Monday, December 14, 2009

Rank Testing (Part I)

I have a simple but yet intriguing question about rank tests in the martial arts: is it me, or does it seem impossible to fail one?

It seems that just about everyone that takes a rank test passes and receives their promotion with no worries whatsoever. I'm sure there's a few reasons that factor into that, such as running the risk that students will quit (and schools will lose revenue as a result) if they receive a failing grade, or running the risk of upsetting parents whose kids receive a failing grade while other students are being promoted.

On one hand, it basically reminds me of the "No Child Left Behind" ideal that promotes students even if their skill levels don't match up. On the other hand, there's the basic tenet that people don't like failure, and thus would be highly unmotivated if they go through months of preparation for their rank test and fall short when their instructors fails them (or gives them a retest option--politically correct for saying "you've failed"). After all, who would actually spend money every month to pay for classes and then take tests in which can possibly fail?

Just a thought...


Michele said...

Good topic.

In the dojo, we have a pre-test that qualifies the student for formal testing. If they are not asked to test...they are not ready.

I am part of the black belt testing board for an organization. I have seen many people fail their test. The candidate is required to test again in a few months.

Anonymous said...

I think there are three possible explanations for that:

1)As a sensei it’s your job to asses whether or not your student is ready for testing, if he or she fails it’s at least partially your responsibility so it makes sense to only ask people to grade when you’re quasi sure they’re going to pass.
2)A student has the right to refuse to test or to postpone the test: since nobody likes to fail a student will not be inclined to participate in grading until they’re confident they can actually do it. Thus it would seem reasonable to presume there’s a high chance of success unless the student really is delusional about their own qualities and expertise.
3)People who fail will lose motivation as well as feel humiliated so they’ll likely quit. Hence it’s economically more viable to let them pass eventhough they didn’t do so great or performed below standard, of course this is not acceptable if you’re actually sincere as a teacher or the arts but it happens quite frequently especially in the lower belts. The idea behind this is mostly that a) the lower belts are not that important (most will quit sooner or later anyway) and b) the quality of the lower belts does not really reflect on the teacher’s reputation. Hopefully the demands and standards for the higher belts (especially black belt) will be up to par and the test will actually be challenging but even that isn’t a guarantee in some clubs or styles.

Dojo’s which allow students to pass even though they didn’t perform well will always lack in quality and are to be avoided if one is sincere about learning. At my old dojo the standards and quality of training got laxer over the years and that is why I left: the turning point for me was a test for brown belt (1st kyu in our style). I was testing aswell as a somewhat older guy and we got to the knife-defense part, the rule was that if you got hit with the knife (especially in the vitals) it was game-over and you wouldn’t be allowed to continue no matter how well you did before. I attacked the other guy with a straight stab to the gut, he retreated instead of side-stepping (which we practiced over and over again) and I nailed him. Everybody expected sensei to call of the exam but he didn’t and allowed it to continue, at that exact moment I lost faith in him as a teacher and an honourable man. The guy that should have flunked is now a second Dan and actually runs the club since sensei retired. He actually started one year after me, there were others far more qualified than him (including my current sensei who’s also a second Dan, has been for over 4 years, and had been training at the dojo for over 12 years… compared to the measily 6 for the new headmaster) and he’s actually lacking some of the fundamental skills and techniques of the style yet he was allowed to not only start teaching (this would have been bad enough on its own) but to actually run the dojo. ...

Anonymous said...

This is what you get for promoting people who are basically incompetent or rushing student’s development while it’s clear they’re not ready yet. Last year I went back to my old dojo to have a look and by god what I saw was appalling: the only people that still train there are children (a great source of income), beginners who don’t have a clue and old people for whom training is more about some gentle gymnastics to stay in shape than it is about true martial-arts. Everybody that was actually any good quit and went on to train elsewhere: in the old days there were about 20 to 30 people training each session, at least 4 or 5 of them black belts and the quality and intensity of training was invariably high. Nowadays there are at best 10 people there, half of them beginners and the rest old-timers that couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper-bag… I really don’t understand why sensei did what he did but I sure as hell am glad I followed our old sempai and started training with him. In the beginning we basically trained one-on-one (painful and hard but very rewarding), after about a year and a half we have about 14 regular students, training is fun and exciting and the standard is high. I know sensei will never pass anybody that didn’t deserve it and when I’m testing for Shodan I know that he’ll make my life miserable (that’s what black belt tests are for) and when I pass it’ll mean something. Selling the art by handing out belts is despicable and dishonest: both to your devoted students and to those getting the free belts. If you train martial arts for self-defense and you get promoted everytime without even breaking a sweat you’ll never be any good and you will get your ass handed to you on the street. As Musashi said: “Bad strategy is a cause of grave injury”.

That’s my take on things and what I’ve learned through experience,