Group photo of members of Aikido of San Diego, on the mat and dressed in training uniforms, following Ana Allen's 1st-kyu exam. Photo by Christine Cessna.
Aikido of San Diego members after Ana Allen's 1st kyu exam - Photo by her daughter, Christine Cessna

Linda Eskin — Writing About Aikido Since 2009

I think I’ve noticed an interesting rhythm to what is covered in classes: As exams approach, about every 2 months, classes focus more on techniques that are required for the exams (thank goodness!). Just after exams, we get to try some more interesting things. Both of the classes I did today covered new (to me) ground. Fun stuff!

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Warm breeze, gentle mat.
Forms join, swirl as one, part,
Keeping connection.

Linda Eskin
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My 6th Kyu Aikido Exam

I did my exam for 6th kyu this morning.

[Update: Here is a page with videos of all my Aikido exams]

At our dojo, Aikido of San Diego, we start as unranked. The first test is for 6th kyu.

The exam covered:

  • Ukemi: forward & back roll
  • Katate-dori: tai no henko, shihonage (omote & ura)
  • Shomen-uchi: tenkan & irimi, ikkyo (omote & ura)
  • Jiyuwaza: grabs
  • Suwariwaza: kokyu dosa

What I’ve been telling my non-Aikidoka friends is that this test is a little like graduating from kindergarten. I had to show that I basically know my colors and can tie my own shoes. Simple stuff, but hard for a beginner to master.

Most of the feedback I got was very positive. There were a few hiccups:

  • I was mentally off-kilter from having just run back from the restroom (there had been a line). Everyone was already seated on the mat, and my exam was first. So it was run back, sit down, get up, go!
  • I was winded from rushing, and it took a few minutes to recover from that at the start.
  • I got dizzy/spaced from rolling, so blew my first hanmi (for the shomen-uchi tenkan), and then almost fell over. (D’oh!)
  • I was not expecting to have to do shikko (knee walking), so I had no idea why Sensei was asking me if my knees were injured. I think that was my only real deer-in-the-headlights, “duh” moment. I had never tried it on the mat (only once at home), but got through it OK.
  • Sensei pointed out afterward that my kokyu-dosa (suwariwaza) could be bigger, with better extension.

Overall I’m very happy. Naturally I wanted to nail every last detail, but I did OK, and didn’t embarrass my teachers. I’ll take it.

I had a great time preparing for the exam, and was lucky to work with a very capable mentor – Scott Bjerke. I have never felt so much on the receiving end of the “it takes a village” (to raise a child) concept. In addition to learning from Dave Goldberg Sensei and the other instructors, I have learned from nearly everyone in my dojo, and from others as well. Maybe I can start helping others along now and then (on simple stuff, for the moment).

Now that I have been through the testing process once, I’ll be paying attention in a slightly different way in class now (and likely taking notes after classes). And I’ll certainly be paying more attention to the names of each technique.

Having achieved this little first step, one of my next goals (in addition to working toward 5th kyu, and getting in better physical shape, of course) is to begin to explore applying what I’m learning in Aikido to my riding and other work with my horse. I’ll be posting those adventures here, too.

Many thanks for the ongoing encouragement.

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The Dreaded Dojo Whiteboard

I have been fairly comfortably going along, slowly, as an Aikido newbie. Working diligently and mindfully, but in no hurry. Plodding. No deadlines. Well, I recently passed our association’s minimum of 20 training days to test for the lowest rank, 6th Kyu. So I’ve been glancing with some trepidation at the dojo whiteboard, where names are posted of those who will be testing. Our next tests are on September 19th. I never thought I’d be in that batch. I thought maybe November (we have tests every 2 months, I believe). But I kept checking the board, just in case.

On Thursday I stopped by the dojo, just to drop something off, and a friend in the class turned and pointed at the board. Yikes!

I’m about as calm and even-tempered as a person could be, but I was really stunned/delighted. I actually ran to my car, grabbed my iPhone, and tweeted a photo of the board. (Yes, I am a geek.)

Here’s what I said on Facebook, and I stand by it:
“I am here to tell you that the thoughts "It’s not *that* big a deal, and nobody expects you to be perfect at this level,” and “Squeeee!!! OMG, OMG, OMG!!!” Can coexist perfectly well in one mind.“

It’s the damnedest thing. My (very) rational mind knows that everyone who shows up long enough, and who can roll without killing themselves, tests for 6th Kyu. It’s like "graduating” from kindergarten. What’s interesting though, in the “watching my mind blabbering on” sense, is that I am really excited about it. Giddy. Honored. Kind of silly, but there it is.

I guess it’s been a very long road even getting to this point (including some challenges well before I ever set foot in the dojo). It feels just like I’ve been preparing for a wilderness adventure. I’ve heard stories and read books, learned some basics, gathered my equipment and supplies, gotten myself to base camp, met some of my fellow adventurers, and set up my tent. Now I’ve been casually invited to join up with the group at the trailhead in the morning.

I’m excited about what lies ahead, and determined to be up to it.

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