Why Do We Test?

This is great question and has many answers. Cynics say that testing is just a means for instructors to make more money in fees and by selling belts. It should be a way to gauge student progress. Others say it showcases talents, and shows student progress for parents.

Student progress can always be measured during classes, but the test is a different environment with focused scrutiny on one student’s performance. The ability to perform alone is very important in the event a student may need to execute self-defense techniques in a real-life situation. A test may seem stressful, but that is an important experience for all students to have, a step that increases their senssenseikamae of accomplishment and their confidence in their techniques. It is important to direct stress, where the body creates and releases a great amount of energy, into greater focus and concentration. Under these circumstances, executing the pattern of a kata or a defensive technique. We have had two recent black belt tests where despite physical exhaustion and the stress of the test, the students performed far better than they usually did in class. Testing brings the best out of our students, it seems.

Every test allows us to gauge progress and showcase those increased abilities and knowledge to parents. They need to be assured that their sacrifice of time and their investment in classes are worthwhile.

Fees cover various expenses of the tests, but those are actually small in relation to their actual costs, and the volunteered time of advance students in the dojo, and our occasional visitors from other dojos, who evaluate our testing students.

Students, nor parents, should ask when they are going to test. Instead, students should consistently demonstrate their skills and abilities in class.

Trust me, Sensei is watching. Other black belts are watching too. Sensei and the other black belt instructors use class time to determine when students are ready for a test. Demonstrated skills and abilities in class should be the determining factor. It’s always obvious who is practicing at home and who is using their class time most effectively.

I have seen students be promoted all the way to Shodan even though they did not test well. Consistently performing at a high level in class helped the instructors to justify the promotions. Belt tests are very important. Consistently working hard in class is even more so.

How to Prepare for a Belt Test

Preparing for a belt test starts immediately after the last test. That means students are always working toward their next belt goal. Preparation does not start a few weeks before a test; preparation is constant because all new martial arts skills are built on the foundation of everything you learned from the beginning of your studies.

Every belt level has new material to be learned, and all students are expected to improve all of their prior material. Naihanchi Shodan performed by a brown belt should look very different from an orange belt’s performance of that kata. The higher the belt, more is expected. Low belt students may make basic punches, for example, but higher belt students will punch with precision, speed, and power. If you watch lower belt students, it seems they perform kabb at nakazato dojo croppedta one movement at a time. Higher belt students perform kata in a way that shows a kata’s movements as connected to each other, with one completed movement seeming to prepare for the next one.

This is why every class and every practice session at home is a preparation for the next test, not limited to just the sessions a few weeks before.

Sometimes students and parents have difficulty understanding this. But it’s not any different from our school experiences. Learning how to add and subtract in early grades prepares us for multiplication and division, which eventually prepares them to be architects, engineers, statisticians, accountants, programmers, and other careers. Learning how letters sound prepares students to read, and as they read they learn vocabulary, and as they learn that, they learn how to speak and write, read signs and books, and go through their days.

Just like those learning foundations, martial arts has its own. We build that foundation through practice, not by preparing for a belt test.

Failure to consistently practice all that a student has learned (see the January issue’s “How to Practice“) will hamper the student’s preparation for an upcoming test. Trust me! I will be watching, along with all our black belts, and my very own teachers. When they visit, they are always watching to see improvement on previously learned kata, and the most basic techniques.

In many cases students are not allowed to test because of they have trouble remembering and repeating the techniques previously learned. It’s like building a house without a foundation. A house can’t stand through storms and winds if it does not have a solid foundation.

Don’t focus on the next belt test date. Focus on always doing your kata and techniques well through continuous practice, paying careful attention in class, and asking questions of me and the advanced students.