“Shodan challenge” by Reu Claudius C. Mooc

I am currently pressed with a certain decision to make. To others it would be such a welcoming offer, I however shun the thought of an impending disaster. Actually its not that big of a problem, I was just asked if I was going to take the shodan exam during the yearly seminar. Our head instructor asked me over dinner last night after one of our practice sessions, he was already inquiring who my uke will be. Funny how this turned out, last year I was so eager, the year before a lot more excited. Now I do not even want to try.

If I accepted their offer, this would be my third take on the shodan exam. During the past two years I always wondered why I was never successful. Was it my age? I took my first shodan exam at age 24, looking at the senior black belts I would appear younger compared to them. But just recently I witnessed younger kids being promoted to shodan, they were like 16 or 17 years old. So, maybe it’s not the age, there must be something else. Would it be my techniques and applications? After not making it the first time I doubled my effort and practiced harder. I can’t say that I’m good, all I can say is that I’m not that bad. There may be a disparity in comparison, but if based on how my fellow students here move, I can say that I’m not bad at all. Since I didn’t make it, maybe I’m not good enough. Then comes the issue of maturity, I’m not that young and not that old, but young or old still pertains to age. My perception of maturity stems from the length of time before my gi makes funny ripping sounds during suwari waza, when it happens I know it’s time to get a new one. Maturity is quite hard to measure or even quantify, especially for people who only see you for a week, once a year. Are the five days of practice enough to reveal a person’s maturity, will practicing tenkan disclose how much someone has developed? This question I cannot answer, based on my limited experience and being absolutely clueless on this matter. As I have heard before, every aikidoka faces a hurdle when it comes to rank promotions, our head instructor said he took nikyu three times. Every time he did not make it he would ask our sensei why, sensei would just say “reflect on this” and he did. At that time he probably made a lot of realizations, eventually he passed and after that his promotion went on and on. Come to think of it, I recall our head instructor telling me to “ask the good teacher” after my first attempt to pass shodan.

Now after gathering my insights on this unnatural predicament, I am faced with an answer that came about my inability to define maturity. Is this the answer to my question? Is this the realization that I must embrace in order to show my worthiness to pass shodan? I think I matured all of a sudden, I hope my face won’t appear matured. Maturity can neither be rushed nor controlled. This is turning out to be a good reflection. Time does not guarantee maturity, practice does not create maturity. Has my line of thinking suddenly evolved? So, it’s not my fault that every time they look at me they see the kid rolling around with his seniors, doing what he’s told to do and trying to break down the Nihongo language barrier with actions and facial expressions. How do they see me now?

There are things in life that can never be explained, I’ve included the issue of measuring an aikidoka’s maturity in that list. The only practical solution for me now will be to take the exam again. This time I let my movements do the talking, I won’t plead or beg or even ask for a reason. I will step on the mat, and take my exam head on, breathing steady, mind focused and body ready. Have I matured since the last time I took my exam? Only the good teacher knows.


  1. Clark Bateman says:

    You have devoted much space in your writing to comparing yourself; some of it to other people or age groups, and some to your image of yourself. You are not in a competition (except perhaps with your own doubts). Your goal should be first and foremost to do your best. I don’t think you could argue that not trying would exemplify this. There are certainly valid reasons to forgo the exam, but are you really helping your less than stellar view of yourself if you cop out? If you try again and fail, there is no disgrace, and your discomfort would be short-lived, but if you do not try, you could carry that in your psyche for a long time. Even more, think how good you will feel if you give it your best and PASS. I’m betting you have it within yourself to do just that. That said, it is still YOU who are the best judge as to what is right for you. Just make sure it is a decision you can reconcile with yourself.

  2. Fortunately our dojo has “demonstrations” rather than “tests”, the premise being that the Sensei knows best when one is ready for promotion – and it is the student’s job to demonstrate it. In the time I’ve been practicing, we have not had either kyu or dan grade failures. After each demonstration (and the giving of the diploma), Sensei and the black belts take the demonstrator aside and give feedback on areas to work on. To me, this is a humanistic approach.

    At age 65, about a month after Sensei asked me to choose an uke, I demonstrated and was promoted to Shodan, after roughly 640 hours of class time. I learn slowly. I don’t memorize well (never did, even in grade school!).
    Now I’m 67, a Nidan, and I like to think I’m a valuable member of the dojo! I attend at least two classes per week. Persistence, and time on the mats, pays off!

    I may never be a great aikidoka – I realized this when I took up Aikido at age 62 – but I can be a worthwhile one. I’d like to think that someday I’ll make Sandan, but in the meantime I’ll continue putting one foot in front of the other and enjoying the journey!

    P.S. I’m a member of the Almost Heaven Aikido/Judo Academy in Parkersburg, WV.

  3. bodhi Anderson, gj says:

    Bravo to you Steve. I have practiced on and off for quite awhile and have not done any kyu tests as a result. I intend to devote more time to this pursuit but currently the plate is very full.

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