On Evaluating Tests
By Joseph Caulfield

Black Sword Aikido does not have matches. There are many reasons for this and, of course, there are styles of Aikido which do have tests, Tomiki Ryu, for instance. There are many reasons offered for not having matches, the most often quoted being that Ueshiba did not approve of matches in that, in his mind, it contradicted his philosophical and religious beliefs that you should embrace uke as your friend without struggle and contention. Equally as important, he felt that Aikido was just too dangerous for the uke, if the uke sought to resist a technique. Tomiki gets around the danger by making Aikido more "Judo-like," and safer.

I am opposed to matches in Black Sword Aikido. I do not feel that Black Sword Aikido should be ever practiced as a contest, but always as a martial way. In my opinion, it is absolutely essential to always hold foremost the attitude "ichi geki hissatsu," one strike, certain death. Some teachers interpret this to mean that one can kill with a single blow. This is certainly true, but I think it misses the point. One should practice with the attitude that the slightest waiver in concentration could result in either your death or your partner's death, and that even without this waiver in concentration, death could result. There is a Japanese saying that "death waits outside the eaves of the castle." Only by adopting this attitude does one train properly and, paradoxically, safely. Only in this manner does Black Sword Aikido become a true path to integration, as opposed to merely a fighting system. Only by practicing "ichi geki hissatsu" can one manifest "shinbu fusatsu," divine techniques without killing.

In any event, in that we do not have matches, the closest we can come to replicating the emotions accompanying a match is through the pressure of public testing. That's why, whenever possible, I encourage you to test in front of your fellow students, rather than wait for a promotion. Of course, on a cosmic scale, rank doesn't matter. However, the testing process, if the student is ready, and if the tests are conducted properly, results in a crisis of spirit which dissolves complexes and energizes the whole being. It is difficult to look at yourselves, but if you look at your fellow students who have trained for a while, you will see the marvelous changes and recognize this process.

Although I try to make testing an affirmational experience, to be valid, testing must present an opportunity to fail. Even this is useful. I am looking for you to demonstrate that you can perform the techniques that are set forth in the testing requirements, commensurate with the time you have trained. In other words, I do not expect a seventh kyu to perform ikkyo, as well as a first kyu. The collary of that is that I expect a first kyu to perform ikkyo much better than a seventh kyu. Nor, am I looking for a demonstration of self defense. If the techniques are performed properly, they will defend you. What I am looking for are clean techniques performed as I have demonstrated them during classes. Although I do not require it, it would be nice to see you perform the techniques as I am currently demonstrating them, not as I demonstrated them six months ago. This indicates that you have attended classes during the last six months and have noticed the changes!

Etiquette is very important, so you must conduct yourself properly, with a certain degree of elegance. This demonstrates your respect for your school, your teachers, and your fellow students, as well as for yourself.

You should perform each technique until I indicate otherwise. It goes without saying, that you must be able to identify the technique that I request. I know that it is in a foreign language, but so is the menu in a Chinese restaurant and some of the beers in the supermarket cooler.

In the performing of each technique, I am evaluating you for relaxation, rhythm, timing, speed, balance, and "kokyu ryoku," breath power. Once again, the higher the rank, the more I expect of you.

There is one other criteria, often refered to as "political considerations." This is to consider the effect the applicant's promotion may have on the art. This is very problematic. Because it is so subjective, an examiner can use it to justify any decision, even one based on malice. I have always been troubled by this criteria, no doubt in part, because I was its victim for so many years. However, we live in an imperfect world, a political world, and such matters must be considered, even if such consideration is my own crisis of spirit.

Do your best!