Rank in USAF Aikido is not easily or quickly attained. Unlike some more commercial Martial Arts organizations, promotions in the USAF are not looked upon primarily as a source of revenue. There are six Kyu ranks preceding Black Belt. In most USAF dojo, including Central and Rolla Aikido, there are no colored belts associated with these ranks; practitioners wear the white belt until achieving Shodan. Sixteen has been established as the youngest a person may test for Shodan.
Each rank requires a specific minimum of training days (counted from the last test) to be eligible for testing. It should be emphasized that this is a minimum and does not automatically confer the right to test. That right is solely at the discretion of the Instructor and it is considered extremely bad form to request a promotion. After moving up through the six Kyu ranks, you may enter into the Dan or Black Belt ranks. Theoretically, there are ten Dan ranks. The path to Shodan (1st degree Black Belt) takes, on average, approximately six to seven years of serious, frequent practice. <ost people therefore take ten or so years to get there. While this may seem a long time in our fast track, short attention span culture, it represents a commitment to the art which goes beyond mere technical proficiency. Testing of Kyu ranks are overseen by Shidoin and Fukushidoin at the local level. All Kyu rankings are recorded, and for each, a Kyu Certificate is issued by the USAF administration. Upon passing your first test you will receive a Yukyusha book (yukyusha = one having rank). You should maintain good records and remember to present your book when attending seminars as this record will impact your fulfilling some future Kyu rank testing requirements. Bring your Yukyusha book along with you when visiting other dojo.
Yudansha (one having dan rank, a black belt) testing is conducted most often by Shihan members of the Technical Committee, usually at one of the major annual Camps or Seminars. You are encouraged to attend testing even if you are not eligible so that you can observe the level of training that is expected at each rank. Testing provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate their ability to perform under pressure. As one moves up in rank, the tests become more free-form, meaning you are not told in advance what to expect. The Yudansha tests are physically and emotionally exhausting, often taking place in front of hundreds of spectators and fellow students. Suffice it to say, when you achieve rank in the USAF you know you have earned it. (Sometimes when a person has a physical or age related handicap and they have practiced sincerely to the fullest extent of their ability, the test may be modified or waived based on the person’s commitment and positive contribution to the art.) Upper Dan ranks are granted by the Technical Committee based on the individual’s long term commitment and continuing progress in Aikido. All Dan ranks are registered and approved by Hombu Dojo, Aikido World Headquarters. Upon receiving a Yudansha book, you should continue to maintain good records and remember to present your book when attending Seminars as this record will impact your fulfilling future Dan rank testing requirements. When visiting other dojo, it never hurts to have your book with you.
Central Aikido conducts kyu testing twice a year in the spring and fall. These are done in join training sessions with Rolla Aikido, usually on a Saturday but sometimes at seminars. To test you must be a member in good standing with the US Aikido Federation. Each kyu test is $35, except sixth kyu which is free but you must join the USAF to test.
The protocol of the test are as follows: Those eligible will be called individually to the front of the Dojo by the examining committee. You and your partner will sit in seiza in front of the Kamidana and, when told to begin, will bow first to O-Sensei, next to the examiners and finally to your partner. After the test is concluded, the process is the same; bow to the Kamidana (remember, always bow to O-Sensei first!), to the examiners and then to your partner. The Instructors will call out specific techniques for you to perform, left side, right side, ura and omote. Keep performing the technique until the examiner calls out for a change in request or indicates that it is your partner’s turn to demonstrate. If you mess up (and you might!) do not stop in the middle of your technique. Rather, complete the (wrong) technique and then perform the correct one next time.
The examiners are of course looking for technical proficiency consistent with the level for which you are testing. They are also looking for your ability to take proper ukemi and demonstrate proper focus while maintaining a state of calm alertness while under pressure.
A final word on promotions: Aikido does not lend itself to a “ten easy lessons” approach. Do not be in a hurry to achieve rank. Use testing as a motivator to “ratchet up” your training but stay focused on the day to day, long term pace of your training and you will eventually achieve a deeper understanding of the art (and yourself) which no belt or certificate can adequately represent.
Be prepared to act as uke for someone else of your same level during the examination period. You will be graded on your ukemi.
A technique should be demonstrated continuously on both sides until there is a signal to stop. Both irimi and tenkan movement should be used whenever applicable.
You will be expected to know and respond to the Japanese terms. It may not seem so now, but you will come to know these terms in short order.