“The Value of Gradings as Initiations and Rites of Passage,” by Nev Sagiba

Life is not linear, but a progression of changes, cyclical peaks and dips from conception to death in an ocean of its own progression, change, cycles, peaks and dips. The Human body-mind, the *Hito Jinja, is a vehicle which can unfold consciousness of our true and complete nature, the universe.

Definitions of – “Initiation,” are as follows:

A formal entry into an organisation, position or office; the act of starting something for the first time; introducing something new; knowledgeability; wisdom as evidenced by the possession of knowledge; or a trigger such as an act that sets in motion a course of events.

The term “initiation” is generally used in reference to the expansion or transformation of a person’s consciousness. An “initiate” is one whose consciousness has been transformed and now perceives realities previously unconscious.

There are varying “degrees” of initiation.

Definitions of – “Rites of Passage,” appear as follows:

A rite of passage is an incident, or series of events which create tremendous growth, signifying a transition from one condition of being, awareness, understanding and skill, to another. Such marked rebirth of character may often culminate in a ritual affirmation of a person’s passage from one stage of life to the next, such as an initiation ceremony. Many cultures importantly provide such acknowledgment of the passage from adolescence to adulthood. To the immense loss to humanity, sociologists report that this tradition has all but disappeared from modern societies. And so, some kids never grow up.

There are many inevitable progressions of nature as we age. Do you know what they are?

A sequential succession of events or changes that a person goes through in order to progress to the next stage of their life, may be considered a ritual of transition. It is a universal phenomenon which can show anthropologists what social hierarchies, values and beliefs are important in specific cultures. Rites of passage are often ceremonies surrounding events and such milestones as birth, your first step, school, puberty, coming of age, graduation, marriage, weddings, and death. Initiation ceremonies such as baptism, confirmation, pilgrimages and other religious ceremonies denoting or celebrating specific progressions in a devotee’s life are considered important rites of passage for persons of their respective religions. Similarly, graduation ceremonies after a course of formal study through tiers of learning institutions, degrees in mystical and fraternal societies, rank in military academies and budo dojo gradings, to name a few.

Rites of passage have six phases:
1/ A developing or maturing, an increase of interest, a seeking or moving towards an aspired goal, or a sometimes inevitable natural progression. This new direction will often culminate in a decision to take action in the direction of attainment.
2/ A related course of training, study and preparation may often be a prerequisite. Or simply the emerging of new natural stages of life.
3/ In many cases, a test or proving examination, an initiation ceremony such as a grading, can be a requirement to demonstrate that the candidate has in fact attained the required abilities and skills to an acceptable standard.
4/ An acknowledgement of attainment. The ceremonial highlighting of the duly progressed and initiated candidate’s rite of passage.
5/ New responsibilities now possible because of the related achievement.
6/ Daily life with a new perspective.

Phase one may also be seen as a separation from previous limitations. In this first phase there is a withdrawal from the old and a moving towards the new, from one status, towards another.

Phase two refers to a unique related preparation. In the second stage there may be a qualifying period of training, education and learning, in order to earn the right to approach the aspired threshold. This liminal phase is the period between states, during which a candidate has left one state, but has not yet entered or joined the next.

Phase three, the initiation, test, exam, grading, etc. The third stage, the initiation, may take such form as deemed suitable to the given circumstance, art, skill, organization or field of endeavour.

Initiation may be ceremonial in nature and may contain symbolic actions such as appearing to ‘cut away’ from the former self in this phase, which is signified in ritual actions such as cutting the hair of a person who has just joined, for example, the army, or a monastic order. He or she is ‘cutting away’ the former self, the civilian.

Others may require the aspirant to first demonstrate a practical qualifying measure of hands-on skill and a sound knowledge of related duty of care responsibilities.

In stage four, the acknowledgement of attainment may be characterised by elaborate rituals and ceremonies, often in the presence of peers. This may follow soon after the previous initiatic phase. These may be public, or by invitation only, such as debutant balls and graduation ceremonies, the passing out parade, etc.

The acknowledgement of the “new status” is often ceremonially conferred in a manner so as to have optimal impact. The graduate may be formally presented with badges of honour and rank, or conferred insignia, regalia, attire and other devices relevant to the newly accepted membership. These signal the successful completion of certain requirements and the readiness to continue the rest of the journey as an active servant, in many cases as a professional in the related field.

In stage five, having crossed the threshold by completing the required preparation, fulfilled the examination rites and assumed a ‘new’ identity, the initiate then enters a new field of progressive functionality, maturing, development, and may be assigned a particular rank, with its attendant position and responsibilities within the new collective.

