Thoughts on Martial Art Testing

I have found through bitter experience that talking too early about Blackbelt Testing scares students away. As a new instructor, I used to think that the idea of being a Blackbelt would inspire new students to train and give them something to look forward to. Apparently, that’s not how most people’s minds work.
In fact, just mentioning their Yellow Belt test is enough to stress new White Belts. Maybe movies have created the anxiety that they’re going to be lucky to emerge from testing with no broken bones or bleeding wounds. Martial art testing anxiety is a real thing. This article will hopefully allay students’ fears about testing. I will tell you my philosophy on testing and explain my methods. Underbelt testing is nothing to fear. Honestly, neither is Blackbelt testing.

Why do we test?

Martial art testing is a practice left over from a long history. It is a tradition that could be done away with in my opinion. I could advance students once they’ve demonstrated mastery over the material at their level.2007? - Testing

But testing gives us some unique opportunities as well. I use underbelt testing as an opportunity for students to show their families and friends their progress and to shine for them a bit. The stress of testing in front of an audience also allows the student to overcome anxiety and fear. Additionally, you might meet people from the school that you never see at other times.

For Blackbelts, it’s a little different.

Blackbelt testing gives us a chance to perform in front of other instructors and masters. They check our progress and validate our instructor’s teaching. We are held accountable to the Association’s standards, and that’s a very good thing.

Another opportunity testing (whether underbelt or Blackbelt) gives us is to test a student’s character directly. The nature of testing is to be mentally stressful. We apply additional mental and physical stress by pushing students to the edge of their abilities. We ask them to remember things quickly, perform skills that they know, but in odd combinations or with different parameters. In other words, we change the rules and see how they react. Students who are strong, smart, and (in Kuk Sa Nim’s words) have a good heart, come through just fine.

When do we test?

There are three factors that determine when you can test for your next rank.

  • Syllabus – The requirements are clearly defined in the course syllabus. If you don’t have one, go to the WKSA website, or you can ask for one during class.
  • Time – There is a minimum length of time between rank promotions. WKSA Headquarters likes to see at least four months between rank promotions. Of course, that time means nothing if you don’t come to class regularly (at least twice per week).
  • Instructor – Just because you’ve been taught everything on the syllabus, you still need to show your instructor that you are proficient in the material. Once you have demonstrated proficiency and met the time and class attendance requirements, you will be recommended for testing.

How to fail a test.*

Kuk Sool Grandmaster with family gathered after testing and promotion
Kuk Sa Nim and my Family

It’s simple. I begin testing with the assumption that everyone is passing. Your real “test” is how you perform in class. I’m always testing my students. I wouldn’t recommend you for testing if you hadn’t already passed.

The testing day is more of a demonstration. Remember your etiquette, push yourself as hard as you can, and you’ll be fine. I can forgive forgetting a technique or getting lost in a form. Remember, we’ve pushed you on purpose to see how you react to these situations.
Lose your cool when you’re under pressure, and you’ll fail. Quit testing, and you’ll fail. That’s just about it. I don’t fail students who fail to break a board. I don’t fail students who confuse a few techniques or flub a form. I am occasionally forced to fail students who show a lack of mastery of material that was previously tested, or who demonstrate an obvious lack of practice, but these are rare.

As with competition, testing is more dangerous for martial art instructors than students. I’ve seen good students quit training because they couldn’t handle the pressure. Some couldn’t handle even the idea of testing. I’ve seen more than one Dahn Bo Nim quit training altogether because they lost it during a routine test. There’s no reason for it.iPad Pictures 020

I’m here to see my students succeed. I will challenge you, but I design my tests to be passed. And, passing boils down to two things: etiquette and performance. Keep moving, stay focused, remain humble and polite, and you’ll pass.

*I don’t claim to speak for all martial art instructors here. Talk to your instructor to find out her or his requirements for testing.





Agree? Disagree? Want more information? Let me know.

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