When I tested for 1st Kyu a couple of years ago, I was presented with an interesting problem. My friend, Mentor and uke, Sasun, that I selected to be my test partner, could not participate. His back went out. So rather than testing with him and benefiting from the familiarity I built up through the training period leading up to my test, my partners were my fellow students. Sensei would call them up and I would perform techniques from my test. Tall, short, limber, stiffer, more adept at rolling or not. I was ok with that, and I thought that I did well adapting to the different body types, levels and abilities.
Now, training for my shodan test, I have a different problem. I am away from my home dojo and do not have the benefit of classes with my Sensei, Bob Noha, who is currently working with the other two shodan candidates as our school goes into test preparation mode for our upcoming exams in the spring.
So, I have been thinking about why this is a problem. And I’ve also been thinking why it isn’t. Sensei told a story about a buddy of his who had just started kendo. Shortly after he started a very high ranking kendo master was conducting a seminar. His friend signed up and thought that he would sneak into the location where the seminar was early to secretly observe the kendo master and see what he could learn and how this high ranking fellow prepared. He wanted to know at the master’s level, what esoteric movements and intricate sword strikes he would use to prepare for his seminar. Surprisingly, the kendo master did the basic strike, shomen uchi, over and over again. It was the basis for all other strikes and all other movements. The first strike you learn. And he was there, over, and over and over.
Aikido is based on universal principles. They are based on physics, energy and spirit. These principles work wether I am at my home dojo, whether I am practicing at a seminar or where I’m currently training now in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There are technical aspects of my exam that I will certainly need to brush up on, but my main goal right now in solving the “problem” of being away from my home dojo is to move on the mat in accordance to the Aiki principles as taught by O Sensei. Move from center, get off the line, turn, enter. My arms and hands will follow and I will have faith in my training, Sensei, and training partners that this will carry me through.