Testing for the first step - Shodan
Here goes, opening a can of worms (which quite frankly are less dramatic in real life) the test for Shodan - the first black belt grade.
To start and set expectations for this subject - no one does it the same. Each Bujinkan dojo will have there own standards and metre on what they want for a student to grade successfully for black belt. Which really doesn't help anyone to be honest - and any moderately competent google research will bring up the many issues with this non-standardised approach. It leads (understandably) to questions on effectiveness and practicality of the martial art. Add to the mix the number of 'ninja' arts that are on the internet and there is a bewilderment of standards.
This then leads to the obvious question, what are the standards here at this dojo for black belt - and importantly how does it hold up to the Bujinkan as a whole?
The first students to train from white all the way through to black belts are the ones who set the standard. But, the true test though isn't just on that one day, its over the weeks, months and years of training. The commitment to attend every session, to train at home, to develop solid fundamental skills (kihon), to be able to show flow (nagare) and variations on the principles of that kihon (henka).
This naturally means on the day of testing they need to be able to demonstrate without prompting or instruction. Ukemi or rolling is first looked at, including no handed and with weapons. Then those fundamental kata (kihon happo and sanshin no kata) to a high standard. As well as three variations on each kata. That should be a given, but there's more to it.
I have stated before that at this dojo we teach weapons alongside taijutsu to have a balanced development of skills. It would only be natural therefore to test the fundamental skills with some of the core weapons in the Bujinkan. But which ones are those? As you can see its getting less straightforward.
Here at this dojo the core weapons are divided into short (close range) medium, and long weapons. So from this we get tanto, hanbo, sword and bo staff. The fundamental skills - well simply start with kamae, then some techniques.
For tanto we look at Ken nagare (with variations) and three defences to a tanto at the neck, for sword and bo staff we look at Goho no kata, as well as Bo furi itself. With hanbo we take the first three techniques from Hatsumi sensei book on stick fighting - Tskui iri, Koshi ori and Ganseki otori.
Finally we finish with randori. In this the grading student stands in the middle of how ever many training partners are there, and then they attack individually. The attack is prescribed - punch at head or stomach height, kick, grab, grab and punch, punch and kick, twin lapel grab and rear body hug. The attacks are made with intent, the grading student must apply the techniques effectively and show good kamae and balance. Oh, and each attack must be dealt with in a different manner. So if there are 6 uke around the grading student there needs to be six different responses to the same attack.
This whole process can take over three hours, depending on any sneaky extras thrown into the test - which does happen. The end result should be a Shodan that can go to any Bujinkan dojo and train with no qualms about the standard of their grade and how they will be viewed by their peers.
Again, this what we do here at Bujinkan Newbury Dojo. It does not mean it is the only path to shodan, every dojo has its own requirements, but this is ours.
And remember its not a black belt, its a dirty white belt...