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The stages of mastery in Aikido

Life has different stages: birth, childhood, adulthood and death. Physically, our body goes through different learning stages which we call growth. There are also different school stages from elementary to post graduate education based on your personal goals... I don't believe in mastery because learning is endless. Becoming a teacher is only another stage and there is always more to learn. The stages in Aikido are: introduction, beginner, advanced beginner, intermediate, advanced students, teacher. Those stages could further be divided but I would like to keep it simple.

(Photo from Applied Framework)

  1. Introduction:

Every dojo has a protocol or rules to follow that every student needs to learn. In Japanese, it is called, Reigi. Etiquette is learned during the first few weeks of training. The student learns how to bow to other students and instructor, sitting in seiza at the beginning/end of the class and while receiving instruction.

Cleaniness is very important: Students must come to class with a clean uniform and clean hands and feet and short nails. (Long nails are very dangerous during practice.)

All students need to be respectful to one another and all students need to be respectful to their instructor. We want to foster kindness and compassion in our practice. (See our etiquette policy.)

This is the beginning of training and it is very easy to learn. Following those simple rules at the dojo and in life will help students to become successful in every aspect of their lives and training.

2. Beginner:

The student learns safety and how to avoid injuries.

The beginner will focus on learning how to roll or fall.

It is important to note that we all have some limitations so the student must communicate with the instructor if there is a physical limitation that can prevent the student from learning basic rolls. It is essential for the instructor to be considerate as well and understand that age or some form of injuries might prevent the student from doing an exercise. Safety first! It doesn't mean that the student won't be to do Aikido but a more careful approach will need to be chosen.

It is at that stage, the student starts learning the basic techniques: Ikyo, Nikyo, Sankyo...

It is important to note that stages 1 and 2 are learned together. The dedicated student should progress quickly if he or she is attending all the classes.

3. Advanced beginner:

When the student is fluent enough with all the rolls then it is time to focus on breakfall ukemi and other variations. Again, not all students based on their physical conditions can performed those rolls so they should never be penalized in their progression but encouraged to go further. The student will continue to increase its techniques' repertoire and reinforce what has been learned.

It is only with repetition that we can develop a muscle memory of the movements.

I can repeat myself again that the dedicated student should progress quickly if he or she is attending all the classes but the path is personal so everyone's speed is different.

4. Intermediate student:

The student is familiar with all the rolls and he or she can perform all the basic rolls without hesitation and but it is still working on the breakfall mechanics. The student should be able to differenciate the basic techniques: Ikyo, Nikyo, Sankyo, Yonkyo, Gokyo, Shihonage, Tenshinage and Iriminage, from Haihanmi, Gyakuhanmi, Ryotedori, Katadori, Ushirowaza, Seizawaza. (Photo by:Alain Buchheit-Institut d'Aikido)

5. Advanced student:

The whole Aikido curriculum has been studied and there is an overall understanding of each technique.

At this stage, the student isn't a black belt yet however it is a time to prepare for the test. When the student passes successfully the examination then a new beginning starts.

I would like to share Nobuyoshi Tamura, student of the founder of Aikido, vision of this new beginning. (Please, see reference to find the origin of the following information.)

(Picture from Aikido Noyelles les Seclins)

SHODAN represents the beginning, beginner.

The body eventually begins to respond to the given commands and to produce technical forms. One can have ambiguous ideas about what Aikido could be.

At this point, we must force ourselves to apply the techniques as precisely as possible and to train accurately.

2 – 弐 段 NIDAN – The Second DAN:

While more intense mental continuity is being revealed, at the same time strength and speed are added to the first dan rank. This progress perceived by the student as self-development.

The jury should feel this evolution noting that the work has entered a certain way and is moving towards a certain direction.

3 – 参段 SANDAN – The Third DAN:

This is the stage where kokyu and ryoku concepts are begun to be understood. It’s the spiritual dimension of Aikido. Technical delicacy, sharpness, and efficiency begin to manifest themselves. The student reaching this point can start to train beginners.

4 – 四段 YODAN – The Fourth DAN:

At this technically advanced level, the principles that guide the techniques are begun to be comprehended. It is possible to fill in for the Sensei when it is necessary.

5 – 伍 段 GODAN – The Fifth DAN:

The art of Aikido is being liberated from the physical obstacles while it passes beyond one’s spiritual being.

6 – 六 段 ROKUDAN – The Sixth DAN:

As techniques become state of the art, movements are fluent and solid. The person who follows her/him must feel the serenity of the progress. Strength and physical flexibility just like the purity of the spirit merge into behaviors and express itself in life.

7 – 七 段 NANADAN – The Seventh DAN:

One is liberated from the obscuration of self-being and converge into his true self without any devotion to worldly pleasures.

8 – 八段 HACHIDAN – The Eighth DAN:

Beyond life and death, with a clear and open mind, in the ability to bring the opposites together, s/he refuses to fight, refuses to have enemies. Unguided and uninvited, s/he is the eternal winner. It is explained with the words of O Sensei

“To face the enemy, I just have to stand without saying a word.”

This is not the stage that everything ends. One should remember the soul of a beginner. Even the brightest water can disappear in a marsh.

Mr. Tamura's definition of Dan ranks is personal and I am sure some other practitioners might have other definitions to share with the Martial Art's community but we need to keep in mind that training is the most important aspect of the journey.

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