Taking Notes

Last week I posted about what I’d learned from watching a belt test.  I didn’t know then if I’d be too tired in the aftermath of the flu to drive three hours in order to watch another belt test in the state next door.  As it turned out, I was well enough and yes, I brought a notebook and pen.  Now I get to blog about what I learned from the exercise of writing down what the candidates were tested on and my observations about the candidates.

It should have come as no surprise to me that if I observed something either positive or negative in an individual or in a group I’d see it over and over again.  I don’t know why I was so surprised at the number of times I wrote things like “see prev. note” [see previous note] or “heiko d. (again!).”   Obviously if someone’s upper block is mediocre while he or she is just standing in shoulder stance, that person’s block is still going to be mediocre if he or she is doing it as part of a combination of basics while moving in a stance, and yes, you’ll see it again in kata (forms).  Guess what?  In kumite (sparring) that same person will get popped in the face.  I think the act of writing down the same observations over and over reinforced my awareness that there are connections among kihon (basics), kata (forms), and kumite (sparring).

Until I took notes I took for granted that one can build off of the combinations of basics given to lower ranks in order to challenge the higher ranks.  This is often done during regular classes as well.  The act of writing down each rank’s “assignment” solidified this concept for me.  It’s a good way to alert the higher ranks to the primary technique the graders want to see, as the white belts (testing for their first rank) are generally given instructions first, then the orange belts, etc.  This progression also makes things easier for whoever is in charge of formulating and calling out the combinations of movements.

I was in a dojo in another state, so this was a good opportunity for me to compare and contrast familiar students with students I didn’t know at all (with the exception of one of my friends from my home state).  I was secretly delighted these candidates were having trouble with something too.  My fellow dojo-mates and I had drilled that particular thing during the prior week in response to what the Chief Instructor for our state saw in the latest belt test.  I was very impressed with a couple of things that, in our state, are not expected until slightly higher ranks.  It’s good for me to see that each dojo has its reasons for doing things, and none of those reasons are necessarily wrong or better.  Just different.

Next belt test it will be interesting to see if my observations of, for instance, low purple belts will be the same or different.  I wonder if there will be new positive and negative trends.  I do have an idea of what’s expected for the first two ranks due to my observation of seven tests held for the college class.  But I need to increase my knowledge beyond that.  Some day I will have students of my own.  I will need to prepare them for their tests.  Some day I might be called on to be in charge of what the candidates do for a test.  By taking notes and thinking about what I’ve written, I’m taking a step forward to prepare myself for that “some day.”

I am slowly transitioning out of the comfort zone of one-on-one teaching (home school and helping lower-ranked karate students) and into the increasingly more familiar territory of group learning.  One-on-one teaching has been my groove ever since I helped out in the dojo I used to train in when I was a teenager.  I’m challenging myself to stretch and grow beyond that comfort zone.  I don’t have to learn how to run a belt test until later in my karate career; I just want to do something more than help stack chairs and congratulate my pals when I’m not actually being tested for my next rank.  I’ve learned a lot from thinking about the nuts and bolts of a belt test, and even more from taking notes and analyzing those notes.

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

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