Leading the practice at my University ( Griffith Aikido ) for the better part of a decade, and as the authorised examiner for Aikido Yuishinkai (see our archival site) there I've seen hundreds of students progress through what has become quite a large Aikido club, and develop some fine Aikido along the way. Apart from the students' dedication and commitment, progress in a large part is due to the structure of the syllabus itself, through its structured approach to learning and sensitivities to the stages of development. Conducting examinations for the dojo over a long period of time has offered up an opportunity to see trends of development and progression with a reasonable sample size and I hope some interesting insights.
UPDATE: Today this syllabus forms the basic structure for the Great Ocean Aikido Syllabus, an independent aikido group.
The Aikido Yuishinkai syllabus itself was formed circa 2002 and further refinements took place in the early formative years (3 editions of the student guide were released in as many years). It is the work of Kaicho Koretoshi Maruyama Sensei, a prominent deshi of O'Sensei and a former president and chief instructor of the Ki Society together with his International Chief Instructor, Michael Williams Sensei (who is the today the founder of the independant Goshinkai Aikido), who was responsible for the introduction and development of Ki Society Aikido to Australia in the eighties. The grading syllabus itself is based on a steady progression of static technique through to dynamic movement, this kind of progression is by no means exclusive to this school.
As a part of this syllabus all students are invited to grade regularly after a recommended number of classes and invitation from the examining instructor and enables a regular measure of progress. All students so invited pass, leaving the responsibility of standards to everyday practice and the invitation to grade from the teacher, rather than grading day performance. This has plusses and minuses and does lead to individual variability and emphasis on different aspects from dojo to dojo. Thus gradings take the form of a demonstration of techniques for each particular level, which get more challenging with progress. There are 7 kyu or beginners' grades before progressing to the dan or senior levels which are examined up to San (3rd) dan. Coloured belts are worn for junior students and black belts for senior students. Tests are held every few months by the dojo with students progressing through the early grades every few months to the dan grades which can take years. A dedicated student can be recommended for shodan (1st degree black belt) in a little over three years though often it takes much longer.
Maruyama Sensei's techniques are now taught with five levels of understanding, though only the first three are examined in gradings, with the final 2 developed only recently. These are:-
With these five levels of technique I believe Maruyama Sensei helps us to understand and develop what are often called the hard and soft aspects of Aikido. Tthough our school is predominately regarded as a soft style it has the solid precise foundations of Kotai similar to Yoshinkan Aikido in precision (if not with quite the martial intensity of that school), and exposure to the creative aiki process through Kutai and Kontai level technique as a vehicle to doing higher level Aikido. Exploring techniques from Kotai right through the intermediate levels Juntai, Ryutai to Kutai,Kontai is a tremendous opportunity to see how important are the foundations and correct movement of our art at the static level as a prerequisite for higher level technique. While fully understanding Kontai is beyond the reach of most of us, there is a definite relationship between having good performance of Kotai level technique with all the nuances of detail and ability to do respectable Kontai.
Five levels of technique
The five levels of technique are described as :