Every year, more or less during these weeks, our community experiences one of its most important moments, the Evolutionary Seminar.
Our Dojo is in fact part of an international community, led by Patrick Cassidy Sensei, who through the stage he holds, offers nurturing ideas and very dense work trajectories to be further investigated.
These are such beautiful moments, very intense, in which you can breathe not only an international dimension thanks to foreign guests but a “high” dimension of the practice. Both at the physical level, and at the level of integration and unification of the individual and relational psychophysical dimensions.
During these events, as it should be, Sensei supervises the dan tests’ sessions, according to the directives of the Aikikai.
It is true that the belt test is something that slowly grows in the daily path that occurs in the Dojo to which one belongs. It is equally true, however, that, as you gwor, you “belong” to an increasingly greater communit. It is therefore correct that the commission that certifies the rank is broad and wide-ranging (international, in our case).
More or less on these days, under normal conditions, we would have had to organize the seminar, setting up everything so that everyone felt welcomed and could enjoy the experience… At the end of the seminar we would have taken the II dan test.
Yet the conditions of this “new normal” that slowly takes shape do not allow us to experience this in the short term.
What is allowed is rather to reflect on this test, on taking a test in itself, on what perspectives could be investigated in the meantime. With a free and open heart.
The organization of associative life and of a movement that lives around the practice of a discipline sets a kind of necessary habit. Ordinarily it is known that over the year there are sessions in which it is possible to take a belt test. There are rules, requirements, technical programs. Being part of a nature that is grounded on cycles and seasons, even in martial practice our growth is rooted in the awareness that there are milestones of our path that helps to analyze our evolution over time.
This habit is now temporarily broken, at least in the mood we have been immersed in so far. And, like all habits that are interrupted, you can react like a child who wants an ice cream but mommy says no or you can try to understand a slightly wider dimension.
As far as I’m concerned I can affirm that I have never stopped. Nor my mates. Not even in the most severe lockdown phases. Every day there was time enough for a workout activity, with an ongoing dedication to keeping the fire alive and burning.
Being part of a Dojo, of a community in which the Sensei puts every efforts to guarantee continuity for everyone of us is a great luck. So: online training on Mondays and Fridays morning and Thursdays evening. When the law allows so, people meet at the park at a safe distance to consolidate the weapons program. Certainly our community did not passively suffered what happened and immediately took action to guarantee closeness, presence and training. It happened here, and it happened at international level. During the first lockdown, every single day you could choose a wide range of offers from the various Dojos. This has been a huge gift we are grateful for. We were somehow pioneers.
With Sara and the guys we train with, two days a week we go to our town’s parks for a “safe distance” practice. So on the one hand, the Dojo, with further online discussion and meditation sessions, offers at least five moments a week, on the other two meetings with our group. Plus the ordinary daily workout.
Is it the same as before? Certainly it’s not. But it is even more total, because “before” ordinary practice accounted for an average ten to twelve hours a week, besides weekend’s seminars. Now certainly much more.
Of course the taste is different. We miss a lot the tatami to unleash our bodies in practice.
Practicing falls on the bed, on the floor at home is obviously not the same.
I’m aware that practicing with Sara is a great luck; however the practice is more effective if you can share it with many people. Bodies, emotions, different levels that make you grow at every meeting.
Not taking a test does not deprive the practitioner of the ultimate goal of walking into a discipline, which is to use it to improve oneself. We were not prevented from practicing: it simply changed temporarily its shapes.
Obviously we must work (still) on patience and therefore life brings some stops that serve to test how much the things we do are just habits rather than useful tools for life.
Here we need sincerity: I think we must also be careful not to fall into the opposite situation.
In every test, in every qualification of my existence (as a student, as a professional, as a martial arts practitioner) I have always felt the same taste. The test is a “change of state” that allows you to experience the same things as always but with a different level of understanding. What you did not understand before suddenly appears different, more intelligible. You move differently, think differently, act differently. You are literally another individual.
It’s a fact: the black belt is truly a new shade of white. A new point of view on things.
Voluntarily depriving oneself of the chance of understanding things from a new perspective, delaying or not wanting to take tests is a choice that is fundamentally self-defeating.
Being deprived, eventhough temporarily, of this chance of growth is objectively a heavy burden.
After all, granting – or begging – an increasingly higher rank merely for the skills of “resistance”, “fidelity” or for having reached thresholds of permanence in the previous rank is a short-sighted automatism, which flattens the sense of a path by assimilating it to a kind of industrial scheduling and brings it down to a pure market level.
By multiplying online tools, the pandemic has offered robust support for a revolution in education. There is a kind of teaching that won’t never be delivered remotely but there is a lot of training (and testing) that can be offered remotely. By reducing costs, logistical hurdles for those who had to gather to a center from all over the nation, calendar constraints.
Slowly and constantly, the martial movement is also shifting in this direction for the training of its qualified teachers.
From a bureaucratic point of view, due to the way the qualification mechanism for teachers is managed, ranking is an essential condition for admission to courses for obtaining the qualifications themselves, at least here in Italy.
It is probably also for this reason that recently the federal movement of Judo and Karate has organized online theoretical courses. Hence, participants took tests of II and III dan remotely.
What to say? From a technical and martial practice point of view, the decisions are up to the technical referents, who know their athletes and who will have their reasons for such choices.
If we look at that in the perspective of not allowing the block due to the pandemic of this last year to generate further delays in the future for access to training courses… Well, it can make sense.
What is happening or what will happen to Aikido is something I don’t know.
Would I take an online dan test? In ordinary times, no. In extraordinary times, it would be necessary to understand the purpose. Then the question, at least for me, would be the following.
Would I like to “skip the turn” of the next calls for technical courses because I didn’t take a test? Would I like to watch my friends from other disciplines access where I can’t because they gave the test and I didn’t? No. I would feel rather discriminated. I would hardly find reasons why I could not understand learning notions in a theoretical course just because the pandemic has privileged some while stopped others. Even well knowing that, in an extreme scenario, one could become thousandth dan and hyper-holy master and have neither a dojo nor a group given the changed social conditions. A test is a functional tool.
I am convinced that it is necessary to preserve the quality of an important stage sustained with the preparation and dignity they deserves (both the test and the candidate). I am equally convinced that investing in patience is a necessary task of ego mortification.
Waiting until all the conditions are in place so that everything is perfect… Well, maybe that’s not what we learn on a tatami and it’s not what life has been teaching us in the last year. Above all in the face of the double track: that of the “do”, which goes on regardless of a rank and that of society, which in its bureaucratic liturgy, everything see through the perspective of a rank.
What is happening is that the society is dealing with a difficult understanding of reality, trying to interpret it by means of scenarios. Probably, given that the scenarios envision a hypothetical return to pre-Covid19 conditions with a horizon of the end of 2022, in some areas we “react” to this bubble of suspension of life by trying to push old systems forward in a new world. Only time will evaluate the effectiveness of one choice or another.
In conclusion, the discipline we practice teaches us to focus on the present. Just the present. This means living without ignoring where the trajectories on which our existence travels lead. Above all it means contemplating our path. The road is there. You can stop, go back, deny it. Everyone can commit only to himself, herself by continuing to do their part, waiting to return to an ordinary practice on the mat. The rest… will come, as always in life, everything has come at the right time.
Overabundant. True. Spontaneous.