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Blueprint for Standardization of Aikido Testing

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by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #60 (March 1984)

Growth of Aikido in Japan during the last thirty years has been steady while its development in foreign countries began to pick up momentum some twenty or so years ago. Unlike other martial arts such as Karate, Kung-fu and more exotic disciplines whose success has been uneven due in part to their fickle handling by the media, especially their portrayal in the movies and on television, Aikido has developed at a regular pace while consolidating its gains. This period of growth has been centered around the efforts of the Hombu Dojo Aikikai (Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba), Yoshinkan Aikido (Gozo Shioda Sensei), Tomiki Aikido (Kenji Tomiki Sensei, now deceased) , the Ki Society (Koichi Tohei Sensei), Yoseikan Aikido (Minoru Mochizuki Sensei), the Manseikan Aikido (Kanshu Sunadomari of Kyushu) and various other groups with numerically smaller representation but who incorporate the term “Aikido” in their names.

The main thrust of the Aikido movement began to impact foreign countries during the middle sixties when the name of the art began to become familiar and dojos cropped up in many major cities, primarily of North America and Europe. Juxtaposed to the expansion and solidification of the art was an altogether predictable and parallel phenomenon of fragmentation in which various independently-minded or disgruntled individuals severed their ties with the respective mother organizations and began to practice in isolation or opted for the more extreme course of establishing rival organizations. One might prefer to ignore the presence of these “disenchanted” groups, but their numbers have risen over the years, and it takes a somewhat “creative” view of modern Aikido history to deny their significance.

Historically, most of the “bones of contention” ultimately resulting in the splintering off of dojos from parent organizations have in one way or another arisen from attempts at creating new governing structures or the expansion of existing political institutions. While it is clear that various segments of the Aikido population favor organizing, it seems that there will always be a significant number of practitioners who will resist efforts both from within and without to complexify existing organizations. These individuals have demonstrated an aversion to the establishment of regional structures which lump together diverse groups having little in common and who would not otherwise form alliances. Further, efforts at requiring participation in or representation at ostensibly “democratic” meetings in which decisions are actually made by higher echelons of the political structure have been met with little enthusiasm. The exacting of membership fees at various levels - individual, dojo, regional, national and international - the use and destination of which are not clearly specified is yet another sore spot for those with a distaste towards organizations in Aikido.

There is one additional area which has become the center of disputes leading to divisions in the Aikido world. That involves the administration of examinations for ranking purposes. It is clear that a major function of the parent organization in Aikido is the legitimization and registering of ranks. There can be no doubt that it is psychologically and, on occasion, professionally important for practitioners to have their ranks validated by a respected institution. The difficulty has resided in how the governing body has chosen to delegate ranking authority.

By way of example, let me relate a concrete problem involving examinations which has arisen on a number of occasions. Area “X” contains dojos practicing Aikido who are loyal to Senseis “A” and “B”, both internationally recognized masters of the art but with differing styles. The dojos representing Sensei “A” hold political power enjoying exclusive recognition by the central authority for their area. The students of Sensei “B” present themselves before the “A” leaders for examinations but are failed because their techniques are “different” from the “A” standard. The students of Sensei “B” are upset and complain to their Sensei. Sensei “B” becomes irate and confronts the headquarters dojo with the situation insisting that it do something about the problem. If no satisfaction is forthcoming, Sensei “B” is left with an unpleasant choice - that of resigning himself to the situation (not likely) or contemplating some type of independent action. This is the sort of “no-win” situation to be avoided at all costs by an organization wishing to expand in a “spirit of harmony”.

How then might examinations be standardized to maintain an acceptable degree of uniformity while still offering sufficient flexibility to reflect the styles and viewpoints of individual teachers? Allow me to outline a plan that I have been ruminating over for some time. Keep in mind that the purpose of this approach to standardized examinations is to promote unified growth of the organization while not stifling individual interpretations. For the sake of illustration I will use the example of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo since it is the organization with which I am most familiar.

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