Testing Expectations, What's Beyond the Curriculum
Jan 15, 2020
We just completed a new cycle of rank testing here at the Dojo, and I gotta tell you ... there's some blood on the floor. Well not really, but metaphorically.
A lot of students just didn't make it through their first or even second cycle of testing, so I want to take a step back and share some of my personal reflections on this topic.
It's important for people to understand that rank testing (shiken) is not necessarily a rite of passage per say. It's actually the maintenance of the standards here at the martial arts school, and within the martial art that we study. This is what comes first.
It's also an expression of the expectations that the ranking instructor has of each student.
You see, there are going to be times when I must judge a student based on where they are in life. A student who is an athletic twenty four year-old is most likely going to be much different than a student who has been a professional career oriented person over the last forty years and who's now in their late sixties.
There's going to be some limitations due to age and physicality, so of course that must be taken into account. But there’s more.
I also look to each student's own personal commitment within our Dojo, their commitment to their training, commitment to their own health and fitness standards, their commitment to understanding this martial art with depth and so on.
There's many different ways that I consider the outcome of a test, not merely on their ability to do moves.
Ultimately what it comes down to, is the commitment of a student to their holistic growth within this martial art, how it suits their own personal needs, combined with their evolving capacity to get out of their own way and not let ego, arrogance or false expectations weigh them down. If that last part is not addressed, myself and any instructor wont be capable to serve a student when they test.
If I let everybody pass, then it's more of a rite of passage, where they just get up and perform a skit. In this case there is no accomplishment, no personal victory.
You'll notice I'm not using the word fail. It’s for a reason. I don't use the word as I believe that failure happens the moment one no longer wishes to pursue the goal they set out to achieve, and allows their own discouragement or false beliefs to redirect them.
This is failure.
It's when you quit. When you find excuses to not get back up, face the challenge and push forward. You fail.
When you get to a point where your expectations of yourself are so high that ... if you don't pass, you become too emotionally sore to return.
Instead you look for exterior reasons to point the blame or you just feel you don't have what it takes. Sometimes it's the classic, 'the instructor thinks differently of me' nonsense.
I want to make sure that all of my students follow the same standard; that they understand if they do not perform to a specific level, they're not going to pass, they're gonna be held.
It's not that they're going to fail, it's that they're simply not allowed to pass today.
They'll be rescheduled to take that test based on my time judgement and how much more preparation they will need.
Every student is training for different and unique reasons. People come to the Dojo with different experiences throughout their day, different mindsets, different levels of of fatigue. Maybe some people are really energized, maybe some people are exhausted from the day's work ... but when we start class, when we bow in, each student is at the same level.
That rule applies for testing as well, they are all different and I recognize this ... but they must perform to the standard of the art, not the standard of some technique list.
This is where the balance of rank is truly based on trust, each student trusting their instructor, trusting the testing cycle and judgment. Trusting the lens of their teacher and breath of their art.
If you have a quality instructor who's come up in a good martial art, someone who has been able to follow that path respectably, then that trust will certainly be there.
That trust, so long as it is never compromised, will strengthen your path in martial arts and throughout your life.
I hope you're able to have a peek through the lens that we look through as instructors, gain some understanding of how we see each individual student and how it relates to where they are in their own journey.
As well, how we take that into consideration and base our expectations for the best outcome in our student’s martial arts experience - as well as for maintaining the long term standards of our Dojo.