What is excellence in terms of Kokikai Aikido? Let alone any martial art?
The answers that comes first to most people’s minds is: “Excellence is when you can successfully defend yourself.” But defend yourself when? I don’t get into street fights; I also know enough not to go down dark alleys late at night unless I have to. If I never get into a fight, am I unsuccessful?
The next answer, then, is often: “Excellence is when you have mastered the art.” But what is mastery? I am still learning. So is my sensei. So is his sensei, and he is the one who founded this martial art! When even the founder is continually improving, can one say that anyone else has mastered the art?
Now, the next potential answer: “Excellence is when you can perform at a certain level at a certain period of time.” Certainly, many people use this definition during tests. After all, an excellent 6th kyu test is not the same as a shodan test. But how do we define “at a certain level?” Is it physical ability? That seems counterintuitive; especially for an art such as Kokikai Aikido. After all, this is an art form that is designed for everyone, regardless of age, gender, or physical ability. Is it mental ability? That doesn’t wash either. There are far too many people who “think” a technique, but can’t actually do the technique. That cannot be excellence.
The question, “What is excellence?” is important. We often are very quick to judge someone’s ability. But we are rarely honest about the criteria on which we judge that person. I think that, were we to be honest with ourselves, we would admit that, when we judge someone’s technique, we are judging them based on a combination of how we perform ourselves and how we think they should perform. After all, most of us do not teach; therefore, we see most things only from our own perspective.
This method of judgement is, however, incorrect. In Kokikai, we have a variety of people training. To impose biased set of criteria on another individual is wrong. Worse than that, it can lead you into a false sense of security in regards to your own technique. A large man moves differently than a small man, a young person moves differently than an old one. How can one decide that one is “excellent” and the other is not?
Yet, a set of criteria must be in place. Otherwise, we are not training; we’re playing a game.
I think that, now that I have seen a great deal of tests, I have a good idea as to what is excellence in Kokikai Aikido: Excellence is progress. At different ranks, we expect different levels of progress. Testing for shodan demands that you have progressed past a certain point since you began your training. It means that you have requires a certain level of understanding about the Basic Principles; about how to move. Does that mean that two shodan candidates testing at the same time will move the same way? Absolutely not. It means that many people will test and train in very different ways. It is the responsibility of the judges and the instructor to determine how well a given student is doing. This is why students must be recommended for tests. That recommendation tells the judges that the instructor has seen this student move. He or she knows them, and knows what their general level of training is like. That can go a long way with judges when it comes to testing for rank. It also means that, with each test, an instructor is putting his or her reputation on the line, and that is no small matter.
I would like to remind everyone, including myself, that we are all different. In the end, the only person who truly knows how well they are doing is the student. Be honest with yourself and train hard: that, perhaps, is the only true meaning of excellence in Kokikai Aikido.