Shodan: 11 years on the way Mar 27, 2016

Last weekend, on March 19, 2016, the author of these lines has qualified for the first dan Aikido Aikikai.

The black belt.

Exactly 11 years ago I've entered the dojo of Rudik Manukyan (in Russian), who had second dan Aikikai (the original branch of aikido stemming from its very founder) at that time. Thanks to his lead I've grown from naught to second kyū in three year's time, and left for Holland shortly thereafter.

Rudik Manukyan. Source:

My second aikido chapter started soon upon my arrival at the country. Within two weeks I've sought nearby towns for an aikido school and finally landed at Joginder Singh's dojo in Amersfoort. About a year later, in June 2009, I've passed an exam for the first kyū.

Joginder Singh. Photo by Else Kramer.

Back then it seemed I was very close to moving on to the first dan/black belt. However due to private circumstances and, later, a disagreement between Joginder and Dutch Aikikai Foundation (DAF), which led to his leaving the DAF, it became complicated.

Seven years on, last summer I've taken a decision to move to another dojo. One of the things that triggered that decision was a news that a few students of my first school, who started years later than me, had advanced to the first dan already.

Aikido is a Japanese martial art that puts a heavy emphasis on self-development and self-discipline, diminishing the importance of outward achievements. It is the reason why aikido denies competition. But we, people of the West, are usually motivated by signs of recognition, without which we lapse into seeing ourselves as losers.

Another reason to change school was our move to Houten, because travelling to and from Amersfoort took considerable time.

So the third chapter of the story began in September 2015. I started training in the dojo Aikido Groene Hart led by Peter van Lier. Peter gives lessons in the small town of Woerden, not so far away from Houten; his students also run a number of dojos in nearby towns.

Peter van Lier. Source:

Surprisingly, Woerden, being three times smaller than Amersfoort (population 50 thousand vs. 150 thousand), has many more aikidōka. The dojo is also considerably larger.

I was also going to monthly shodan (first dan) preparation sessions at Aikido Centrum Leiden run by Peter's teacher Marc Jongsten, who recently received his sixth dan.

Marc Jongsten. Source:

Marc was also the examiner at my shodan exam. It was about demonstrating various aikido techniques, which as you can guess, I've successfully passed. Aikido Groene Hart has now another first and one more second dan. Another three students were given diplomas arrived from Japan after their previous exam:

Left to right, top row: Bas Smeulders, John de Jong, Edwin van Wolven. Bottom row: Martijn Bakker and myself.

Peter has even written a news article about it.

But the most important, of course, is seeing that not as a happy-end, but rather as a first step on the way.

Below is a video of the exam: