Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why do I have to Wait?

Adults seems to understand without asking.  Kids ask outright.  “Why do I need to wait to test for my next belt, since I know all the stuff I need to.”  Different schools have different criteria, but most Martial Arts systems require that a specific technique be learned and demonstrated in order to progress to the next belt.

In Tang Soo Do, a student must be able to demonstrate Motion #1 (aptly named) as well as Fighting Techniques #1 and #2 (both hand techniques and kicking) in order to progress from White Belt to Yellow Belt.  They would then need to learn Motion #2 to progress from Yellow to Orange.  In our system we generally separate promotion classes by three months, to give ample time to learn the new material.

A young student might ask, if I learn Motion #2 really fast, can I test for my Orange Belt right away.  The answer is almost always, No.  This particular question misses an important concept in martial arts, and in fact, may miss THE important concept.

Unlike Math, students in a martial arts program are on a personal journey.  It is not about how high you kick, or how hard you punch, but rather it is about how much you grow.  The mere question is based on a faulty premise - that if a student can perform a technique better than the next guy, they should be permitted to progress. Wrong.

If I teach you Motion #2, and you can perform it well enough to test two days later, then you have some natural talent, possibly mental and physical - but it doesn’t mean you have grown.  You certainly have not demonstrated patience.  I have seen Motion #1 performed by an 8th Degree Master, and it looks stunningly graceful next to a White, Orange, or Green Belt.

I know students that have dropped out of the martial arts because they were not permitted to test / progress as fast as their egos thought appropriate.  It’s boring. It’s too slow. I have to wait just like the other students to test, even though I’m much better. Yes, grasshopper, you too have to wait.  Just because nature gifted you with coordination and a fortuitous memory doesn’t mean that you are growing as a person. 

Look, if I were training an assault force to attack an enemy installation, then I would let you join the A-Team as soon as you demonstrated the necessary physical capabilities.  But my martial arts classes are designed to teach how to defend yourself with judgement, skill, muscle memory, and confidence.  You cannot get there quickly.

If you can learn Motion #2, or Pal Che Dae, or Sip Soo in a week - fantastic.  You now know how YOUR sloppy Pal Che Dae looks.  How does your PERFECTED Pal Che Dae look?  Martial Arts training is a personal journey, it’s not about how you compare to others, it’s about how you compare to yourself.


  1. I like to use half belts. It allows kids to get rank a little more often and keeps then motivated.


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