Aikido & Graduations


The graduation system with Kyu and Dan grades in modern Budo goes back to Jigoro Kano (1860 - 1938), the founder of Judo. He refined the 5-stage system of ancient martial arts (Koryu). The shorter intervals between the individual levels allow for a more differentiated didactic concept and were supposed to inspire the motivation of the students.
An examination program in Aikido serves as a basic curriculum. In Ki-Aikido there are even additional Ki-exams. However, no one is obliged to take exams.
In some schools there are additional formations and a licensing for instructors and examiners.
In the KNKI, the Kyu diplomas are written in Latin alphabet. The language used is English to keep printing expenditure low. Nowadays, however, it is easy to use the respective national languages. Dan certificates are also usually printed and then completed by hand with name and date.
For Aikido groups with a direct connection to Japan or a Japanese teacher at the top, the Dan certificates are written in Kanji and Katakana (traditional) or Hiragana (modern). European Aikido organisations issue their documents in Latin alphabet.



(The data on the illustrations is fictitious.)
The certificates have up to three seals/stamps. Registered seals (実印 jitsuin) are considered like a signature in Japan. At the top right is the seal for authenticity, there is only one part on the paper, the supplement is deposited. The bigger seal is that of the organization. At the bottom left is the name stamp of the person responsible for the document.

  1. The style/school is called AIKIDO. Responsible is the headmaster DŌSHU (道主) Ueshiba Moriteru.
    The organization's name is Zaidan Hojin Aikikai (財団法合気会), it is on the far right. Zaidan Hojin means "legal foundation".
  2. The style/school is called SHIN SHIN TOITSU AIKIDO. Responsible is the headmaster SŌSHU (宗主) Tōhei Kōichi.
    The organization's name is Zaidan Hojin Ki no Kenkyukai (財団法気研究会), it is on the left.
    This Ki no Kenkyukai has expired. It has been succeeded by the SHIN SHIN TOITSU AIKIDOKAI with Tohei Shinichi at the top.
  3. The style/school is called AIKIDO YUISHINKAI. Responsible is the President KAISHU (会主) Maruyama Koretoshi.
    The organization's name is also AIKIDO YUISHINKAI (合氣唯心会), it is on the left.
  4. The style/school is called SHIN SHIN TOITSU AIKIDO. Responsible is Yoshigasaki Kenjiro.
    The organization's name is Ki no Kenkyukai (気研究会), it is on the left. Yoshigasaki Sensei used the sign 証 for diploma/certificate, the others use the more traditional kanji 證 (SHŌ). The difference lies only in interpretation. On the document, Yoshigasaki Sensei did not use his title "DŌSHU - Keeper of the Way".
Graduations are generally not recognised by public authorities. For example, they cannot be used as proof of teaching ability.

Examinations' program

The examination program is certainly a good basis for systematically structuring the multitude of techniques. Teachers have a roadmap for what to teach. On the one hand, there are also schools in which only techniques up to the next degree are taught. The yellow belts only practice orange belt techniques, the orange belts only green belt techniques etc. However, this can only be done if there are enough students on the mat. On the other hand, there are dojos who give little importance to the examinations. Techniques taught correspond to the current focus of the teacher.
However, the examinations' program and the graduations are a good basis for to have future teachers who know, teach and pass over all aspects of Aikido.


From the early days of Aikido it is reported that the founder Ueshiba Morihei handled the graduations very freely. A 4th dan Judo arriving on the mat to start with Aikido, immediately received the 5th dan Aikido. In later years, Ueshiba is said to have awarded high grades orally and ad hoc when he was impressed by a student's performance. But he sometimes forgot to write and to hand over the certificates.
Even today, it still happens that someone changes the Aikido style and is awarded the next higher degree by the new association.
Under Yoshigasaki Sensei a 4th dan could examine until 1st dan. 6th dan and above could examine until 2nd dan. He himself examined all 3rd dan and above. Most recently, however, he had lifted these restrictions.
A simple rule for examinators could be that Aikidoka with a degree from 1st dan upwards can examine up to 2 degrees below their own degree. Responsibility for this can be assumed with the name of the examinator and his signature or seal on the diploma. An inflation of dangrades is unlikely, because otherwise the respective examiners would devalue the self-issued documents.
For awarding dangrades from 8th Dan upwards, some other rule shall have to be found.

The pedigree - a trustworthy document

From the movie "The Seven Samurai".
Kikuchiyo (played by Toshiro Mifune) wants to prove that he is a samurai.
He just got a little drunk, which a true samurai would never do. Nevertheless, he still manages to get out and present his pedigree. Unfortunately, the data is not quite appropriate.