I receive many questions about testing and it's clearly something on the minds of almost everyone. The questions range from “Sensei, what should I be focusing on most while I'm preparing for the next level?” to “Hey, I paid for my son's red belt test a month ago, why haven't you tested him?” The former is received gladly while the latter is answered with a smile and sometimes a return of the testing payment.
It's been my experience that each instructor manages the testing process a little differently. Even among Aikido instructors who follow the same testing curriculum, have the same national affiliation and train together, there will be noticeable differences. Here are my thoughts on testing.
Testing happens when a student is ready for the next level and I will let the student know when their time has come. Please be patient and let your time come - don't be too attached to reaching the next level. The important part is the journey not the destination. Training diligently with the principles of Aikido in mind will bring you to the next level precisely when you are ready.
Student conduct and focus in class is very important. Remember that we are partaking in martial arts training and at the core is development of the character. The expectations on students increase with rank and age.
Regular attendance should be a cornerstone of your training - nothing can replace it and nothing else has the same effect. To reach the senior levels (brown and black belt) Aikido training has to become routine.
As students, we must all constantly strive to improve our techniques. Learning the form is only the beginning. Polishing the form is a never-ending process.
Students need to have trained for an appropriate period of time. The training-hour guidelines will give students and parents an idea for how long it typically takes to advance from one level to the next but these are only guidelines. Age, conduct, training frequency and technical skill all come into play in determining when a test happens. Depending on a student's development, testing may happen with more or less hours than the training-hour guidelines state.
There is a testing fee but students are not paying for a service. Primarily, the testing fee covers the cost of the belt and certificate. In addition, the dojo needs to be financially stable and positive income needs to be generated in order to sustain current and future activities. Testing fees support these activities. Paying the testing fee is simply one of the steps on the path leading up to a test; it doesn't guarantee that the test will happen at a given time.
Chief Instructor, BigRock Aikikai