I have been receiving questions regarding my testing policies. Mostly, they seem to come from the kids, who are eager to test for their next belt. Let me explain the process, and put into context why we do what we do.
First, it is rude to ask when you are going to be tested, or when your child will be tested. Why is it rude? I would like everyone to remain humble, and asking when they will be tested feels like someone thinks they are ready, and that is only for the instructors to determine.
To be considered ready, takes several different factors, including skill and attitude.
Before Test Day
Skills are all those included and laid out in the student handbook for each rank. Each rank has a minimum number of kata, kihon (basics), self-defense techniques, and kumite skills to be proficient in, prior to testing. This is covered each week in class.
Attitude is also taken into consideration as to whether someone is ready for promotion. The student’s attitude during regular class is always being tested. They are tested during workouts, to see if they are trying their best to perform the moves. Do they take the corrections being made and implement them? Do they show proper respect during kumite? Do they listen to the instructors and their parents? These are all important checks to see if they have the proper attitude.
At this time, the brown and black belts will make suggestions as to who is ready to be tested. After being nominated, I review the previous test sheets and look over the comments. If the student has made those improvements, we start the process to arranging a test date.
This includes informing parents/family and testing black belts, and scheduling the date. At this time, we don’t inform the student they will be tested, this is to ensure that on test date they have no prior knowledge.
NOTE: Family members are encouraged to inform other family members to attend the test. But they should arrive no earlier than 10 minutes after the start of the class.
Now comes the test part.
The workout before the test should be challenging, and should tire the student. If the student is taking it easy during this time, they could fail before beginning the actual “test.” It is important to begin the test with minimal energy left in the tank. This is part of the test process. How badly does the student really want to progress?
We run through all the basic blocks, strikes, and kicks that are expected to be known at their testing level. During these, the instructors are checking for mechanics of each, hand placement, feet, toes, and stances. The student should be trying to do these to the best of their ability with speed and power.
Each rank has a predetermined kata required to be considered for promotion. Those kata should be performed using speed and power, all the while ensuring the proper form is maintained.
Kobudo, or weapon kata, are executed and graded at this time as well.
Each instructor has a different pet peeve while viewing a kata, and they look for those to help the student improve for the next test. These again are the mechanics of the kata, stances, and in some cases, execution of the techniques. This is very true when reviewing how the student handles weapons.
Performing all the basics and kata can be very tiring, but not as tiring as they will be after the kumite section of the test. There are actually two different types of sparring, and it depends on the rank as to which style they will get.
Yellow belts kids will normally perform ippon kumite (one step sparring). Adults and some kids will perform jiyu kumite (free sparring). Jiyu kumite can also include multiple attackers all at once.
By this time of the test, students have very little left to give, it is important for them to show heart, not quit, and keep moving and countering as best they can. To spectators, it can look weird, like the student is quitting, but this is way more difficult than it appears from the sidelines. Other students who have already been through it at least once will usually encourage test takers, and those that are acting as adversaries usually feel bad to keep pushing them, knowing they are tired. But the student should push through it, and the adversaries shouldn’t give in and go easy. THIS IS A TEST! If it was easy, everyone would be able to achieve it.
What do instructors look for during kumite? Well that again, depends on the instructor. I look for heart during kumite, as well as technique, and most importantly, focus and control. When a student is this tired, they can begin to lose focus and control. Mistakes can be made, and strike harder than they would normally. That is the fatigue taking over. This is how we stress test a student, can they maintain composure, and fight through. Lack of focus and control may result in a student failing during the test. Another quick way to fail at this stage is to lose your cool.
At this point of the test, we go back to the cerebral part, but due to fatigue, can still be very difficult. Self-defense techniques against various grabs, punches, and holds are executed. In a fatigued state, it can be difficult to think of a proper response to any given attack, but that is exactly what is expected of the student.
During this phase, students will also be asked to perform kata complex. This is a two-person drill representing a kata.
When judging techniques and complex, I’m looking for practicality, execution, and how fast, without thinking the technique is performed. This is often very difficult to do, as after performing everything, the student is very tired. KEEP GOING!
The last part of the test, and the point where the student actually can catch a breather, is the question and answer part. Each instructor will ask the student questions. These questions can be on the history of the art, Japanese names for the strikes, blocks, and stances, or anything else the instructors feel are relevant to know. It is important for the student to answer truthfully.
The Hard Part – Waiting
After the completion of the test, we don’t award the belts right then and there. The instructors all gather together to discuss what they saw during the test, and pass their notes to me. I then review all the notes, make a copy of the test sheets. Based on the results, I then will order the new belt for those that passed, and set a date to award the belt for the family members to attend. Again, this is done without informing the student. The student is awarded the belt right before class starts with a little ceremony. After class, I present the student with a copy of the notes from the testers, so that they know what they need to work on in the future.
And then the process starts all over again.
Black belt tests are handled slightly differently, as they will usually have more black belts present, and will be awarded their belt that night, after all the instructors have gathered and discussed it.
The intent to document this process is so that students and family know what to expect, but more importantly, mentally prepare for the test, whenever that may be. It isn’t meant to be easy, but once it is completed, a student should have a certain amount of pride that they accomplished something that most people can’t even imagine putting themselves through. Future posts, I will break down all the nuances of what I’m looking for with each block, strike, stance, etc. Until next time, keep training, because who knows when you might be tested!