Last Saturday I watched some of my fellow students test for their next belts. I myself will have to take all the rest of my belt tests at the Hombu Dojo (our Karate organization’s headquarters) from here on out, so I didn’t go to this test in order to see what the next test holds for me. I was there to support my friends. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I should look for lessons I could learn.
My brain was a little bit foggy from cough medicine and fatigue, so it didn’t occur to me until after the moving basics part of the test that I should take a notebook to future belt tests and write down the combinations of blocks, strikes, kicks, and stances that were called for. If I keep a record of which things were assigned to each belt level, it will give me a better idea of what to teach in the future. If I ever actually run a belt test, I will know what kind of things I can call for.
It just so happened that I was sitting near the long table where the black belts were clustered. Some of them were grading the students. Some were there to watch. I was able to hear some of their talk from time to time.
“Graders,” the Chief Instructor asked, “Do you need to see the students do that again?”
Communication is key – each grader had roughly three students to look at. From time to time while doing combinations of moving basics, the students would only get three repetitions in before running out of room to move forward. Sometimes there wasn’t enough time to analyze each student.
Maybe I’m giving myself more importance than I have, but I’m going to go out on a limb anyway. I couldn’t help but feel I was responsible for one good thing I saw students doing and for one mistake that I saw one particular student doing. I know, it sounds egotistical, but hear me out on the evidence. The positive thing was something I actually pulled off when sparring against someone who outranks me – and a bunch of the lower ranked students were watching. A couple of these students used the technique during their own sparring matches for their belt tests, and one succeeded. The negative thing I saw one student doing while performing his kata is a direct result of me tutoring him – and I didn’t even know he’d picked it up from me until I saw him. It was subtle, he passed his test, but I’m going to have to point it out to him and apologize. I need to get used to the fact that as I advance in rank and skill I’m going to have more and more influence on what students do. They’re looking up to me.
After the test, the Chief Instructor had a bit of feedback to give the Sensei who was in charge of calling out what the students needed to do. As I listened it hit me that in order to pull off a belt test there’s a lot of details that need to be thought about and planned ahead of time. I told myself I should bring a notebook next time and write notes about the nuts and bolts of the belt tests. As it gets close to the time for the next belt test, Sensei-s like to run the classes through simulations of the tests. If I write things down now, I can better plan such classes and the tests themselves in the future when it’s my task to do so.
College Dojo has a belt test every quarter (according to the college’s schedule) – three out of the four quarters. Our organization has tests for regular students every three months. So far I’ve been pretending that I’m grading students. I’ve got a good handle on what’s expected for the first two belt levels because that’s all that’s usually tested at College Dojo. I need to pay more attention to the next few levels.
For the first time, I looked for general trends – positive and negative things that were universal to all the students who were being tested. I know the Chief Instructor gives all the Sensei-s feedback on what, overall, needs to be tightened up a bit and on what went well. I did spot four or five trends – some positive, some negative. These things could go in my notebook as well. The next week, we worked on one of the trends I’d spotted.
Near the end of the test I started to think holistically. All throughout the test I remembered bits and snatches of my own journey. I could look down the lines from the lowest position to the highest and find something I could relate to at any given moment. Often, good memories were triggered. The formal rituals of awarding new ranks are an awesome way to acknowledge the milestones each student has reached along his or her Karate journey. It’s good to see students who are lower ranked than I am meet the challenges of their tests. When I see them, I remember my own milestones. I saw a good segment of the journey, as five ranks were represented among the students, from the first rank (10th kyu) to just a couple levels below my own (I am 4th kyu, the highest earned that test was 6th kyu). When I realized I was seeing a good segment of the first part of the Karate journey, I looked at those who are further along in their journeys than I am. I realized that from the act of observing and analyzing the belt test itself I had caught glimpses of some of the things that will be my future milestones. Someday I will prepare and grade students and maybe even call out instructions during a belt test. It must be a great feeling to see one’s own students pass a belt test.
I think I reached a couple of milestones myself that test – and all while sitting in a chair observing and thinking. Next time, I will be writing in a notebook. I think I will grow a little more each time I watch a belt test.