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 respect
- Ne-waza (groundwork)
- Meditation and applied spirituality
- Randori (multiple attackers)
- Weapons skills
- Atemi, pressure points, and wave power
- Aiki 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, 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.
- Basic forward roll
- Silent / soft forward roll
- Scissor roll (Judo slap-roll)
- Forward roll core exercise
- 8-direction forward rolls
- Classic Judo breakfall – partner
- Classic Judo breakfall – Solo (this level is expected by ikkyu or earlier)
- Feather forward fall – partner (standing arm-grab style)
- Aikikai paired feather fall practice (from kotegaeshi and shihonage; nage kneeling, and nage squatting)
- Forward feather fall (solo, and from kotegaeshi and shihonage)