Tuesday, May 06, 2008

5 Reasons to Change the Way You Belt Test, NOW

Professional martial arts teachers: When it comes to belt testing, whether it’s a green belt test or a black belt test, it is a mistake to get tied into a tradition of testing. What we want to get attached to is THE RESULTS that our testing process produces.

Some of the things we want to affect through the process are:

  • We want our students to be technically proficient (stances, kicks, and other maneuvers).

  • We want a student to have an attitude that is congruent with his or her belt rank.

And in a perfect world:

  • We want our students to have a sense of TEAM, with fellow classmates.

  • We want them to have a set of experiences, from their training, that have had an impact on their life outside of your school.

At a test we’d like to hear:

“I’m a better, more patient father, because of this training.”

“Because of my test, I have healed some old relationships that needed healing. This training gave me the incentive and the courage to do it.”

“I’m more fit now than I was in college.”

“I could never get myself to eat like I knew that I should, but this training changed that. Now I apply the same discipline to my diet as I do to my workouts.”

“The training has touched me deeply, in ways I never would have expected.”

The bottom line? We want our testing to be positive, to be powerful, to be indicative of our BEST work. So, with that in mind, here are my 10 reasons, no, make that WAYS, to change the way you belt test, now.

Reason 1: More Time to Affect Change

Make your test last longer. Like a month or two or three or in the case of high ranking students, a year (like the Ultimate Black Belt Test). Why? What’s the hurry? Aren’t 100 push-ups or three reps of a form a day for a year WAY better than 1 rep of a form on test day? Which is better for you as a teacher, challenging and helping a student to develop daily discipline, or having them kick-it on one day? In the long run, teaching a student to shape his or her day in a way that affects the future is better than teaching them how to shine on a single day.

Furthermore, a really good black belt test is a chance for the general public and your other students to see what you have created. They get to see a master craftsman and his or her
”products.” Well, what’s better, to have a day of your work on the showroom floor, or to take 100 days or more, and show your skills that way? A test that lasts a month, 6 months, or a year gives you that long to talk about the process, to show the process, and to enjoy the process.

Reason 2: More Time to Share

Everyone on your test should be writing and/or filming the PROCESS. Each member should be keeping an on-line journal documenting the effort and learning experience he or she is going through. Those public journal entries will make your candidates better writers and communicators; they will open the process to people who might never have been able to see, hear, or experience the journey of martial arts testing; and the record of the time your students test will ultimately become cherished memories that anchor the student to your school and the process with vivid intensity.

On line journals even have a way of guiding those students who come later; they serve as examples of effort, growth, and expectations.

Reason 3: More Time To Change

I can’t get nearly as much done in a day, no matter how hard I work or how organized I am, compared to what I can get done with just a hour’s worth of effort, every day for an extended period of time. In a perfect world, when a student comes up in front of you to test, they would bring with them this overwhelming body of evidence that shows you how hard they are working, how seriously they take the process, and how committed they are to your ideas. You can’t get someone to stop everything they are doing and commit themselves like an Olympian to your testing process, but you can get them to commit some time, each day to it. To elicit real, authentic, live-changing change, you have to give a student more time –and not just “time,” but QUALITY time.

Reason 4: It’s HARDER This Way, Without Being STUPID

Torturing student on the day of their test, trying to break them down –or being afraid that you might break them down or injure them, is not the way to go about testing. Torture them for a month or two or three or even a year! But push them in small digestible, non-injurious ways. Bring them to their black belt test having coached them through 1000 hard reps of their form over 6 months or a year, instead of driving them to exhaustion, like some kind of college frat-house hazing on the day of their exam. Make the 1000 reps over a period of time their “test” –instead of asking them to show you a form on one day. It is immensely more difficult to apply consistent, daily discipline to one’s life, versus doing something really good on one day.

What you really teach students through requiring them to SEE THEIR TEST as a daily thing, versus a one day or one week event, is that giant accomplishments, massive transformation, is achieve with DAILY activity, not cramming.

Reason 5: You Can Teach More Skills, More Stuff, if You Have More Time

You can’t get a student to read a book in your classes, but they could do it at home, if you give them enough time. What if all of your black belt candidates had to take an on-line anger management training program –and they could do it in 10 minute increments, at home, over a month or two?

Well, what you could do is talk about it to prospective members, to the media, to all sorts of people –and what more did you have to do? Did it change your classes? Did you have to invest more time?

You see, stretching out the testing process lets you coach your students with ideas and practices you wouldn’t have been able to implement any other way. And can you see, in your mind’s eye, the LIST of things you require? IMPRESSIVE, yet because of the time frame, not impossible –and in fact, quite do-able! If you REALLY want to have a life-changing, lasting experience with your students, WHY NOT?

Reason 6: IMPRESS (for a purpose)

Which of these two mini-tests are more impressive:

Test 1

Forms 1 to 12

10 rounds of sparring

Self defense drills 1 to 10

Running 5 miles

250 push-ups and 250 crunches

Break 10 boards (I’m not a board-breaking advocate, I think it’s a waste of natural resources, but I’ll use this example t make a point).

Test 2

500 recorded repetitions of all forms.

500 rounds of sparring.

1000 self-defense techniques, practiced at full speed.

A 500 mile run.

10,000 push-ups and sit-ups.

Breaking 500 boards

Reason 7: You Need to Change Your Test in a Way That Gives You a Unique Selling Proposition.

Tests are, for the most part, all the same; and the results we’ve been getting, well...it’s OK. But I ask you: Can’t we do better? Can’t we at least TRY some new methods to see what happens? Do you know any other school that is doing it? Do you want to distinguish the QUALITY of education you provide –from your competitors? Of course you do!

There are a LOT of reasons to change your testing process I haven’t mentioned here; but I have one final and grand suggestion for you.

START THIS PROCESS of reinvigorating testing, of making it vital, relevant, authentic, and more powerful by DOING it yourself, FIRST. Show what can be done; LIVE the process. You will benefit (are you currently in the best shape of your life? Why not?), your students will benefit, your school will benefit.

Come live the Ultimate Black Belt Test and learn more this year than you have in the last 10. That, my friend, is an invitation!

Tom Callos

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