Fall Camp approaches, and with it, the opportunity to have several of my students test for their first brown belt.
This event has sent a flood of memories coming back to me about my own brown belt test. It was, I think, one of the most difficult tests I had ever taken. It was certainly my first test in front of Sensei Maruyama, not to mention an entire room full of aikidoka from across the nation. The test itself is a blur, but I remember feeling tired, over-worked, and that the test was just too damn hard for one person to endure. Odd, considering that the test was really only about 15 to 20 minutes in length.
What made it so hard? Why do I look back and find that this test was the most problematic, even when compared to one of my dan tests?
I think the answer lies in the fact that the first brown belt test marks a significant departure point for most Kokikai practitioners. Up through blue belts, students are given a great deal of leeway in their skill levels when they test. That is not to say that tests are “gimmes”–you must work to earn these rank. But pre-brown belt we allow for a wide fluctuation in movement, understanding of principles, and calmness.
At the brown belt level, things change. You are, as a student, saying for the first time: “I want to understand this art. I want to study it, incorporate it into my life, become a student of it not just for now, but for a long time to come.” These are heavy decisions. They have impact. You, as a student, are separating yourself from those who study Aikido “just for something to do.” Regardless as to whether you decide to become a full martial artist dedicated to the study of Budo, you are at least making a decision that you want to compete at a level in which the martial artists are the norm, not the exception.
Perhaps an analogy that makes sense would be the world of sports. It is one thing to merely practice a sport. It is fun, and rewarding in its own right. It is another to say “I want to do more–I want to compete!” Now, you might never become a professional ball player. But, by competing, you are at least saying that you want to play at the same level as those who eventually DO want to become professionals. The excuse “I just do this in my spare time” no longer applies; you have rendered it irrelevant by stepping up to this stage.
In essence, testing for brown belt is stating to your aikido community: “I’m ready to take this seriously.” It is your final chance to decide “No, this is not for me” and not test.
The first brown belt test is a wonderful beginning to a new level of training. I wish I had recognized that at the time; but I hope that by sharing these thoughts, I will help kindle whatever spark resides in you that says “This art, this Kokikai Aikido, is important to me.”