There comes a time in everyone’s training where we have to move beyond ourselves. This is, in fact one of the key elements to Aikido training: you are not just working to better yourself as an individual. While self-improvement has its place, it is also rooted in ego and pride. This is especially true when you are dealing with something like a martial art, in which it is easy to slip into a competitive mindset. As a result, in Aikido, a student must eventually start looking beyond what is in their direct control: their training, their schedule, even their instructor (for any student who thinks they have no impact on their instructor is foolish at best). Beyond these initial horizons is a world that is often chaotic, often overwhelming, but also quite beautiful. In this larger world, many things happen that we cannot control. Some of these events happen in our favor, some of them are not.
Rank and testing, is one type of event over which, at a certain point, the individual student has no control. In Kokikai, this point occurs at 2nd kyu. Up until then, it is the responsibility of the student’s main instructor to judge when and if a student is ready to test. Often, despite his or her best intentions, the instructor will allow some inconsistencies while testing. For example, a young student who is highly athletic might be judged more strictly than a student who is older or has an injury. This variation in criteria is not always bad–Kokikai is about maximizing one’s own potential, after all–but eventually, there comes a point where students must move beyond the comfort zone of their own dojo and demonstrate their skills before people who do not know them as well. At first, this change can be frightening and upsetting. Yet, in the long run, students who can move past their fears end up with a greater degree of confidence in their capabilities. Think of a teenager, who has the approval of his parents but then also gets approval from a college recruiter or other individual that doesn’t know the teenager well at all. While parental approval is vitally important, gaining approval from outside one’s family is also very important.
Many of my students are 3rd kyu now and, for the first time, they must gain the approval of someone outside our immediate dojo family to gain additional rank. This can be frustrating, and I am acknowledging now my failure as a instructor to adequately prepare my students for this transition. I hope that these students and I can learn together, and take this opportunity to move beyond our comfort zone, so that we might have the satisfaction of knowing that our skills and improvements are not only recognized within our own club, but within the broader Kokikai community as well.