Shinsa (rank testing) expectations

Since some of you are soon to test for the first time, this is a good opportunity to consider what you might be expected to do once you get on the floor.

From the AUSKF website:

6.kyu through 2.kyu
These ranks can be awarded at the dojo level depending on the regional federation.  Other federations formally test for these grades and some have age restrictions for children.  While it is normal to have both adults and children testing for the same level of kyu, there can be a great deal of difference in the basic skills between the adults and children.  Most often, the children have been doing Kendo much longer and have much better basics than adults.  However, when the mental maturity of the adults is factored in, this should not be a problem.  An experienced examiner will understand this kind of situation and grad accordingly.

The expectations for ranks 6.kyu through 2.kyu are not set in stone, but speaking very generally, what most examiners look for is:
1. wearing the bogu properly and having a neat appearance
2. very strong use of voice
3. nice posture/kamae
4. proper footwork
5. proper swinging
6. sense of timing
7. proper run-though after attack
8. proper demonstration of zanshin after attack
The concept of "scoring points" is immaterial for shinsa at this level, which means, your ability to pass the examination is not at all dependent on your ability to score a valid point(s).
Examiners are looking to judge your knowledge and understanding of the most basic, fundamental concepts of kendo.
The expectations for the rank of 1.kyu are the same as those for 6.kyu-2.kyu, with the addition of being able to enter and leave the court properly, to strike with ki-ken-tai-ichi, to demonstrate good energy, and 1 or 2 yuko-datotsu.
In addition to all of items expected for ranks 6.kyu-2.kyu, it is expected that 1.kyu candidates show more polish in their kendo.  1.kyu candidates should demonstrate proper ki-ken-tai-ichi in order to achieve yuko-datotsu (valid point).  The idea trying to be expressed here is that if an 1.kyu candidate can score yuko-datotsu, then he will have properly demonstrated good footwork, good voice/energy, proper timing, ki-ken-tai-ichi, proper run-through, and proper zanshin.
At the 1.kyu level, there are other "intangible" things that judges look for.  If you have poor appearance or if your bogu becomes untied while you're on the floor, etc., your chances for failure increase, regardless of the quality of your kendo.  Appearance is a part of kendo etiquette, and etiquette is an incredibly important concept in kendo.  Always make sure that your keiko-gi and hakama are properly worn.  Always make sure your men himo are parallel, together, and not twisted.  Always make sure that your tenugui does not extend and flap around outside of your men. These are very small things that are easily addressed, but they require your attention because they are a breach of appearance and etiquette, and they are immediately noticed by the grading panel.  A good, nice appearance indicates a proper respect to the art of kendo, and this is something judges like to see.  Breaches of appearance and etiquette can (and do!) result in automatic failure at higher kendo levels (even before the judges see your actual kendo!!), so you should take the time to always check your appearance and make adjustments, making it a regular part of your kendo preparation routine.
Assuming that your appearance is proper, in order to decrease your odds of failing, you should AVOID the following:
- "defensive kendo" instead of "attacking kendo" in your footwork (i.e., stepping backwards instead of going forward)
- excessive blocking of the opponent's strikes
- stepping backwards when coming out of sonkyo
- hesitating or waiting too much too attack
- spending too much time in tsubazeriai
Keep in mind that poor kamae, poor posture, crossing your feet, poor voice, poor striking, etc. are all things that increase your chances of failure as well.