Dan Grades – A Symbolic Perspective

Aikikai Certificates

Today we are going to talk about the Dan grades symbolic value. Rank is seen elsewhere as a material objective or an exchange commodity. Let’s analyze what should correspond to the relevant certificate on display on the walls of martial arts dojos


It marks the true beginning of studying Aikido. It is the grade of the apprentice and not as often misunderstood, of the master. It is the first step of this splendid path of initiation.
This grade is characterized by the permission to wear a black belt and hakama. The black color of the belt and hakama expresses alchemically the blackening, the regressus ad uterum, the death to the profane life before the rebirth to the initiatory life.
Wearing hakama means that body and soul are now dedicated to the Way of Aiki. It is a real assignment in the chivalric sense of the term. A Yudansha is a person who can be given responsibility, a person who can be counted on both in and outside the dojo.
Being authorized to wear hakama is a sign of trust, the sign that one has been accepted by the seniors to receive more confidential teachings.
It is therefore an initiation in the most traditional sense of the term. The number One indicates the man standing, the only living being who enjoys this faculty. This number represents the active man, associated with the work of creation and linked to the principle, to the Creator God, to the One, to the source of all things, to the cosmic center.
It is a symbol not only of being but also of the gratitude that mediates to elevate man through knowledge to a higher level.

1999 - Sligo (Ireland) - Dan Grading session with Giorgio Veneri Sensei

Usually it is obtained after an assiduous practice of at least two years, and it expresses an important stage of the initiatory path. In this grade, the initiate worked assiduously on the basic principles and understood that the foundation of the construction must be solid – Kotai (Kihon Waza).
The symbolism linked to number Two, which has always been an expression of equality and opposition, indicates reflection and balance. This is well attached to this rank, since now the initiate has a vision of what it is and what it should not be, and can now distinguish omote from ura, irimi from tenkan, positive from negative, top from bottom. Two is the number linked to the female element, synonymous with manifestation in that it produces existence and being. Therefore becomes cause of the duality that is evident when objectivity is present and it disappears with the disappearance of the form aspect. In short, the two originates the form of matter.
We need to be aware of the complementary opposites, of the world of dualism, to understand the whole.

3-sensei 02

It is obtained after an intense period of practice of at least three years.
According to the Founder of Aikido, this is the level up to which only Kihon Waza was to be studied. Now the initiate is aware of the earth element, and has an idea of ​​the material world that he will fully understand in the next phase. Number Three is the number of perfection, the Gods own number. It expresses completeness, realization, intellectual and spiritual order. This sacred number summarizes the triple unity of the living being, in which the union of heaven and earth takes place.
It is the expression of totality, of fulfillment. Three are three times of the manifest world: past, present and future, and three are the elements of the great alchemical work: sulfur (spirit), salt (body) and mercury (soul). In this rank the student has gone through (in the past) the earth element represented by the solid foundations of the practice, to mature (in the present) the technical awareness and the skill necessary to face the water element in the future. People initiated to this grade strengthen their spirit, now master their body and gradually learn to become aware of the universal soul, preparing in the imminent future to carry out the Chymical Wedding of the Great Work, what O Sensei called “Shin Gi Tai Ichi ”(Spirit, body, soul are one thing).


It is the beginning of the practice beyond the basic technique. The quaternary, the manifest, visible world is now well known.
The previously static forms are now in motion (Ki No Nagare Waza), the typical fluidity of the water element dominates this rank.
Number Four indicates awareness, concreteness, universality, totality.
This number connects to the symbols of the square and the cross. It takes us back to the four cardinal points, the four seasons, the moon phases, the four elements and so on.
The initiate now knows how to navigate the complex and wonderful world of Aiki, respects the universal laws of nature, moves free from material constraints and thanks to the faculties now achieved he can continue the journey through the elements.
Referring to the symbolism of the cross, number Four reminds us of the sense of righteousness and justice, qualities proper to those who have walked a spiritual way in a serious and profound way.
Certain virtues acquired in many years of assiduous practice, such as loyalty, courage, loyalty, precision, tenacity and correctness, are also typical at this level.

