by Mitsugi Saotome, ca. 1986 for an ASU newsletter
Yudansha ranking is given for many reasons, not just technical ability. Just because a person receives a certain yudansha rank does not mean that he or she has attained that ability at that moment. It means that I feel the person is on the threshold and will grow into that rank with the pressures of added responsibility.
Of course, receiving a promotion to any yudansha rank presupposes a certain technical proficiency. But this alone is not enough. My eyes see differently when I watch a student practice. I see that student's personality as well as his or her growth. I often know what kind of special difficulties the student has had to overcome. I have a good idea how much that person has done for his or her group, how much responsibility has been shouldered and how much he or she has done to help others. I know that person's social and spiritual growth and leadership abilities.
I've been asked many times how a student should train and with what goals in mind for each yudansha level. Most of this cannot be put into words and must come from the individual student's heart as he or she grows in understanding; but I can give you a little guidance.
To train for shodan
You are training to become a beginner, no longer just a guest in the dojo, but a student with very real responsibilities. One must study the basic technical form and basic physical principle until the correct movement is automatic and feels natural.
To train for nidan
The power of movement must be emphasized and developed. The functional reality of technique must be explored and an understanding developed of what really works and why.
To train for sandan
The student must develop an understanding of aiki principle and begin to break out of technique.
To train for yondan
The student must discover the philosophy of aiki principle and how it relates to technique. The technical form must be deeply refined according to this understanding and the student must seriously begin to develop the art of training others. Personal training is not enough. The student must understand social responsibility.
To train for godan
One must make aiki principle a direct part of his or her life, developing an awesome spirit, leadership qualities and the spiritual and social application of aiki principle. A complete spontaneity of technique must develop which is no longer technique but the principle which underlies technique. There must be, at this point, a complete dedication to the art and a great social and spiritual growth. A growth which produces not a narrow local concern for one dojo or one area, but an active concern for all students and all people of the world. Throughout all these years of training, your physical, mental, social and spiritual understanding and power must steadily progress. The spontaneous application of aiki must progress. If you stop training on any one of these levels, your Aikido will no longer grow.
Just putting in your time has no meaning. The quality and intensity of your training, the discoveries you make each day, these things have meaning. You must train hard and discover the answer for yourself.