Last night I took my 5th Kyu test and passed.It was significant because: I wanted it, it was Aliya's 11th birthday and all 3 kids and Kim came to watch it. But more importantly it's a step in the right direction. USAF (United States Aikido Federation) requirements state that one has to attend practice a certain number of times prior to testing. For 6th Kyu it was 20 practice days and for 5th Kyu it was 40 practice days. The road map to Shodan (black belt) is already laid out, all I need to do is stay injury free and operate in my number 1 strength: Learner.In my 54 practice days since passing 6th Kyu I've learned some things which are specific to our dojo but may apply to other dojo's.Stay injury free.This is a tough one for me because of existing physical goals I have. Studies show at age 50 we lose 1% of our muscle mass. So, at age 44 I decided to pack on muscle mass and prepare by doing 26,000 push ups each year. At the beginning of 2014 I was a total idiot and substituted 26,000 burpees for the pushups, thinking that would increase conditioning AND keep me on track with my muscle mass goal. The first thing I realized was 90 burpees a day will floor even me. The second thing I figured out was the toll on my right knee too much - during a class I popped a muscle deep in my knee. The consequence? Swollen knee for weeks and mental doubt about if my past joint dislocations would keep me from becoming Shodan. I since came back to normal but use my Compex daily, see my chriopractor and friend Rob Benningfield 4 times a week and get a massage weekly. Like I said, if I stay injury free, I'm good to go.Always be first going to the right.The pattern is always the same in class - we warm up, Sensei demonstrates a technique, we bow and then find a partner to practice the technique with. I ALWAYS go the right of where I am (because that's where the advanced students are). I ALWAYS work with people who are better and more experienced than me.Be willing to take the hit.This was a hard one for me. The last time I took a hit was playing basketball in high school. Racing a Pro, 1, 2 crit causes you to learn how to ride asses to elbows and to learn to deal with physcial contact at 35 m.p.h. but in Aikido I had to reconcile with the fact that if I don't absorb my attackers energy I am not simulating anything that resembles reality. Same thing when I'm the attacker I need to put some energy into the equation so that the defender can learn based on reality. As the attacker I've had my shoulder strained, throat hit, rib smacked, wrist twisted and been thrown to the mat hard. I'm willing to take the hit for 2 reasons: I sense that weak people don't become Shodan, if I can't take a hit I have no business thinking I can be a Shodan. Also I need to know my limits, without taking a hit I'll never know how much I can take.Practice every day.I practice 7 days a week. 3 days on the mat during organized classes but the other 4 days it's opportunistic. In Bora Bora I practiced with an imaginary attacker, on a cruise ship in Greece I did rolls on the cabin floor, in Cabo (with a swollen knee) I visualized very slowly each movement I needed for my test. Another thing I do: I practice all moves, every time I practice. But I am also very strategic: when I get the chance I work 1 on 1 with a senior student (Brent-san and Sergey-san) and get "sticky" on a particular move. That way my practice is as close to as perfect as I can be. Ultimately it's about trials. It takes 10,000 repetitions to become a master in anything. So I put an emphasis on learning the gross movement with all kinds of errors but then finessing the errors out over time with a senior student and THEN practice the result.Focus on the small things.I focus on very small things - my attention to the sensei when they speak, since I go to the right and the senior is the defender while the junior (me) is the attacker; I focus on what the attacker must do, where they need to move and how they take the fall. I practice rolls before class, in between classes and after class. I believe the big things are made up of the small things, if I can own the small things the big things will come in time.All in all it's been an awesome ride, I look forward to the return of Jim Hyde-san and taking my Ukemi to a much higher level and am in constant gratitude of finding myself at this dojo with these people.I also had some observations on earning my 6th Kyu.