Francesco Corallini

It is generally awarded no longer following a technical examination but ad honorem (suisenjo) and in any case after a minimum period of five years.
Number Five is formed by the sum of an even number (two) and an odd number (three).
If we consider that Two represents the earthly principle and Three the celestial principle, their union gives this number a sense of unity, completeness, totality, harmony and balance.
Two and Three represent not only the terrestrial and the celestial but also good and bad, death and life, matter and spirit, the occult and the manifest. Two and Three that make up number Five, however, should not be considered separate but united, therefore their qualities add up, unite and integrate into the universe.
We can also consider that whoever possesses this grade is aware of the world of manifestation (the four elements) and is able to understand the One, the essence.
The initiate to this level has solar characteristics that come from number Three (male) and lunar characteristics that come from number Two (female), therefore he/she has intuition, strength, character, sensitivity and flexibility.
Whoever possesses this rank begins to move in the Air element.
Five is the symbol par excellence of the initiated man, the man with open arms inscribed inside the five-pointed star.
If we consider the cross that originates from a horizontal line determined by open arms and from a vertical line passing from head to toe, we can see that the center of the cross is the heart, which feeds and keeps every living being alive.
The Founder of Aikido often said that “Aikido is a matter of heart”.

Roberto Foglietta Sensei

It is received for special merits and is awarded to people who have a high technical level and uncommon moral qualities. Usually it may be received after a minimum period of 6 years after the achievement of Godan. At this minimum level one can be awarded the title of Shihan which means “(person) to be imitated” or “the man who points the way”.
In some Budo, at this level, you can wear a white Hakama, as symbol of purity and spiritual elevation, and a white-red striped belt.
Number Six is ​​made up of two times three, therefore it is a symbol of balance, of perfection, of the ability to go back from the particular to the universal. Six is ​​the number of reciprocal gifts, of antagonisms, which in the initiate to this level find potential perfection. Six represents initiation through the toughest tests, the balance between opposites.
At this level the candidate has enough wisdom and experience to be able to discern between good and evil. Six are the faces of the cube, that is of the moving square, symbol of the manifest world. For Vitruvius six were the rules and reflections of divine creation.
Six represents the four cardinal points plus zenith and nadir, that is, the directions and orientations of visible creation. In the divine world, this number represents the science of good and evil; in the intellectual world represents the balance between universal law and human freedom; physically, the antagonism of natural forces. This number evokes the image of the hexagram, that is two crossed equilateral triangles upside down. Six expresses the harmonious union of the two natures, the divine and the human.
In Indian philosophy (which as we know in part influenced the birth of Budo in the Far East) we speak of the six veils: skin, flesh, bones, blood, nerves and marrow; of the six enemies: desire, anger, greed, folly, pride, and envy; the six conditions: conception, individuation, growth, maturity, decline, destruction; the six waves: hunger, thirst, breathlessness, madness, old age, death. The initiate to this level moves in balance and harmony between these entities without being scratched by the negative values ​​of the individual elements. He/she fully knows the element Air and hovers lightly in it.

1986 - Coverciano - with Yoji Fujimoto

It may be received after a minimum period of twelve years after the achievement of Rokudan, and it is awarded very rarely and to truly selected people.
Seven is par excellence the magic number of mastery in many initiatory schools.
It is a symbol of firmness and a symbol of the existence of God.
Seven is composed of three, symbol of divinity and four, symbol of universality of created things. Seven is therefore a symbol of the indissoluble union of the two spiritual and physical worlds.
By extension we can understand the number seven as a union of heaven and earth, that is, the expression of a universe in movement. The initiate to this level begins to feel the sacred fire burning in his Atanor, the Hara Tanden. The person who reaches this rank should have reached a high level of perfection since he/she has knowledge of the material world and the divine principles.

