Principle Beyond Technique: The Meaning of Sandan
Today’s article is of a personal nature. You get to look behind the scenes, into the mind of the Innovative Samurai. All candidates for the Sandan or 3rd Degree Black Belt exam must submit a concisely written essay. The essay provides the Sensei an understanding as to where the student has grown and matured in his or her martial training. Ignore the Japanese martial art terminology, but look for the lessons you can apply to your situation.
I have often thought of Aikido like a giant spiral staircase of life. The image of the spiral staircase allows me to climb up the staircase one training, one technique at a time. I can pause and rest on the staircase at moments during my training to reflect on my progress. Looking down the staircase reminds me how far I have traveled from the first step of White Belt to where I am today. Looking up shows me an unlimited amount of stairs yet to be climbed.
This is the point I find myself at as I enter into Sandan.
I no longer look up at the many stairs to climb in the same way that brought me to this point. From White Belt to Nidan (2nd Degree Black Belt), I focused on mastering technique, form and function in learning Aikido. Countless hours were spent practicing to learn and refine basic movements of waza. Training to improve strength, posture, speed, timing and positioning through the techniques being taught by Sensei was important. These things will always be critical to the correct form and function of Aikido practice.
Resting on the staircase looking up, I know that something more exists in my Aikido journey. Entering into Sandan means going deeper into my study of Aikido. It means climbing each new step with more intention, focus and awareness of my training. By this, I mean further development and understanding of the principles at work in Aikido.
When I train now, I am looking to not only understand the technical aspects of the technique, but also the principle behind the technique. Principles guide us and lead us down the correct path. It is easy to train for technique alone until you meet a partner who is stronger and more experienced. When this happens technique alone may no longer work.
By understanding the principle behind the technique, I will be adaptable to the situation because I am relying on a force greater than pure mechanical factors such as momentum, strength, or timing.
I am even more excited to continue my pursuit of Aikido from Sandan onward. I look forward to opportunities to train in “basic” technique. This provides the ability to study and practice the deeper principles with greater focus. Principles of breath, movement, alignment, center, tenkan, space and awareness are even more important than ever before. The most amazing aspect of this is that each time I study and practice with the principle at the forefront of my mind, the outcome of the intended technique is greater and often easier.
Techniques become more impactful. Movement occurs more naturally. Focus is sharper. I train with more relaxation than ever before. Henka or Kaeshi waza is more flowing and natural when allowing the principles to guide the technical outcome versus my mind. This brings me great personal satisfaction from my training, knowing that my skill and technique continues to evolve without ceasing.
Through this process of striving towards a deeper understanding of Aikido Principles, I am able to be of better service to my training partners and students whom I train. My desire is to help them integrate these principles earlier into their training than perhaps I learned along my journey of Aikido training.
By focusing on deeper integration of the principles into my techniques, I realize that there is a never ending amount of possibilities that can come from my training. This inspires me to look forward to an increasingly more meaningful way of training for the rest for my life. As my study of Aikido continues, I climb each step with greater purpose and awareness than the stairs that have been ascended until now. For this awareness, I am eternally grateful.
Please leave a comment with any questions that you have!