Grading at senior levels – May 29, 2015, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

Once again this topic comes up. This time my federation has asked its higher grade iaido members if they would be willing to travel to grade, within the country or overseas. Some said yes, some no, some said maybe a little.

The reasons were discussed a bit, with the usual range of things being discussed. Me, I didn’t answer the survey because I’m done with iai grading. There are three 7dan ahead of me to get 8dan before I even think about it, and I have no personal desire for the grade. There is also no need for me to have the rank, so all in all, I am done with it.

Why would I not try anyway? I could I suppose, being semi-retired means I’ve got the time and I could find the money I suspect, but I just have no reason to bother. Here’s my personal story.

I started my grading career in 1981, a year I suspect, after I started Aikido. I went through 5 kyu grades in five years and got shodan in 1991 I think. That was a teaching rank then, and the rank at which I could award kyu grades on my own and put my students forward for shodan. I have no idea if that is still the case but back then it was the finish of my gradings. The next functional rank was 6dan which was automatically shihan then, which meant you could award dan rank. I had no reason to continue grading.

Sometime around that shodan mark (1987 roughly) I started practicing iaido in the CKF (I actually started iai in 1983) and it involved no ranking at all. There wasn’t any grading system since the CKF didn’t have an iaido section for several years. No problem, I wasn’t much impressed with grading after 11 years of it. Eventually an iaido section was created and I entered the grading system because we needed panels in order to grow the art.

While some people can’t be bothered with grading, most want it. When gradings happen, numbers rise, it’s that simple.

My reasons for grading in iai have always been organization-related (the need for rank to grow the organization). My last self-testing grade would probably be my aikido ikkyu, the shodan came 6 years later at a seminar simply “because it was there”. What I’m saying is that I too wanted the gradings at the beginning, they provided structure and incentive and all that usefull stuff. By ikkyu though, I’d been through the curriculum and what was left was training for the rest of my life. No sweat, I didn’t need incentive at that point, gradings were of no use to me, especially since I was still with my sensei.

Now I hold the iai rank required to sit a panel up to the top grade that we test for in the CKF. All my iai rank has been to benefit the organization, I didn’t go through that beginner phase where grading was useful to me, I started practice “to practice” as a natural extension of my previous art.

I know very few people who get to ten years of practice without having that same flip in attitude toward grading. You start grading for yourself, but at some point you are grading for the organization.

Up to now I haven’t mentioned such things as ego-gratification or self-esteem issues as grading incentive, I didn’t forget them, I just don’t care about them.

If I never grade again for any art I might practice it won’t matter to me. Not personally. In fact, the koryu arts I practice have no grading systems for me to join. I practice them because I… well I suppose because I have to. My students practice them for the same reason, I don’t give them a choice about it.

So, back to the survey. I think the question was a bit umm, I don’t have the word for it, misguided, misdirected? To ask senior people how far they would travel to grade seems to imply that they wish to grade. That grading is something they ought to be willing to spend for. It’s the wrong question really. Ask me how far I would travel or how much money I would spend to support my organization, not how far I’m willing to travel to grade. The answer to the latter is “no distance at all”, I hate travel and will not stir from my seat here at the window to go grade anywhere. I don’t want to grade. To be clear, I also don’t want to sit grading panels either, and will actively try to avoid all such things.

On the other hand, ask me if I’m willing to spend time and money to travel to get a grade that the organization needs, and you might get a different answer. Would it bother me if the organization made it mandatory to go grade overseas so that I don’t have to sit panels any more?

Go ahead, ask me.

Kim Taylor

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