One of the staples of western practice of martial arts programs is rank testing. Most schools, regardless of origin, will have a myriad of different colored belts representing different ranks of achievement for the trainees. These systems are not standardized from one art to the next, one school to the next, nor from one organization to the next, and many attach different flowery meanings to each color.
Sadly, some schools use the ranking system as a revenue generation mechanism. Each rank testing opportunity costs money, and sometimes requires a new belt to be purchased. So, some instructors will put as many colored belts between white and black as possible. Add in stripes for the belt, and a student may have to go through up to 20 tests to reach black belt. Somewhere between yellow belt and camo belt with 2 stripes, the trainees should realize they are in it for the wrong reasons. A good instructor does not need to see 20 tests over the period of a few years to ascertain trainee development. He should be seeing it each session.
Furthermore, most instructors, and truly the best ones, will tell you that it’s not about the color of the belt, or the rank. If you’re testing for a rank or a colored belt, it’s easier to go out and buy one. It’s about the training! It’s about developing an understanding of the curriculum.
I train with a class of excellent individuals. Two of them are police officers. I especially like the opportunity to train with them, because their mindset is different. They train knowing the technique they learn that night may be the one that gets them home. Their line of work requires this mindset.
Regardless of the amount of rank tests, number of belts, number of stripes, etc., most schools will test.In the best schools, if you are invited to test, you have already passed. Read that again:In the best schools, if you are invited to test, you have already passed. Why then have the test? Why put trainees through it?
There are a number of reasons, in fact, to require trainees to test. Most have to do with testing mind set. Here are a just a few:
How has the trainee learned the techniques? Has he learned the techniques well enough to do them with only minimal instruction and demonstration? Can he ‘pull them out of his tool box’ if he needs them, or does he need to see the technique multiple times? Regular class allows in depth demonstration. A street fight does not. Testing measures a trainee’s ability to recall the techniques and use them with immediate accessibility, and to demonstrate an understanding of their fundamentals. If the trainee does not exhibit this, further work is needed by the instructor to help the trainees grasp the concepts.
Has the trainee learned the techniques with confidence? Confidence in the curriculum is important, and similar to the above point, application of the technique in a confident way demonstrates a trainee’s acceptance and belief in the curriculum. If the trainee does not exhibit this confidence in the curriculum, the instructor needs to review how he can make things more clear, demonstrate better effectiveness, and make the curriculum more relevant.
How does the trainee prepare for testing? Testing allows a trainee to demonstrate his commitment and passion for the material by in-depth preparation. These traits are fully applicable beyond the mats, and an instructor is teaching a valuable life lesson. This is a direct reflection of how seriously they take their martial study. An instructor can use this to better motivate and engage the trainee
How does the trainee handle stress? A testing environment invokes stress from the desire to do well on the test. A normal session is not necessarily a pass/fail event, whereas a test, by definition, is. By invoking consequences to the performance, it allows the instructor to determine if he is creating the proper realism in his training methods.
This list is not all inclusive, nor is it in depth, but is merely an overview of some of the parameters that a rank test can invoke. In each of them, it is not only a milestone for the trainee, but a self evaluation for the instructor. The best instructors will self-evaluate based on their trainees’ performance, to determine what he needs to adjust as well.
So, who is really testing during a rank test?