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February 2017

143. How to Wear Your Black Belt – Part II (Focus)

Once you get your black belt it’s easy to lose focus, to slack off and take a brief vacation from the intense training that you did to prepare for your demo.  In a word, “Don’t”.  In another word, “DON’T!”.  Part of Humility is the ability to understand and deal with the idea that you don’t everything (yet), likely never will know everything, and worst of all, don’t really know what you don’t know.

The basic difference between Shodan and Nidan is minimal and the time in grade (assuming that you get to class and train) is also minimal.  The longest periods between promotions can fool you because the break-points in learning (and internalization) are not where you think them to be.

The first longest period is from first-night beginner to Shodan.  This is simply due to the necessity to take someone with likely no athletic or martial arts experience and have them internalize the fundamental operating principles of the art form.  Moving off the line of attack, blending and flowing, learning attack and defense timing (Sen-no-Sen, Sen-Sen-no-Sen,  Ato-no-Sen), kuzushi, ukemi, musubi, the basic waza of striking, throwing and joint locking, etc., etc., all mean a long road to internalize and make functional the base essence (the core) of the ryu.  When you hear old players in koryu forms discuss how the actual structure of the ryu changes the deshi, then this is a part of that “re-structuring” of the person.  The deshi “becomes” the ryu.

Shodan to Nidan is, in a very real sense nothing more than setting into concrete your intuitive understanding and ability to use the fundamental principles and waza of your art form.  Shodan means you “got it” and Nidan means you “really got it”.

(Keep in mind here that I never intend to denigrate the achievement, only to set that achievement into its proper context within the larger picture which is IMO necessary to maintain the focus needed to move forward).

Nidan to Sandan has another long period although not as long as beginner to Shodan.  This is due to Sandan being a jump-point in understanding.  In our ryu Sandan is where the deep understanding of flowing, merging and of taking control of the attacker the first instant when they cross ma-ai and begin the attack sequence (and then not letting them regain control until waza termination) begins to be acquired and internalized. 

Sandan marks a demarcation as-it-were; the next really big progressive step in making a high-level Aikido player.  The timing from Sandan to Yondan therefore, much like Shodan to Nidan is also fairly brief as Yondan is more material to learn and internalize but that material is essentially the same as that learned for Sandan; except “more of the same” with added sophistication applied.  Yondan then “firms up” the jump-point; a critical necessity since beginning with the journey to Godan, really advanced material is looked at.

So the first gap is beginner to Shodan.  Shodan to Nidan is fairly close then the next big gap is Nidan to Sandan.  Sandan to Yondan is fairly close due to the similarity in the work required so the next big gap is Yondan to Godan with Godan to Rokudan being fairly close.  Then the next big (I should say “BIG” gap is Rokudan to Nanadan.

I think you see the picture.  The long and the short of it is to not lose focus, EVER!  And, humility is a part of that.  Arrogance retards learning because that arrogance, that failure to understand that you don’t know what you don’t know yet becomes a barrier, a closed door that is difficult to pass.  The phrase, “empty tea cup” does not apply solely and only to the beginner sitting in the rain on the front porch.

The gaps between major progressions is really quite minimal so once you make Shodan just go for the Nidan and quit worrying about it.  Once you make Nidan just go to Sandan because you know that once you get to Sandan then Yondan is just around the corner.

Pretty soon you quit worrying about “just around the corner” and you just “become” Aikido.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

February 2017