There is some confusion about what a coloured belt looks and feel. Sometimes we look at a black belt and we go like ‘wahhh… that guy’s got the swag!’
To put this in a more simplistic way other than having a functional purpose of just holding your Gi in place, we can use the grades to think and solve problems.
Shoshin (初心) Way
Harry sensei always tells us to keep a beginners mind, so much so our Dojo is called Shoshin. How then, on the mat and in our lives are we supposed to live and act on this values.
Beginner’s way of solving a problem.
A couple class back, Radek and Lois was working together to figure out a particularly complex waza. Both has clocked a good many years of training and they were moving and adjusting how the uke and nage should move. I suggest them that they need to break down their approach down to white belt level.
Sometimes, clocking those years of experience and perceived seniority can cloud and block our ability to learn new things and see the solution from another view. Other times we become so senior we foolishly held onto our ranks and reject new ways of doing things, hence making ourselves irrelevant to the dynamics of the world.
Remember your time as a White Belt
When we first joined as a white belt, we know nothing about Aikido, everything is new and we are starting from zero. Everything seems so awkward, but we weren’t shy about it, and learned with gusto, and well, failure is a given. There was no expectations about what we can get out of it, and learning like this we get everything we could out of every touch point.
White belts soak in the moves, step by step and under a good sensei, procedural guidance can help white belts gain some proficiency in the moves and eventually a white belt can, mechanically complete a basic technique.
As we become Brown Belt
This is somewhat between proficiency and exploration. I remember my times as a brown belt, I was always looking for senior black belts to train with. Being a bustling brown belt, we have gotten out fair share of mistakes and injuries, yet we are technically proficient to bring some moves to play. We are not afraid to make mistakes and we know how to avoid some of those mistakes. Brown belts are still rough around the edges but honing their moves to become more refined and polished.
Take a specific waza like Irimi-nage, a typical brown belt would have spent about 2 years practicing it, so we can execute it with finesse and speed. During my time, my brown belt friends and I look to eat black belts for breakfast lunch and dinner, since brown belts are more junior to the blacks, we can go full out with them, since they should be better than us. Anyway those are the guys we aspire to become so why not test them out?
Being Black Belt
When we become Black, we have philosophically reached the foot of the Aikido summit. We are technically proficient and we can explore more complex techniques, dive a little deeper into how the dynamics between uke and nage works, and also give Aikido back to the juniors.
We experiment with complex and compound waza moving faster and more dynamically. We are also more confident and possess a balance of technique finesse and skill.
But we get stuck sometimes
Sometimes we get stuck with a problem, we try to make sense of how a technique works. Similarly when Radek and Lois got stuck, I suggested that they dial back on their experience and approach the waza like a white belt, Put their brown belt one side and just explore with a beginners’ perspective, no risk, no expectations, no pride, explore, try, experiment, ask for help, open to learn.
Once we can understand the moves, the basic building blocks leading to the complexity of the waza, we can slowly dial it up and think of it from a brown belt level, or from a black belt level. That means we can speed it up and see how it works.
Training with different belts
I share with the class it is the same with partnering a junior belt, being a black means we must be able to dial down to a more basic junior, step by step, mechanical level of Aikido. That means I’ll need to become a white belt for my white belt partner, to match that person’s competency. There is no point for me to be a black belt and hurl the poor beginner around, as if they are at my level to take high falls and throws. This is not a sustainable way to train.
This is how we can apply Aikido spirit to help solve problems in a team, in our lives. Being a 初心 means we are continually exploring, and even when we reach an advance grade, we must not be too proud to drop to a baby’s level to learn crawling all over again, have fun, laugh and be happy. This keeps us harmoniously aligned with our world and makes sure that our ego never gets the better of us.