Written by Tatsunari Tachibana, Yoshinkan 4-dan(Tozando)
What is Aikido?
This is a question I have numerous times asked the people at the various Dojo where I have the honor to instruct, yet every time I asked this question, I’m met with silence. Although it might seem to be simple to answer at first glance, the question is much deeper than that and I actually think it’s a very hard question to answer myself. The founder of Aikido, Ueshiba Morihei Sensei once famously explained that Aikido is not something that can be expressed using the brush or your mouth, it has to be comprehended.
Also, except for certain factions, Aikido is not about competition, unlike other martial arts such as Kendo or Judo. This is because Aikido detests violence and puts more importance to the spirit of harmony and love.
Because of this, some people might find it difficult to motivate a reason and often finds themselves lost about how to approach each Keiko.
This is where the Dan grades come into the picture. As with all types of Budo, you will spend your time training with a teacher whom will guide you on your way, and as you listen to their teachings, you will continue to improve one Keiko at the time. A good time to have your skill and spirit evaluated objectively by many Sensei, so that you can find out at what stage you are currently on, is during the promotional examinations. As the conditions for each and every Dan grade is decided, it’s a very good way to confirm the results of the effort you have put into each Keiko you have done up until then.
The promotional exams for Aikido are not there for you to test how strong you have gotten or to show off how effective your techniques are. They are there to not only test your technical proficiency, but also how much you have matured mentally.
There is a saying that goes “正勝、吾勝、勝速日” (Masakatsu Agatsu Katsuhayabi – True victory is victory against oneself, victory at the speed of light!), but I think that in Aikido it’s important to “Win against one’s own selfishness with humility”. At the examination, it’s important to not only execute the teachings and techniques passed down to you from your teacher, but it’s also necessary to attend with gratitude and respect in mind towards the Sensei who are judging and the partners who perform Ukemi for you.
I think that even after the promotional exam, it’s necessary to have a character that is appropriate for your respective Dan grade. Even once everything is over and you have gained a new Dan grade it’s important to not become stagnant and continue to train your spirit and skill through more Keiko and look towards the next goal.
Among those of you who read this, there might also be some who are troubled since you have trouble passing the promotional exam and want to know if there is any good tips for passing the exam.
“How do I become strong?”
There is only one answer, through hard practice.