In Kokikai Aikido, the first adult/teen rank that you test for is 6th kyu. Like any other martial art, your first test is less about technique than a student might think. After all, you likely have been training for only a couple of months. In that time, there is simply no way to have integrated the techniques into your mind and body. For this reason, we often say that student’s should shoot for “recognizable” technique. I’ve always interpreted this to mean that the student demonstrates they understand at the very least they are studying aikido (as opposed to another martial art), and that their movements are a rough approximation of what we have studied in class. More than technique, I find the 6th kyu test to be the first public demonstration of what you have been learning. So the test is at least as much about standing up in front of a group of people and applying techniques and principles under pressure, as it about the actual technique itself.
With that said, I’ve still been thinking a lot about the ramifications of the first few techniques you’re asked to demonstrate. In future tests, we state that the test requirements include “all previous techniques” plus any new ones. That means you can and should expect to demonstrate a technique from an earlier test. When you test for shodan, you can pretty much be sure that you will show techniques from almost any of your previous kyu tests. Combine this with the fact that a healthy dojo has new students stepping on the mat each month, and you can start to see there is some very significant impacts on what topics, as an instructor, you should cover.
When I was moving up the ranks, I looked at the 6th kyu test requirements as beginning techniques. But they are not. The word beginning was incorrect, or at least incomplete. Better terms would be basic, core, or fundamental. We don’t require them on the 6th kyu test because they are easy; we require them because they should form the foundation of all other techniques and strategies that you study. I started to unconsciously understand this idea when I began teaching; but lately I’ve started trying to articulate it in an effort to refine how I present ideas in class. I’m realizing that these 6th kyu test requirements need to be studied with greater frequency. Not every class needs or should be about these techniques, but they should be covered often enough so that any new student coming in is ready to demonstrate the technique within a couple of months.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I have always seen test requirements as a training tool. Now, however, I see them as a teaching tool. By looking at the progressive difficulty of the test requirements, I have a solid roadmap that should greatly help my students improve their proficiency in technique and their understanding of aikido principles. It’s a realization of the obvious, akin to walking along a road, and suddenly realizing the road you are on is paved. You’ve known this at some level all along, but it only just reached your conscious mind.
I have a newfound appreciation for a solid testing system; it ensures the quality of training and instruction.