Monday, March 20, 2017

How can one benefit most from the belt ranking system ?

I have always been a proponent of the belt system in Taekwon-Do and martial arts. It has many pro's and as in life there can also be unintended con's. The positives for me out weigh the negatives. One should look at belts in a way that will benefit you. The goal orientation is very valuable as we as humans beings improve and work harder when there are set visible targets and rewards. Belts are also very valuable to the instructor of the class in a more practical sense. With a quick glance the instructor knows at what level the student is and can apply their syllabus accordingly. The pride in what the belt represents is important for the student.
Image may contain: one or more peopleThe general belt system as we know it today was started by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo I the late 1800's starting with white and black belt and colour belts added in the early 1900's. Many asian martial arts followed suit. Now adays many styles including non asian styles use a belt system.
Each belt has a syllabus and certain expectations to be met in order to pass the grading and move onto the next level. Taekwon-Do also uses stripes in between belt colours. Different age groups often also have variation in the amount of stripes and time between gradings. It is important to remember that children need more time and usually therefore more stripes between gradings as their ability to take in and physically meet the standards required takes longer due to their coordination still developing. Kid syllabuses vary greatly from club to club and organisation to organisation. This is due to the fact that the original Taekwon-Do was innitially designed for adults in the military. Following an exact replica for adults in a childrens class is not beneficial. Therefore it has been adapted by each country organisation as Tkd has become more and more popular for children aswell, to meet the childrens development needs and age limits for Dan belts.
Some of the issues that can arise from awarding belts are the fact that we can become competitive even with the belt system. Many start to compare them selves to others. It is very important to use the belts to guage ones own progress and not focus on others. Taekwon-Do is a solo journey seeking self improvement. Compare your self to your previous self ! We cannot controll the tempo of improvement in others, only oneself. We all develop at different paces, due to many factors including practice and genetic predispositions. Be inspired by others improvement, not discouraged !
Sometimes feeling done in can be justified unfortunately, due to some instructors who might give rank too easily. In our clubs we actually do not double grade students, which some clubs are permitted to do if allot more training was done in that period (ITF does allow for double gradings, under special circumstances). While I respect that some clubs use that correctly. The problem is that most of the time double gradings get awarded even if the amount of training was not met. I have even heard of tripple gradings. I don't practice double gradings in my club as a personal choice, as I believe one needs to let the techniques sink in with time and not rush, extra training will be of great benefit but doing it to get a double or even tripple grading should not be the goal.
I find that double gradings also cause a huge amount of problems in a club with undue questions of favouratism etc arising. Personally if I did do double gradings, I know it would be purely on merit, but at this stage personally don't believe it to be beneficial enough for the student, also putting undue pressure to learne double the amount. This is and has always been our country organisations viewpoint although I believe it is unusual and I respect others right to do it if under correct supervision. What might happen if a worthy competitor for World Champs is close to achieving blackbelt, extra training would be given and they might have a slightly shorter time between the grading as World Champs is only open to 1st dan and up. This is only if there are no existing black belts in that division and the person has proven themselves very worthy competitor. They would still need to pass the full grading.
Sadly some clubs or organisations hand out belts far quicker or easier than our club. Some see people who began at the same time, become many belts ahead after seeing them at the tournaments. Questions then arise. Often the students or parents who might not necessarily have the mindset of our club seek faster results and more belts. I always use the metaphor of being a high quality restaurant over a fast food outlet. There are many McDojang/ McDojo's out there. Lately I have seen online courses advertised to achieve black belts in Krav Maga and Karate online. I am waiting for the Taekwon-Do one.... Clearly this is when belts are misused. Also different styles all use different belts, times between belts, criteria and different numbers of dan ranks. In ITF Taekwon-Do 9th Dan Grand Master is the highest. Master is from 7th Dan. Many styles including some Tkd styles have more dans or the title Master or Grand Master is at a lower dan etc. You would not have to look to far to see a 20th Dan super grand senior master etc. This is normally done as marketing gimicks for the lay person. I mean obvoisly a 20th dan is higher that a 9th dan......
Belt chasing is another unintended consequence of the belt system. Some see the belt as overly important and want to grade for belts sake as quickly as possible, in order to get the shiny new belt. While the motivation is good, it should not be all consuming. One should feel they would be worthy of representing that belt. Soon enough, in a worthwhile club, that person would learne , that may result in not passing. Instructors should give permission to grade, if a person chooses to not listen, then often not passing a grading or not being allowed will either set that person on the correct path or they will realise that club is not for them and perhaps will move onto a McDojo to feed their need for fast and instant gratification where paying automatically equals rising in rank. In my club I also use a stamp system on a card for a minimum number of classes being attended before they can ask permission to grade. Some still believe that reaching that number means automatic permission to grade, but it only allows to ask permission from that point. The person might need more time as we all develop at different speeds or they might have attained that number over a long period of time with long breaks inbetween.
There are those also on the other side of the coin who take too long to grade even once the instructor has suggested they should. Find the balance and trust your instructor, provided they are not a Mc Dojo instructor after your money when you grade.
Often children don't understand as they grade slower or receive more stripes inbetween belts than those in the older class. Due to their brain development stages. I have even had kids having a problem being taugt by adult or high teenage assistants who are equal or slightly higher belts. Children need to understand that age also plays a major factor in terms of seniority. A child that has moved to the older class, might move a little faster through the ranks perhaps, once in the older class because their age dictates they can handle more info and syllabus work. The problem can arise when children in the kids class see that person as an equal, but possibly moving at a slighty different pace. There are even age limits for 1st Dan and the different Dan levels, which kids would reach too early if extra stripes and junior black belts were not awarded. This is all for the good of the childs continued motivation. If belts are the only motivation and not looked at as an extra incentive to help, problems will arise and people could get demotivated.
Taekwon-Do is a journey of self improvement. If a certain jealousy arises, which is often human nature. Check yourself or ones child and look at it as a life lesson and be reminded that self introspection is the goal of the belts, to help ones own improvement. Looking and focussing on others is not the pathway to long term martial arts training.
Humbleness is also an important lesson not only for the lower belt person, but especially for the wearer of the higher belts. The untended consequence that can arise from the use of belts is that sometimes the wearer of the higher belts might take the belt overly serioisly. Making the wearer possibly closed to learning from people below their rank or seeing themselves as a higher lifeform. While I believe in the rank system to keep order in the class, lower belts should always respect the rank, like in the military, as it was intended. Correct protocalls as dictated by the rules should be observed. This needs to be seen for its uses and benefits. If overly focussed on, it could make the wearer arrogant and inflexible. I can truly say I have learnt so much from teaching and observing white belts and lower belt ranks. If ones mind is closed and shut by ones belt rank, then it is not benefitting ones training or life improvement at all.
Remember we want and should gain from our training and use of the belt system as intended and just keep an eye on the ourselves to keep it that way. I would still defend and take the belt system over the styles that dont use it and take pride and respect authentic achievers of their belts.
Taekwon !

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