Right now, I'd like to write down a few thoughts directed at a couple of my fellow Aikidoka who are coming up on their Shodan tests. File it under "for what it's worth."
At all three dojos where I've trained, "testing" -- especially for Shodan -- is a bit of a misnomer. For the most part, as the saying goes, if you're up for testing, you've pretty much already proven to the dojo leaders that you are worthy of the rank. The "test" should be a demonstration -- not an evaluation, really. You're probably not likely to "fail" a test to where you will not be granted the rank.
That said there are ways you can come up short -- which amounts to the same thing. You won't come away from your Shodan test fully satisfied (I don't know that you should), but you should feel good about it overall.
So, how can you come up short? Well, that depends on what the Yudansha are looking for. And that's slightly different for each individual -- both the individuals being evaluated, and the individuals doing the evaluation. You need to satisfy them all.
You need to be able to
- Demonstrate the techniques the way you were taught to do them
- Do this with some degree of proficiency
- Breathe, and move from your hips
- Know the vocabulary
- You will be asked to do things you've never seen in class -- you need to be able to use the basics you know to solve these new problems.
- You will be pushed to your limit, and beyond. You will be observed as to how you handle this.
- Will you be able to use your training in a real "street" confrontation?
Personally, I look for all of the above. But there are certain things that I am more concerned with than others.
Having come from different styles myself, I am less concerned personally that you're able to do techniques exactly the way you were taught them -- other than being able to be a consistent teacher for other students. I assume that you can do this at this point in your training.
I've seen a lot of people pass me in rank over the years, and I've observed their transition through the upper ranks -- particularly heading in to Shodan. Usually, students go through a couple of distinct events: wanting to quit because they feel they'll never "get it," and seeing their own Aikido "pop."
Most students reach a point where they're so frustrated with trying to get their technique down well enough for Shodan that they just want to quit. For me, I went through that three times -- all three times I earned 1st Kyu. By the last time it happened, I recognized it as the "my Aikido sucks" phase of my training, and, though it lasted a LONG time, I was mentally prepared for it.
I look for "the pop." What I mean is that each student eventually finds something in Aikido that is recognizably their own. I find my self saying "ahhh... so that's George's Aikido..." I'm always learning from students, but it is at this stage of their training when I think they really actually start adding to the art. It is this that I'm looking for, before and during a Shodan test.
I'm also just looking for some basic "how you hold yourself" stuff. How do you command the space around you? Are you fully active even between techniques? Do you, out of frustration at some point, depart from your training and resort to whatever your particular tendency is (like using strength, maybe you stop moving, etc)? Do you ever quit -- even when pushed to your limit and beyond? How does that look?
I will be asking for a "favorite technique." What technique do you think you do well enough to let it characterize your own personal take on Aikido?
So. You'll need to satisfy a lot of different criteria. That's the challenge.