The new dimension allows a particular burden of contribution and responsibility. For example, to report for duty at a higher level; being permitted to operate; being given command of a situation; or to participate in teaching; to assume a given trust or position of custodianship, to name a few.

In some fields, you are shortly thereafter deployed into action. Or simply, having attained the required training, you get the opportunity to be employed in the real world, in a related profession.

Realise that this is merely a beginning. The real learning can now begin.

Finally, re-emerging into the world with unique knowledge and perspective is the sixth stage. Having attained, the aspirant, now initiate, returns to society as empowered contributor; but with an entirely different perspective to those not initiated to the specific understandings, knowledge, skill-sets of his trade.

He is now authorised to properly use the attained abilities to serve society in various capacities with new awareness.

A hypothetical vignette about passage through a budo dojo could be as follows:
1/ You see a movie, hear about or have various real needs, to learn self-defence, fitness, meditation or other. You read, compare and come to a decision to select Aikido because of the ethic and efficaciousness you have heard about. With permission, you watch some training sessions, and based on your best informed judgement, albeit at this stage limited, seeking excellence as a primary consideration you select a dojo and apply for membership.
Assuming you are accepted;
2/ You are permitted to join, attend regularly and train, practice, study, question and work on the initial kyu.
3/ After time and hard work, comes THE BIG DAY, THE GRADING ITSELF!
4/ The presentation of certificate, coloured belt, apparel, etc., followed by the big party.

Over time you repeat this sequence until you get Sandan and you cross-train as well, in order to gain perspective in your art..
5/ At some stage you get a job in the security industry which requires the output of these acquired skills in serving society.
6/ Applied daily in the field, your skills continue to hone, refine and become keener. When you go shopping, your developing awareness enables you to “read” each thief, shoplifter and pickpocket, but when off duty (unless the situation is severe), you have to constrain yourself from making arrests out of jurisdiction.

Life will never be the same again.

You take up meditation, study Buddhism and practice compassion and appropriate restraint off duty and on. On duty you utilise your specialised skills as a warrior and professional protector. Off duty you focus on your day to day goals.

The duly “initiated” professional protector, augmented by real experience, would be more attuned to suspicious behaviours; just as the mechanic would notice the sound of damaged tappets in passing cars or how well tuned a motor may be; the keen firefighter can identify the smell of smoke, the chiropractor/osteopath’s keen eye would notice the balanced and unbalanced postures of people passing by, the gardener the state of plants, to the chef, subtle nuances of cooking scents, recipes and food quality would have meaning, and so on.

Of course there are also those, who once attaining the badges of honour such as a certificate or coloured belt, simply stop striving and merely sit back and use them to show off, or to feel important because they imagine that they “belong” to an “elite clique,” but do nothing useful with these skills to serve or uplift society.

Capability, if any, is only useful when built upon and kept honed daily, and unless put to use in constructive service, is useless. Living skill: the true badge of honour. Items and objects, merely symbolic.

Ancient peoples, tribal people, and modern societies, all contain some type of social progression, many which must be earned before the aspirant can participate in certain social strata.

Indeed life itself has measurable transitions through the stages of nature.

William Shakespeare crudely identified some in: “The Seven Ages of Man.”

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ brow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing.” — Jaques (Act II, Scene VII, lines 139-166)”

Notwithstanding his genius, a rather bleak and limited view in this case, by dear old Shakespeare. In brief: unhappy infant; miserable childhood; lustful and belligerent citizen; ambitious soldier; materialistic and pedantically frightened; tired retiree; dotage leading to oblivion.

Why should we bother to identify the various and more detailed changes, cycles and transitions of life? Perhaps so we may, in identifying them, increasing our understanding and become better enabled to rise above the bleak, into a more resplendent and fulfilled life.

Indeed, without an understanding of stages of progression, we would be as unguided flotsam on the sea of life. Otherwise mere dull blobs, self-seeking, cynical, rancorous and unfulfilled, resisting change, but unable to do so; instead of, as is possible, empowered, adapting and aikiing gracefully with the natural cycles of life, which when properly understood and embraced, can lead on to such life-mastery as may result from good navigation skills.

In each field of human participation, there are required skills, understandings, knowledge and responsibilities.

What is so unique about Aikido? And why gradings?

