In other martial arts, earning a black belt is an important milestone. It means you’ve mastered an extraordinarily difficult practice. It means you can train others. It means you can proclaim your mastery to the rest of the world! The meaning of a black belt in aikido is, predictably, a little different.
In one sense, earning a black belt in aikido is simple. You prepare by practicing basic techniques and training yourself to react well to any grab presented to you. In another sense, it isn’t easy at all.
That’s why you chose aikido, isn’t it? Aikido isn’t like other martial arts, in which aggression and mastery are paramount. Aikido teaches communication, patience, and peace. So, what does a black belt mean in a martial art like aikido?
A Black Belt is Just the Beginning
The first level of black belt in aikido is shodan, which literally translates to first level. Some say that when you reach the level of shodan, you begin to learn aikido all over again. In that sense, the black belt is just a door you walk through as you delve even deeper into the martial art you’ve chosen.
Others feel that, as a yudansha, you can lead a class or help others train. You take on more responsibility as an aikido black belt. However, because every practitioner of aikido progresses at their own level, achieving a black belt is more akin to earning a degree than it is to winning a prize or suddenly becoming the best.
A word of warning: If you are after the prize – that is, if you are concerned only with getting your black belt – you may discover that you discourage easily. As one practitioner put it, If you begin to think that you “deserve” a black belt, you’re probably off the mark.
Aikido is Not Like Other Martial Arts
Unlike other types of martial arts, aikido is not a competitive sport. In aikido, it’s the efficiency of movement that’s important; not the body type. You won’t earn a black belt any faster if you spend three hours at the gym working your muscles. Competition doesn’t matter as much as self-confidence, control, and relating to and communicating with a partner.
When you consider aikido in these terms, you begin to understand that a black belt is less an achievement than an acknowledgement of your dedication. You’re ready to learn even more about yourself and about the management of violence through this practice.
How to Earn a Black Belt in Aikido
With all of these things in mind, let’s turn to the question again: How do you earn a black belt in aikido?
One thing that may benefit you is asking questions. Talk to teachers and other students before and after class. Get feedback on your technique. And keep practicing, making the necessary revisions to hone your craft.
The most difficult thing about passing your shodan test is learning to be precise about technique while also feeling natural and free in your movements. That’s why training and getting feedback is so important. You don’t want to overthink your shodan test. You want to rely, instead, on muscle memory and a calm mind. While the beauty of your movement is a part of it, the effectiveness of your aikido practice is important, too.
Above all, keep training and don’t forget to respect your process, your teacher, and your fellow practitioners. The real importance of the test is the new level of self-awareness you gain from it.
Train With Shin-Gane and Experience the Difference
At Shin-Gane, we understand the personal nature of earning your black belt, and we respect the traditions that underlie our training practices. Where are you on your aikido journey? Come get instruction and feedback from friendly, dedicated practitioners at Shin-Gane.