido and starting and continuing the path of this martial art have at everybody points of coincidence. But each person is a different world of motivations, personalities and characters.

The simplest way would be to limit degree passes to a mere matter of skills and knowledge. How to pass the Driving License.

But this would make us underestimate Aikido as a practice of budo. The assessment of the level of an aikidoka has little to do with the issuance of a license that allows or entitles you to something.

We would have, if so, to withdraw the card (in this case the degree they give) to those who are over a certain age and are no longer able to do what they did when they were examined.

Definitely the passes of degree are therefore a difficult task.

It is assumed that in Aikido, ultimately, technical prowess should be contingent on mental and moral preparation, and all this, with the passage of time and maturation, would finally place Aikidoka at the level of high dexterity and spirituality.

After this preface I would like to speak about the «spirit» of the degrees. How we should take our individual progress as aikidokas and that indicator of our level that would be the grades and exams through which we reach them.
I think this is something of the utmost importance.

When we pay our attention on the aikido tests or exams, the first and main obstacle that we encounter comes from, how could it be otherwise when dealing with human issues, is the ego.

The Dan Exams

This is not a philosophical or spiritual treatise for aikidokas, so I will not elaborate, but it is my
opinion that we should radically change our view on the subject of grade exams.
I only pretend to give a few simple tips. A new look. I do it from experience. And I hope these tips
will serve, at least among the members of TAS, those who consider they can be of use for them
and will want to meditate on them.
But I warn you from the outset that they will only serve sincere aikidokas. I do not say more.
In my opinion, the proper way to consider grade exams is to think of them as a test that will indicate the level we are at.

Said with a metaphor, let’s imagine that our way in Budo is like sailing on a boat. A boat called Aikido. A ship in which we have enrolled to reach a harbor. In reality that supposed port does not exist, but it is necessary that we imagine it because that will encourage us to navigate, which is what it is about. Because that navigation, if it is sincere, will transform us. The harbor is an incentive.

Sailors used a very important device on their travels, the sextant. This allowed them to position themselves.
We would have to see the exams like the sextant that we use to know where we are in the sea.

What would become of us if we only use the sextant that we have to hang it on the wall, admire how beautiful it is and feel proud to show it to people.
If the instrument that tells us where our ship is in the sea is broken, if it doesn’t work, we will be irretrievably lost, and we won’t be able to steer our ship anywhere.

I had occasion to see people angry for having failed an exam. But not with themselves, but with the examining panel.
The sextant of the Aikido ship indicated that they were in a place that was not the one they imagined they were. I have even seen courts that bow down to these anger and give them «another chance» the next day … who told the candidates «yes, you are where you thought you were» … but it was a lie.

When this happens the route is lost.
So let’s take the test for what it should be. A means to get on our way. If I know where I am, I will know what to do next, what routes to take from that precise point where I am.

Another consideration that seems important to me on this matter and that would transform everything:
Not all people travel the same route. Not everyone takes their navigation the same way.
The Aikido ship is very adaptable.
And I tell you the truth, it seems good to me that it is so.

There are sailors who sincerely seek to reach the other side of the earth. And it’s OK. They dedicate enormous efforts, troubles and work in navigation.
Others want, with all rights, to have a boat and enjoy that sea that fascinates them, the sun and the breeze when they leave on Sundays a few miles from the port.
And it’s not bad. Although purists may say otherwise.
Each one has his/her idiosyncrasies and its objectives. Each one his/her priorities.

But taking into account these differences, what we should not pretend is that when we use the sextant, it indicates that we are all at Cape Horn.
In this society, the idea of being the best and always comparing ourselves with others prevails. But the path of Aikido is something personal, and it would be a bad thing if we didn’t take it that way.
Some aikidoka should accept that their ship is where it is, and that that is fine, and that having, for example, a first or second dan is great and fits how they approached their outings to the immense ocean of Aikido.

Juan Carlos Aguilar – 6º Dan J.A.A – Shihandai J.A.A

Tomiki Aikido Spain

Juan Carlos Aguilar
Juan Carlos Aguilar

6º Dan Aikido (Japan Aikido Association).
6º Dan Tomiki Aikibudo y Maestro (Federación Española de Lucha).
1º Dan Iaido (British Kendo Association).
Presidente de Tomiki Aikido Spain, Shihandai de la JAA.
Director de la International Tomiki Aikido Federation.
Profesor de Tomiki Aikido en Shidokan Spain Honbu Dojo y Daikan Dojo.
Pintor de pintura de tradición occidental.
Pintor de Sumi-e y practicante de caligrafía japonesa.

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