As in other Japanese Martial Arts, Aikido uses the “kyu” and “dan” system of ranking. Our dojo uses this system. As an adult one begins at 7th kyu and ascends up the ranks to 1st kyu. At 5th kyu the student dons the purple belt, at 4th kyu the green, and at 2nd kyu the student dons the brown belt. At 1st kyu the Aikidoka dons the hakama. Each kyu rank represent ascending levels of proficiency, experience, and time in training.
The dan ranks are the black belt ranks. One begins at “Shodan” (literally “beginning grade”) and progresses up from 1st to 10th dan, the highest present rank in Aikido. Requirements for Sandan, (3rd degree black belt) are at the discretion of the instructor. Testing at that level and above is by invitation of the Dojo-Cho.
For each rank there are minimal requirements including: attendance, tai-sabaki, certain forms of ukemi, specific Aikido techniques, plus a basic understanding of certain important elements of Aikido. Attitude, character, service, seriousness and diligence are also important measures for promotion and are taken into consideration. Demonstrations of Aikido are a criteria for promotion. The demonstration is given in a very supportive and noncompetitive atmosphere and should be a challenging yet fun learning experience. It is an opportunity for each student to learn a bit more about themselves, and to demonstrate to oneself and peers a certain level of accomplishment both as uke and nage. The demonstrations are not to be viewed as putting on a performance or exhibition for show or for pleasing others, nor should anyone be compared to or gauged against anyone else. To do so is to seriously misconstrue the purpose and meaning of the demonstration.
The list of requirements at each grade are a model for training the body and mind. There are an infinite number of ways to create technique as well as attack. As you progress the forms that you learned as a beginner will have been augmented by further training and will no longer appear the same. But the teachings of kihon waza are in all technique and manifestations of those teachings will be an element of all movement.
How well each person progresses is impossible to predict. There are no “package courses”, but Aikido is a program for lifelong progress. Factors such as age, physical condition, attendance, attitude, passion, diligence, etc. All affect one’s progress.
It is my sincere wish that you enjoy each day of your training, and enjoy being who and where you are without overly concerning yourself with rank. It seems, paradoxically, the less you concern yourself about rank, the faster you will progress; the training process is more important than a goal or reward. Ideally, training itself is its own reward.