I have returned from the deserted beaches of the Red Sea and am back to kendo. Yesterday after keiko, I was asked about the different qualities required to respectively pass first kyu and first dan gradings. I blithely answered that there is no real difference, just a bit more of the same. Now logically this can be said about the difference between any two grades, but having potentially short-changed my questioner, I looked up the BKA’s sylabus just to check the official line. These are the key points:
- Act correctly on the shinsa-jo
- Be tidily dressed, show correct etiquette on and off court
- Show correct ashi sabaki and ki- ken- tai- ichi for ikkyu level
- Show reasonable kirikaeshi – attacking side only
- Hold the shinai correctly, cut with control, cut on target
- Be eager to initiate attacks
- Show the appropriate kata level for ikkyu
- Everything as per ikkyu plus the following
- Correct chudan kamae and issoku itto maai
- Correct cutting
- Good kiai, posture and ki- ken- tai- ichi
- Show effective zanshin
Some of the additional requirements look like obvious duplication. such as “cut with control, cut on target” for ikkyu and “correct cutting” for shodan but this could be taken to mean more emphasis is required on the total cutting motion. So you could for instance make a controlled accurate attack for ikkyu but fail shodan because your shoulder, elbow and wrist coordination is lacking.
The emphasis on correct chudan and issoku-ito-maai is clearly additional but begs the question “if chudan is a new requirement for shodan, what kamae is required for ikkyu?” In my view this refers more to the quality of the candidate’s chudan and whether it is effective in preventing your opponent from attacking you at will. Ki-ken-tai-ichi is similar – more of the same but better. The only really new emphasis is on issoku-ito-no-maai, kiai and zanshin.
Distilling this down and putting it through the filter of my understanding, what separates ikkyu and shodan is better distance and more spirit. In both cases you should have mastered basic kendo movement and be able to attack freely and enthusiatically. Of course different shinsain have slightly different conceptions of what is required, so there is alway the question of interpretation, but that is why in kendo we have panels to issue grades, not individual instructors.
Still the subjective element is always there. Many years ago, I saw a Japanese grading sylabus where the points for each grade were overwriten with the caveat “The standard for ….dan is the standard for ….dan”. My interpretation is that you will pass if enough people on the panel think you should.