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).
This system is still under development and testing; 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 Progression
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!
The first ukemi Skill Progression focuses on forward (“zempo” or “mae”) rolls, breakfalls, and feather falls – the most common ukemi practiced in Aikido. The objective of this track is to prepare students to be able to take spontaneous, high-level forward ukemi by the time they reach 1st kyu, and to take “shihan-level” forward ukemi by the time they reach nidan.
- 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 -video instruction examples: link 1, link 2), and
Ikkyo feather fall (link for video example)
- 6-direction forward breakfalls (feather falls), or other advanced forward ukemi (speak with Sensei Guy)
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. Students are encouraged to request assistance from any student with a higher level in this skill progression for instructions on how to practice and prepare for their own 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)
- Barry Engh (11/6/17)
- Meredith Abel (11/6/17)
- Carrie Matteoli (11/6/17)
- Level 7
- Isaac Molina (10/30/17)
- Vanessa Crompton (11/13/17)
- Level 6
- Robert Bebeau (11/17/17)
- Level 4
- Matt Stephen (10/16/17)
- Ken Bedeker (10/16/17)
- April Kirchner (10/16/17)
2. Back Ukemi Skill Progression
The second ukemi Skill Progression focuses on rearward / back (“ushiro”) falls, rolls, breakfalls, and feather falls. The objective of this track is to prepare students to be able to take spontaneous, high-level back ukemi by the time they reach 1st kyu, and to take “shihan-level” back ukemi by the time they reach nidan.
The back ukemi skill levels are expected to be drawn from the following list of skills. This system is still under development, and we are not yet accepting requests to demonstrate or test for level proficiency (11/21/2017). This system is expected to be completed by March, 2018, although we will may be releasing demonstration requirements videos before then.
- Back falls
- Backward rolls
- Feather Falls
- Partner ground back feather fall exercise
- Partner standing back feather fall exercise, assisted (links to instructional videos: link 1, link 2)
- Partner standing back feather fall exercise, unassisted (link to instructional video)
- Postfall solo feather back fall (link to instructional video)
- Solo back feather fall exercise (instructional videos: method 1)
3. Randori (Multiple Attackers) Skill Progression
The Randori Skill Progression / tactical series is currently under development. A list of the proposed tactics and skills under this sequence are currently available at this link, as well as links to videos containing tactics and instructional exercises as they are completed. Students are encouraged to monitor and practice the randori skills presented there in preparation for the formal publication of the sequence as part of the Skill Tree. It is expected to be complete by March 15, 2018.
The Skill Tree System is a creative work, and is Copyright © 2017 Aikido Chuseikan of Tampa Bay. The Chuseikan Skill Tree System by Aikido Chuseikan of Tampa Bay is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, based on work at http://tampaaikido.com/skill-tree/. This means that so long as you do not do it for profit or commercial purposes, you are encouraged to share it in whole or in part, to edit it and create derivative works, so long as you give credit to the source and provide a link back to us. We are sure that many teachers will want to make adjustments to our Skill Tree System based upon their own experience and objectives, and we want to encourage that; please give credit and feedback where appropriate!