Testing Requirements
   Recently Lewis Clark had performed his shodan (1st black belt) exam, and I
had the privilege of participating in that as his uke.  It was a warm day, and
Lew & I had been doing keiko for several hours.  Two exemplary shihan had
instructed the classes, Yamada sensei & Shibata sensei.  The pace was
challenging, and as a result the dojo windows were fogged by the steam of our

   At the end of the training we began the exams.  With the utmost sincerity
and appreciation we performed the rigorous demands required for acceptance
into the yudansha (black belt) ranks.  After sometime I realized that the pace
as metered by Yamada sensei was taking its toll on my aerobic capacity.  This
didn’t detract from Lew’s test, as another fresh yudansha uke readily
took my place upon the request of Yamada sensei.  It wasn’t until the last
phases of Lew’s test that my weariness subsided, and I could clearly
perceive the shodan exams culminating with randori.  This randori utilized
several uke, 5 or 6 maybe.  In my past experience I had never seen so many
uke during randori.  I was not surprised to see my friend Lew perform this
final challenge with dignity & skill.  Although, I wondered how I would fare
with so many uke.  It was a natural thought knowing that sometime later this
year I am slated for a nidan (2nd black belt) exam before Yamada sensei.

   Shortly thereafter the nidan exams began, and I paid attention with
curiosity.  The pace was again brutal.  The uke seemed exhausted, but
continued on and on.  Eventually, the nage had begun to weary during jiyu
waza (freestyle technique).  This was another first for me, a 2-man jiyu waza.  
In this case there are two attackers who can use any strike, grab, or
whatever to affect the nage testing.  As soon as nage finished with one,
another was at it again.  This took its toll, but the nage showed me a deep
courage and impressive Aikido skills.  Again I witnessed henka waza
(changing technique) being employed whereas kaeshi waza (reversal
technique) was my previous understanding for this level of exam.  Finally,
nidan level randori with large numbers of uke attacking.  It was so impressive
the Aikido grace with which one yudansha had performed randori that she
received an applause.

   Truly, I have had some worry after learning about the challenge that
confronts me.  Although, after sitting in seiza and reflecting, this is the same
feeling that I have always had when preparing for a test.  The magnitude is
clearly different, but the approach is the same.  I find an analogy in the
making of a shinken (live sword/blade).  On an auspicious day the
swordsmith comes to the forge, makes an offering to the shrine, heats the
forge, and chooses a piece of quality steel.  This rugged piece of steel is heated
to a white glow, pounded with steel hammers, heated & pounded again, and
then cooled in clay.  The swordsmith than heats it again in the forge and
begins to fold the steel back on itself.  With each fold the piece gains strength
& shape.  At each step the sword is cooled in clay and examined carefully for
function, flaws & beauty.  Each additional fold becomes more difficult, but the
blades impurities diminish.  Eventually the swordsmith is satisfied, heats the
piece white hot, quickly quenches it in water, and polishes the fine work.

Monday February 3rd, 2003
Todd M. Shirley (Tada)
The Challenge of an Aikido Exam