Monday, June 18, 2007

Rank & Certification: Student's Perspective

At best, rank motivates some to greater personal achievement.

At worst, it diverts our attention from what is actually important: the Path itself.

A bit over 20 years ago, I practiced t'ai chi for a short while in a small university club. Participants such as myself wore comfortable clothing, as did the instructor. It was not a forms class; rather, it was applications: off-balancing, throws, locks, ... I was not there long enough to develop any expertise, but I did cherish that time. People were there to learn from someone who clearly understood what he was teaching. Students grew in skill and understanding with each practice. Rank was never an issue, since, of course, there was no rank.

About ten years later, I took up my practice of Aikido. Immediately I sensed the similarities in the content and objectives. I also immediately sensed the distinction in teaching methodology, differences that remained regardless of the Aikido style embraced by the instructors and dojos. The Aikido styles always included rank, even if only the distinction between mudansha and yudansha. Crossing from one state to the other is generally viewed as a significant milestone on one's Path.


  • Who has the ability to place a milestone on one's Path? Can you place a milestone on my Path, or do I have to accept the milestone and place it myself?
  • How does the existence of a milestone affect one's journey along the Path?
  • How is one's journey affected by relying upon others to set his milestones and to measure his progress toward them or beyond them?

Certainly individuals are judged continuously each and every day. Even when the judgment occurs unbeknownst to the individual, by virtue of the interconnectedness of all things, that individual's Path---as well as the Path of the person sitting in judgment---may change as a result. So, what then can be said of the case when an individual knows a priori that he is to be judged?

"Leading Ki" is a stated principle of some styles of Aikido. Sometimes all that is required to execute a technique is to place something just beyond uke upon which uke can focus. Uke's mind is led away, and his body follows. To a dedicated martial artists, what might be more leading than a black belt (or other colored belt, or a hakama, or rank in general) held just outside of his reach?

Where are you allowing yourself to be led?


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