Sunday, June 3, 2012

Can I Test Early?

Chuck Bartowski; what a guy. I loved the show “Chuck” (more for Sarah, but that’s another topic) on NBC ‘cause Chuck is a computer geek (like me), who engages in secret spy stuff (not at all like me).

Different martial arts programs handle testing in a variety of ways. The larger schools tend to have formal test events scheduled throughout the year, with an expectation that every X number of months you will test for your next level.

In our program, beginners test every three months until they achieve their Red Belt, and then it’s every six months until they achieve Black. Then the tests take as many years as is your next rank. It takes two years to become a2nd Degree Black Belt, Three years to become 3rd Degree and so on.

In the later episodes of Chuck our hero not only could access his brain for any CIA document ever produced, he could download martial arts capability in a Matrix-like “I just know it” kind of way. Cool.

Wouldn’t it be better if we simply had students test whenever they could demonstrate mastery of the techniques they have been taught rather than wait some arbitrary period of time?


Imagine two students of equal mental and physical capability.They both start karate classes on June 1, and each comes to class three times a week. Each works hard, and in every way are equal students.

One student, Bobby, tests at regular intervals as happens in most of the larger, more formal programs. It happens that Bobby’s three-times-a-week attendance is more than sufficient to prepare him for each test, and he is never under-prepared. It takes Bobby 51 months (a little over 4 years) to achieve his Black Belt.

Another student, Greg, tests as soon as he demonstrates sufficient mastery of the skills required at each rank. He tests for his Yellow Belt in July, his Orange Belt in August. It takes him two months to get to Green. All in all he manages to master all of his techniques sufficiently well to pass his Black Belt test in 18 months. (This is called the Elvis program)

We know that much of what constitutes reaction time is based on muscle memory, chunking, and collective combinations of automatic movements. These take time, and short of actually having Greg attacked in the parking lot are nearly impossible to test.

One cannot infuse the mind and body with near-instinctive movements quickly. Short of some Intersect / Chuck Bartowski Matrixy Jedi-mind download, it just can’t happen.

You or your child may "know" all your material and might (if allowed to test early) even pass your next rank test with ease. That is not the same thing as being ready.

For the cynic (I loathe cynics) that says; isn’t the real reason you want students to wait four years to get their Black Belt is because you want the tuition revenue, and it has nothing to do with immersion in muscle memory.

First, I don’t own a school and derive no income from my teaching, so … that argument doesn’t work for me.

Secondly; picture yourself in a parking garage being approached by two unknown characters. You can choose to have a Black Belt with you that has trained for 4 years or one who has trained for 18 months. Pick one.

‘nough said.

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