Endo Shihan

It is an honorary grade that is very rarely conferred by the Aikikai Foundation. It is a recognition intended for people of high technical and moral value and for the leaders who founded and manage Aikikai Organizations in foreign countries. At this level, account is taken of what the candidate has done and is doing for the development of Aikido in the world and the ability with which he/she performs this task. Number Eight results from the optimal combination of 4 + 4 for which the symbology is linked to the value of dualism. This number reminds us of the Rose of the Winds with the four cardinal points and the four secondary points, which express the ability to orientate in all directions thanks to the knowledge acquired. Eight is the symbol of Infinity, of cosmic balance. The term Rosa dei Venti was borrowed from the Wheel of the World which represents the material world (square) moving inside the circle symbol of the Universe.
In many temples there are eight columns resting on a square base that support a round dome, thus making the square of the circle.
From the unity of the celestial vault to the square of the terrestrial elements it is necessary to pass through the octagon, which is related to the intermediate world of the eight directions, the eight gates and the eight winds which will raise the flames now released by the Athanor of the initiate to this level. Number eight expresses the divine in the human; it is the link between opposites, between ascent and descent, Superior and inferior, God and man. Eight indicates the way of the righteous.

Shioda Gozo 01

It is a grade achieved only by very few masters who have occupied a prominent place in the history of Aikido and are to be considered truly enlightened characters and masters of deep knowledge. Nine is considered the most important magic number, the one that distinguishes the true initiate at the higher levels and indicates stability, order, absolute wisdom, prudence, circumspection in acting. It can be added that if on the one hand Nine confers fulfillment on a human creation, on the other hand it symbolizes success in research and the crowning of efforts. This number is a symbol of perfection as the result of three ternaries. The combination of 3 + 3 + 3 = 9, has frequent references in the esoteric doctrines of many peoples of the world, which make it a cosmological reason considering every world depicted as a triangle, a ternary figure: Heaven, Earth, Underworld. Nine expresses the totality of the three worlds.
The ancient Egyptians cite this number in relation to the mountain of the Sun, recalling the evolution of the three worlds: divine, natural and intellectual, in relation to the Trinitarian archetype Osiris-Isis-Horus, representing the essence, substance and life.
The Founder of Aikido spoke of his Art by comparing it to a pyramid divided into four ascending levels: kotai, jutai, ryutai and kitai (solid, fluid, liquid, spiritual), finally surmounted by the Light of Knowledge, the world where the Initiate Man now free can rejoin God.

Koichi Tohei Sensei

It is a very rare grade. It seems that the Founder probably bestowed only one or two. The ideogram that expresses this number is a cross 十 (ju) union of the vertical and horizontal lines, which cross symmetrically to indicate the balance between Heaven and Earth. The vertical line is the channel through which cosmic energies descend and telluric ones rise, and it expresses the human vertical axis (the vertebral column), understood as axis mundi.
The horizontal line symbolizes communication on the level of human terrestrial manifestations or horizontality. The vertical line is a symbol of righteousness and the horizontal line is a symbol of equity, therefore this number gives to those who own it the sense of the righteous and just man, the one who, now purified, makes a bridge between Heaven and Earth (pontifex), between the Divine and the human.
The number ten is the sum of 1 + 2 + 3 + 4, therefore it sums up all the symbolic values ​​expressed for these single numbers, thus we deduce that it is a perfect number and represents the completeness of the creation, which in a spatial and temporal sense extends from beginning to end, constituting a cycle of manifestation, that is, the whole existence. In every religious and philosophical doctrine the Number Ten has always been linked to concepts of sacredness, totality and perfection. Just think of the Ten Commandments, the ten main Egyptian gods, the ten Sefirot of Kabbala, etc.
According to the kabbalists of all schools, divine power emerges from one’s hidden life and manifests itself in ten spheres which are called sefirot; they constitute the unity and synthesis of the universe. The sefirot suggest a further combination of the number Ten and that is 3 + 7. The first three upper sefirot are identified with crown, wisdom and intelligence, while the other lower seven with love, beauty, eternity, glory, sex, strength and visible presence.

Copyright Paolo N. Corallini
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This article is published thanks to the kind concession of Paolo N. Corallini.

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