Aikido that is embraced as Budo and not simply an occasional pastime, stresses the body-mind-and feeling principle to trigger progressive awakenings. Each and every fibre of the trainee’s being, over time, progressively and in stages, becomes transformed into alignment with the vivifying forces of nature, sometimes referred to as the great harmony of the universe. Such preparation enables entering safely into the relentless forward flow known as, *Kannagarra no Michi, to function in accord with the inevitability of change instead of crushed by it. This not as driftwood, but navigator. Able to fulfill life-mission when faced with primary force of nature, challenge of adversity, the natural guardian at threshold of life’s endeavours.

The ability to face change fearlessly and see clearly, even when faced with tribulation as may stop the average, is an earned gift.

Through personal empowerment and social contribution, you come to a realisation that you cannot just float through life; and that alternately, resistance is futile as well. Change, being inevitable, it must be navigated with skill and good humour to survive, if not thrive.

Inoculation against adversity having a deeply fulfilling effect, the awakenings that come with sustained Aikido training are immense enablers that enhance your other skills and attributes in life. When the next real-life emergency happens and you are able to handle it with clarity, skill and calm mind to restore harmony as you best understand it, often means you get to live to continue your creative mission in life.

The Founder of Aikido proposed an idea that Aikido is, among other things, a form of misogi, purification, that over time will, “Clear the dust of our (metaphorically psychic) ‘joints’… to purify the eye of the soul…etc., ” and thereby begin the journey leading the practitioner from our current unfinished state, toward completeness, or more thorough awakenings. Such change could not safely happen if one were sudden hit with too much light. Without due and proper preparation it would shatter the body-mind infrastructures. Instead, by gradually transforming, proper training enables passing intact through each portal, each time unlocking greater human potential.

To this effect, in the dojo we intensely REENACT a ceremonial somewhat resembling combat, but which is not really combat, since nobody dies or is killed. In so doing, it stimulates the awareness of the immense responsibility that comes with this temporary and precious gift of life: The privilege of sentience, consciousness and mobility, integrated as one functioning unit that can be refined. An increasing awareness of the mutual respect that binds all life that truly lives, is born and grows.

This gives rise to the ability of willing and graceful meeting change by dropping opinion clutter, which weigh us down with redundant layers of unconsciousness. Thereby allowing the natural transition through progressive portals of consciousness and understanding, which bring with them emerging revival.

This Michi, Do or Way of Life, may appear gradual, but it is indeed fruitful.

The pivotal point: When presented with a new challenge that particularly tests your mettle, as a human being, you are forced to reach deeply for both the points of reference that you know, have been taught and understand, these being basic techniques and strategies that you have been practicing; and also the sense of handling a situation in the best possible way, the inner teacher, the intuition, to guide you through the uniqueness of the new situation.

When these two powers combine and blend as one to meet the challenge, you excell. People more-so excell when under pressure, than when things are too comfortable. This unleashes that rare entity named “common-sense,” until, in the course of time, it does indeed become common and freely available to all, as if by a memetic epidemic of sorts.

Cycles of existence being as they are, when things get too easy again, many seem to lose such sense, because inertia and neglect sets in.

The true budoka, particularly one aspiring to the Way of Harmony with the Universe, or Ai-Ki-Do, is not one who waits dully for nature’s foibles to pose unexpected challenges, but rather, one who deliberately and daily practices being prepared, by honing skills, maintaining attunment with that great centre of clarity, as a choice, in quiet times as well as adverse.

Girded with sincere, regular, consistent, dedicated practice, occasionally interspersed with a well-deserved break to rest and recover from the intensity of such endeavour, such a one also seeks out and earns the right to readily meet the peaks and challenges of exams, gradings and other personal tests.

Self-correction and improvement foremost, a grading is not a real external battle to survive imminent death; rather an inner battle to overcome the torpor of dull mind, unconscious habits, irrational fears and the atrophy of neglect.

Because the grading exam actively simulates the conditions of real and intense change, it becomes an instrument of initiation, the high point in a rite of passage, the results which never leave you, but become integrated into the substance of your being, values and attitudes.

Progressions, whether resulting from a formal grading examination, personal awakenings on the Way, or simply the spontaneous experiences that highlight your unique journey in life; each constitute a grading, initiation and rite of passage that enables you to be more alive, because you are becoming.

Becoming what?

More and more vividly: WHO YOU ARE.

*     Hito Jinja – The human being as an organically embodied microcosmic universe. Implicitly, a shrine of the divine or temple of the living God.

*     Kannagarra no Michi, or Kami no Michi – The expanding universe is a flow of constant movement and change in which there is an overall balance and harmony, subject to natural laws of existence as researched in pure science. Existence flows in accord to inevitable principles established in Origins. Shinto defines this living flow as Kannagara no Michi, Way of the Kami.

Nev Sagiba

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