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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Preparing for a martial arts rank exam

If you are studying a martial art with a ranking system,  you'll be taking exams to earn rank, most likely in the form of colored belts or sashes. 

Rankings usually differ a bit between adults/teens and young children,  but regardless of age, a good school will require that rank candidates meet the minimum standards of a rank rather than put people up for promotion regardless of readiness solely for profit. Keep in mind however, that good schools will also keep the student in mind.....good schools will not withhold rank exams if a student has a physical issue (wheelchair, blindness, mobility issue,  learning disability,  etc) fact good teachers will take the time to introduce the art to these students in such a way as to still meet the requirement *based on the students ability*. 

Not all martial arts use the belt rank system, but for students of those that do, here's some things to work on and consider,  to prepare for your exams.

  • You are not entitled to rank, you have to earn it:  Although some schools require a minimum set of hours of training for each rank, just because you met the minimum hours doesn't mean the teacher will automatically jump to promote you. (Explained in the next point...)
  • Understand that you should meet the standards of the rank you are applying for:  Just because you meet the minimum hours of training for a rank, maybe even carry a high opinion of your efforts in class, it does not meet you are *ready* for the rank.   I hate to sound like a spoil sport, but if you don't meet the minimum standards of a rank, you'll need to practice and correct your technique until you do.  Many people do not understand this because of thinking in a "I'm entitled to this" attitude. But if you carry that attitude in a traditional Asian Dojo, you won't be staying long in that dojo.
  • Do an honest inventory of your skills:  Are you meeting the standards AND working hard? If there is no intention behind a perfect strike, or if there's plenty of effort in forms but techniques are sloppy, then more practice is required. Don't compare yourself to other people....because honestly, no one really cares that you think you are better than upper ranks. Your attitude and humility must speak volumes as much as your skills do.
  • Ask the teacher what you need to work on, or ask if you can schedule a private session for assistance in preparing for an exam:  Believe me, good teachers WANT you to succeed and will likely be willing to assist you. And honest eye can teach you so much more than your own opinion of yourself.
  • Don't demand to be tested. The teachers will determine when you are ready.  One of my own teachers once said "Everybody thinks they're ready and deserve the next rank....that's confidence. But to not take and honest look at your readiness and ability to meet the requirements and to demand rank....that's arrogance. Arrogance has no place in rank promotion"

Now it is exam what?

You've been selected for rank testing....if you've tested before, you'll know what happens at exams, but if it is your first exam, your teacher will tell you what to expect. But here's some things to remember (good advice for the experienced students too):

     ◇ Arrive early to warmup and get extra last minute practice in. Dont show up right at the appointed won't have time to warm up and the test adminstrators most likely will not hold up the exam to wait for you to warmup. It is not fair to those who showed up early to prepare.

     ◇ If there is an exam fee, take care of that before the exam day. The administrators want to concentrate fully on your exam, not accounting.

     ◇ Be in uniform (if your school has a uniform). Be sure your uniform is clean and pressed (if needed). A wrinkled uniform does not make a good impression.

     ◇ Show your best, but don't get cocky. I've seen this type of behavior,  and I've come close to telling the cocky/aargumentative students to sit down and tell them their exam is over. Sometimes stress over a "pass or fail" will bring out the worst in people. Don't let nervousness or stress get the best of you. Just do the best you can.

     ◇ If you don't know something, be honest about it and don't make excuses.  I once had a young man tell me he was busy playing World of Warcraft all night and didn't have time to prepare his written report for the the written portion of the test, yet he showed up for testing. I didn't allow him to test.e

Dealing with disappointment
Maybe you weren't selected to test when you thought you should have been, maybe you didn't pass the test. Many people get angry and point fingers at everyone else (including the teachers) *but* themselves. Rather than jumping on a pity-party bandwagon, you have to remember some things.....

  • Remember that the art you study has standards of skill to uphold. Each rank means an improvement of standards. Maybe you try really hard in class, but let's face it, if  you're testing for an intermediate or advanced rank and that front stance still has a bent rear leg or your elbows flare out when you punch, the testing board will take notice that it doesn't meet intermediate or advanced standards. 
  • Remember that self perceived skill and actual skill might be two different things. This is why teachers provide an outside eye for the students, and many time bring in other black belts from the style (but not from their own school) to help judge the candidates. 
  • If you didn't get selected to take a test, don't complain or demand to be tested. You are NOT entitled to rank, you have to meet the standards of that rank to earn it. Complaining about not being selected isn't going to make the teachers jump to test you. Complaining also shows that you question the teacher's judgement and that of the upper ranking teachers above him/her. And honestly, I only let my own masters question my judgement.  Get your Ego out of the equation and just work to improve what you need to work on.
  • Kids normally get disappointed at not passing a test. But you know what I've noticed? They are the first to ask me what they can do to improve for the next test. They cry a bit, but then they get right back on the dojo floor and don't wallow in self pity. They are the ones who comfort other kids who don't pass a test. Adults.....sometimes we need to learn from those kids.

Celebrating your promotion
You worked your tail off at your rank exam, sometimes for many hours, and you were successful at attaining your new rank! You have every right to celebrate and be proud of your accomplishment. However don't let it go to your have more work to do the very next day you set foot in the Dojo. New requirements and new techniques will need your attention now. You'll need to work harder now, to gain higher skills.

You know what I've found to be a good way to constantly celebrate your new rank? By being a consistent good example for other lower ranked students. Remember that you're not leaving the lower ranks behind. Instead, you're paving the way for them. Be that older brother or older sister to the younger ranks. You'll find that your understanding of your art will grow though this.

I always say to my students "Pass or not, you're still learning".....but I'm pretty sure anyone that had failed a test don't find those words very uplifting. Disappointment is such a funny that only comes about if one knows what "grabbing for the goal" feels like. However keep in mind that Martial Arts teaches us to toughen up and move ahead.

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