The other day I found an interesting article in the 33rd issue of the “Aikido Shimbun” published in March 1962. You may recall that the Aikikai Hombu Dojo began publishing this four-page newsletter in 1959. The newsletter has appeared continuously through today, an enviable publishing run of over 52 years!
What caught my eye was an announcement listing the dan promotions awarded on January 15 of the same year at the annual Kagami Biraki celebration. A number of famous names are mentioned in that list, some of them prewar students of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba, while others began training following World War II.
Rinjiro Shirata (1933)
Hajime Iwata (1930)
Takaaki (Shigemi) Yonekawa (1932)
Morihiro Saito (1946: 16 years to 7th dan)
Zenzaburo Akazawa (1933)
Shoji Nishio (1951: 11 years to 6th dan)
Nobuyoshi Tamura (1953: 9 years to 6th dan))
Hiroshi Kato (1954: 8 years to 5th dan)
Hiroshi Isoyama (1949: 13 years to 5th dan)
Yoshio Kuroiwa (c. 1954: 8 years to 4th dan)
Masatake Fujita (1956: 5 years to 3rd dan)
Koretoshi Maruyama (1959: 3 years to 3rd dan)
Katsuaki Asai (1955: 7 years to 3rd dan)
If you look at the number of years of training resulting in the indicated rank, you will find certain cases where the progress of dan promotions was very rapid. For example, three years to 3rd dan, or nine years to 6th dan–as in two of the cases cited–would be considered an aberration by today’s standards.
This sort of rapid advancement, or “dan inflation,” if you like, was a common occurrence in the 1950s and 60s. The reasons have to do with the fact that aikido was a new martial art, and relatively unknown to the general public. One of the most effective means of promoting aikido were public demonstrations. When aikido was being demonstrated by so-called “experts,” it would seem odd to have people of low rank representing the art. But since aikido was new, there were not yet very many highly-ranked practitioners.
Also, in the case of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, there existed a kind of a rivalry with the rapidly expanding Yoshinkan Aikido established by Gozo Shioda. In the early years following the war, the Yoshikan school was more active than the nearly dormant Aikikai which still had bombed-out families living in the Hombu Dojo. As the separation between the Aikikai and Yoshikan was not as distinct as today, representatives of both schools would sometimes appear in the same demonstration. The Yoshikan rapidly advanced their senior teachers and standout students, and the Aikikai followed suit so as not to be looked upon in a lesser light.
My own teacher, Morihiro Saito told me on more than one occasion that he skipped two ranks in his advancement to 9th dan. There were a number of other prominent teachers who experienced the same thing. The “Aikido Shimbun” is a good source document for tracing this early progression through the rankings of well-known instructors.
As aikido became established over the years, generally speaking, standards became more stringent, and today it is not uncommon for it to take three or more years to reach 1st dan, and several more years for each dan thereafter.
If you think about it, the early instructors who were sent abroad to disseminate aikido were, comparatively speaking, still novices in the art. Many of them, however, made rapid progress because of the difficult conditions and challenges they faced in setting up dojos and organizations overseas. They may have been promoted rapidly early on, but their reputations as aikido experts were built through long periods of hard work and strenuous testing of their mettle.