Tuesday, April 1, 2008

History of Martial Arts Testing

Different styles have a wide variety of different ways of promoting individuals. Rank belts are a relatively recent development in the world of martial arts, the first systems appear to have developed in the late 1800's. As more styles sought recognition from national based organizations, they adapted to the system then in place.

Originally most people trained with their teacher(Sensei) until they had learned as much as they could, then they either sought additional instruction or they continued to refine their skills with their current instructor. If a practitioner was particularly skilled, his instructor might provide him with a document that had a certification that he had learned all that he had to teach. And in some styles the teacher would pass on his certificate to the senior practitioner in his style, passing the torch to the next generation.

Others would allow their senior students to copy the documents that they had been handed, passing on the knowledge that they had recorded, often using difficult to understand notation of limited value without detailed instruction to go with it. In many styles, particularly outside of the Asian area, promotion requirements are carefully layed out. Many include a list of skills and a time frame, either actual calendar weeks/months or perhaps a specific number of classes.

Testing can be a very formal affair. A date is set, you are expected to be there at the designated time with the appropriate uniform and gear. A board of examiners will be in place and carefully watch each and every technique as the testees perform them one at a time.Testing at the lower ranks tends to be a little less strenuous. It could be a simple as a senior student coming out with a clip board and checking off each technique as you do it in front of him. I have had a number of people tell me that they would be surprised by their teacher approaching them after class and telling them to get a new belt of ? color, they are promoted.

The testing for Shodan, that first level of Black Belt, is often a very strenuous one. Some styles will take a full day to do the testing, including miles of running and sparring with every other black belt present. In many cases they are expected to perform every single technique they have learned over the previous years, but only after they are so tired they can hardly move.Many styles include a written knowledge test about the style, the terms and definitions and its history and origins. Others require an essay about some aspect of the martial arts in order to be promoted to Black Belt.

There are others that have a very specific testing pattern. While you are expected to perform a certain number of kata, step drills and bunkai, what is just as important, if not more important, is the classes leading up to the test. Here the instructors watch and evaluate the student, observing and helping them to grow, helping them improve their techniques and smoothing out the rough spots.When you select a style or dojo in which to learn a martial art, it would be worth while to understand how they accomplish testing. This may be better asked of another student, rather than the instructor.

The instuctor may think it a bit forward if you ask what is on the Black Belt test before you have even signed up!But testing is a milestone to reach.

This a special time not only for the students,but also for the instructors.For all involved have invested time in teaching and mentoring these students.Promotions are a time for a student and instructor to reflect on the committment to one and another.This involves focusing one's own energy and moving forward to that goal, knowing that there are further challenges beyond. It can serve as an opportunity to show off what you have learned. And it is an opportunity to be the center of attention in a way that seldom happens.

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