Lack of humility: “5th Kyu Shihans,” by Jerry Akel

Several years ago, as a kyu-holder with some experience, I noticed a peculiar pathology, which exhibited itself primarily at seminars. The subject, namely me, would pair with an obviously new student, one with whom I had not trained previously. The new student, or carrier, would then proceed to instruct, correct and otherwise comment on my technique, despite the obvious gulf in skill between us…

Click here to read more


  1. I’m pretty new to Aikido (or any martial art), and I want to avoid being a “5th Kyu Shihan” myself. I have fallen into that trap though (actually it was back when I was a 6th Kyu!), but maybe one reason for that would help others.

    One of unofficial rules of my dojo is that when you attend a seminar or visit another dojo, you seek to replicate the technique as performed by the instructor as closely as possible. Even if you already know the technique in a slightly different form. Even if you’re sure your way is better.

    It sounds simple, but many senior students seem to get lost on this. We’ve had several visitors to our dojo attend “beginners classes,” and be mistaken for beginners themselves (at least by those of us who were beginners) because of this.

    I was paired with one visitor. He wasn’t in a gi, and I thought it was his first time doing Aikido. When I was nage, he seemed to be resisting really hard, so I eased off (sometimes not completing a technique) to avoid accidentally hurting him. As uke, he applied all sorts of rough moves that were vaguely like what was being shown. He seemed really confident in what he was doing. But it wasn’t what the class was learning. I did try to help him a couple of times (“blend with the technique, don’t just fight against it”), until I realized it wasn’t his first class, then I stopped talking and just tried to avoid ending up injured.

    Later, I found out he was a Nidan who had recently moved to the area. I guess he was trying to show how much he knew by preventing me from completing techniques and “improving” on what the instructor was doing. But if he hadn’t come back in a hakama the next week, I would still have assumed he was a 3rd or 4th kyu with an attitude problem.

    That’s the extreme, but I’ve experienced subtler versions. As someone who is new to Aikido, I don’t always recognize how skilled and experienced others are. But I can usually tell if what they’re doing is pretty close to what the instructor was doing. And when it’s not, the most charitable assumption is that they’re ignorant (rather than arrogant).

    I wonder if some frustrated senior students are provoking these instructions from their “juniors” by falling back on what they already “know” about Aikido, rather than staying humble and attentive.

Speak Your Mind