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Children & Teen Exams FAQ

Where and when are the tests held?
Sierra Aikido's tests are scheduled individually whenever a student is ready. We hold the exams during a class hour so that as many other students as possible can observe the test, learn from it, and support the person testing. The exam is a culmination of concentrated training and preparation, and gives the student personal recognition from all of the instructors, senpai ( senior students ) and fellow dojo members.

Are tests required for all students?
No, testing is voluntary. However, preparing for exams is a good way to learn Aikido techniques and concepts in more depth. The process helps focus students on specific areas for improvement. Test preparation also strengthens the positive interdependence between students testing and the other members supporting the preparation.

How long do students train before they test?
It usually takes about one year of steady training to advance a rank. Especially the First Exam provides a solid foundation for future training and testing. There is no competition in Aikido. Students test only after they have made significant progress compared to their last test and can do a really good exam according to their ages and levels. Sierra Aikido does not use a "bell curve" to rank students. We strive to make every student test well, even if it takes longer to prepare. Each belt represents a significant value in the eyes of the entire group. We believe anyone who is motivated can learn high quality Aikido with consistent support from the dojo.

How do students prepare for tests?
First, there's no cramming. Test preparation takes place over months so that students retain what they learn from their the exams. Each exam should be a solid springboard for the next one. Our goal, more than the ranking, is to teach children how to prepare and test well, whether the exam is for martial arts, other physical activities or academics. We hold the children to very high, but achievable standards for each rank, so students do not test until they are truly ready. Memorizing a list of throw forms is not enough. Students are ready to test when the throws are well internalized, and the quality of movement, for both throwing and falling, is up to standard for the age group and rank. Moreover, students should consistently exhibit improved Aikido technique and productive training behavior during regular practice over time, not just on exams.

How do students know when they are ready to test?
To enable ongoing test preparation for all, we keep test requirements and class learning objectives tightly coordinated. The instructor also does several individual, 5 to 15-minute "readings" in class for each student planning to test. During the readings, we see what the student needs to work on, and show what it will look like when he or she is test-ready. After each reading, we log in our exam preparation database exactly what the student needs to improve so that we can give consistent, individual guidance to each child during the months before the exam. Children often refer to their own updated test sheets in class during guided "free-practice" time. We also film some readings, if the student is willing, and provide immediate feedback on a laptop.

What if students are uncomfortable testing in front of the class?
We give students many opportunities before their tests to demonstrate in front of the class, at first with senpai and instructors. The demonstrations are casual, with every expectation that the kids don't have to be perfect or especially advanced. Shy students can tell the instructor how "exposed" they are willing to be in front of the class and gradually work up from there. For example, some are willing to take falls, but not throw. Others are comfortable if particular senpai are with them. Students test with more advanced partners who have coached them a lot already. Senior partners do all of the test side-by-side with first-year students, so the inexperienced ones are not entirely alone in the middle of the mat. Most students report a manageable level of nervousness on tests, and they also discover that all of the good physical training takes over and supports them well. Perfection is not the goal. In fact, ability to recover after a minor error is a good test of martial arts clear-mindedness.

Can several students test together?
Yes, this can be motivating for both. On the very First Exam, though, we usually open with senpai partners helping the two who are testing settle into the exam. As the test progresses, peers testing together can pair up for some of the techniques.

Can parents watch the test?
Yes, in fact they are encouraged to be there--grandparents too! We request that very young siblings be taken out of the test area if they get too noisy. The kids watching and testing need to be able to concentrate.

Can parents film the test?
Yes, we encourage that as well. The students learn by watching their own tests and may want to show the film to friends and family. It's fun and educational to review one's own tests taken over the years.

What are the belt levels and colors?
Aikido ranking for children and teens begins at 10th kyu and continues, counting downward, to 1st kyu. The First Exam is either 10th or 9th kyu, depending on the age of the student testing. Teen students move through the ranks somewhat faster, still testing only once a year, but skipping one or two of the early levels. The belt colors are:
Where do the students get their belts?
Sierra Aikido takes great pleasure in presenting the belts and certificates to students after they complete their test on their test day. Parents do not need to purchase colored belts. Sometimes a senpai who helped a student prepare for a test may offer his or her own colored belt from a past exam to the person testing.
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