In Aikido, rank is awarded and progress is measured by testing performance of techniques. The techniques, however, do not in themselves contain the essence of Aikido, neither the underlying principles nor the skills and attributes necessary to demonstrate them. By the time a student tests for black belt, they are expected to manifest many skills like posture and dignity, responsive ukemi, sharp weapons handwork and footwork, a deep knowledge of distance, timing, blending, and a clear expression of zanshin and etiquette. The student is expected to pick up these skills and many more, but rarely are these skills made articulate or formally taught. The Chuseikan Skill Tree is being developed to provide a well-rounded, clear path to acquire the skills our instructors consider necessary demonstrating a high-quality skill that represents our dojo well, and to recognize and reward when those skills are attained.
The 10 Branches of the Chuseikan Skill Tree
The skill tree currently consists of the following ten “branches”. Each branch has 10 levels of increasingly difficult skills to master and demonstrate.
- Forward ukemi (rolls / breakfalls)
- Back ukemi (rolls / breakfalls)
- No-breakfall ukemi
- Etiquette, shisei, and dojo protocol
- Ne-waza (groundwork)
- Meditation and applied spirituality
- Randori (multiple attackers)
- Weapons skills
- Atemi, pressure points, and wave power
- Aiki core principles and concepts
Attainment of a given level in any branch is accomplished by demonstrating the stated requirements in front of Guy Sensei, Don Sensei, or Julie Sensei. The exercises necessary to learn them, or explanations, can be obtained from these instructors or any student with a higher skill rank. While they must be demonstrated in order, there are no fees, age, time or rank requirements for attaining skill levels in the skill tree system. Theoretically, a dedicated but unranked student could test through all ten levels of a branch within a few months of joining Aikido for the first time.
Eventually, we will publish expectations of minimum skill tree levels required before we recommend students test for various black belt ranks. We will establish a leaderboard where students’ skill tree achievements can be recognized, and we will formally recognize higher skill level achievements with certificates or some other reward. Participation in the skill tree system is entirely voluntary, and some branches will be optional (e.g. the “no breakfall ukemi” branch is considered equal to and alternative to the other breakfall branches).
Currently we are unveiling just the Forward Ukemi branch of the skill tree while we test and improve our system. Please be understanding as the skill tree details may evolve over time. Please contact Guy Sensei if you have any questions, wish to request requirements or “homework” for your next skill level, or wish to demonstrate your skills to attain your next skill level.
1. Forward Ukemi Skill Branch
The objectives of ukemi include learning to protect yourself, learning to move so that your partner does not have to “hold back” their power and can practice their technique at full speed, and most importantly removing your own limitations of movement. Links to video tutorials are provided to help you visualize your goals at each level, and to provide exercises to help you prepare; however, your best bet is to have an instructor or sempai work with you in the Dojo. If you find better video examples, please let us know!
- Basic forward roll (link for video example 2)
- Silent / slow forward roll (link for youtube example 1), and
Forward roll with weapon (link for example, drill #9)
- Scissor roll to standing (slap-roll; video example 1), and
1-hand cartwheel (optional)
- 6-direction forward rolls (link for youtube example)
- Forward roll core exercise (video example 1; video example 2, “drill #1”)
- Classic Judo breakfall – partner (“hard style” – link for video example), and
No-hands Roll (example 1, example 2, drill #17)
- Classic Judo slap breakfall – solo (this level is expected by ikkyu or earlier), and
Feather forward breakfall – partner (standing arm-grab “soft style”, link for video example)
- Core connection-style paired feather fall practice (from kotegaeshi, shihonage, iriminage, and no technique; nage kneeling, and nage squatting; video example 1, video example 2 – drill #46)
- Forward feather fall (solo, and from kotegaeshi and shihonage – link for video example), and
Ikkyo feather fall (link for video example)
- 6-direction forward breakfalls (feather falls), or other advanced forward ukemi (speak with Sensei Guy)
Current yudansha have been started at Level 2. All levels must be demonstrated with consistent ability, right and left side, in Level order, even if the student has gained “higher Level” ukemi skills. Initially, all testing for Level promotion must be performed with Sensei Guy. The first few students to reach Level 10 will have a custom metalwork gift made for them by Sensei Guy. See Sensei Guy, or any student with a higher Level, for instructions on how to practice and prepare for the next Level. There is no “seniority” (sempai/kohai) within a Level; the skill tree is completely based on effort and ability!
Current Student Leaderboard:
- Level 10
- Alan Abelson (10/27)
- Level 7
- Isaac Molina (10/30)
- Level 6
- Vanessa Crompton (10/30)
- Level 4
- Matt Stephen (10/16)
- Ken Bedeker (10/16)
- April Kirchner (10/16)
- Level 2
- Pierre Musy
- Meredith Abel
- Jon Posnick
- Carrie Matteoli
- Barry Engh
- Rebecca Musy
- Alan Abelson
- Tiago Dominguez
- Rainer Metcalf
- Robert Bebeau (10/13)