Exam Thoughts

Thoughts about the purpose of exams

I wanted to make a few personal observations about exams and promotions, especially as these apply to HIS Karate-Do.  As you know, we try not to place any undue emphasis on exams/promotions or preparing for these.  In certain dojos, exams are a major source of income (exam fees are substantial and can run into hundreds of dollars for black belt testing for various organizations).  The exams and promotions can also be a method of keeping students enrolled, in a carrot-on-a-stick marketing strategy.  Some schools will actually add on extra color ranks and striping within the same color belt, which actually increases the number of steps (and exams) enroute to a black belt.  I’ve even heard of places where one must keep on showing up for training/teaching and paying dues in order to keep one’s black belt – sort of like paying to keep one’s license active.  I know of dojos that spend a large part of their training between exams…training solely for the next exam.  I know it’s hard to believe, but those are the extremes that exams and rank promotion can evolve into – taking on a life of their own.

Obviously, HIS Karate-Do doesn’t share this philosophy on exams and promotions and tries to keep these in proper perspective.  There is a true value in taking a periodic exam and in earning a well-deserved promotion.  These can help focus one’s training, helps establish goals, and experiencing the self-induced stress of performing your techniques with the examiners’ eyes on you all help to develop a better-rounded person, both in the dojo and in regular life.

Regular dojos train 3 times a week (and more, for serious students).  By contrast, our students train, on average, once a week; with a few who can make it twice a week.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Therefore, we usually hold exams every six months as opposed to the three month frequency of other dojos.  Again, we recognize the positive aspects of exams but these are not a money-making venture nor a retention methodology for us.  There is also a value for us instructors, as we get a real chance to see and evaluate how our members are progressing – when they can’t blend into the group and are therefore, trying their best under slightly stressful conditions.   In today’s very busy world, adults and children find themselves involved in a welter of activities – I can’t believe how many lessons and classes my grandkids (and their parents) must make time for.  We are just pleased that our members recognize the value of reserving some of their time for karate. Our belief is that by investing a bit of one’s week into the study/practice of Karate-Do over a multi-year time frame, one would be amazed at how much can be learned.  You know, kind of like the magic of compound interest…at least, back in the days when the banks used to pay interest on savings😏.

Kyu progression is not really linear

As most of you know, there are 10 kyu’s in the color belt ranks and a similar number of dans in the black belt ranks.  Of course, we all start at the 10 kyu (white belt) level, then hope to progress up the steps of kyu rank.  So, applying simple math: 10 kyus divided by 2 exams a year would equal a black belt in 5 years!  The reality for once-a-week training is a little different.  For children taking their very first exam, most will make it to 9 kyu (blue belts).  Those who do very well and for the majority of adults, 8 kyu (also blue belt) may be attained during the first exam.  Thereafter, there are two ranks of green (7 and 6 kyu), two ranks of purple (5 and 4 kyu), then three ranks of brown (3, 2, and 1 kyu).  In our group, with our frequency of training and testing, I’ve observed some average times to the different rankings – assuming normal progress continues.  Up through second green (6 kyu), progression is fairly linear…6 months to blue, a year to green (7 kyu) and 6 kyu at the 2-3 year time frame. Thereafter, progression difficulty proceeds along a steeper incline…the average purple belt (5 and 4 kyu) will have been training with us for about 4-6 years.  Most of our brown belts, therefore, are in the 6+ year range.  Most of the HIS black belts were black belts when they joined us, previously earned through many years of training elsewhere.  Two notable exceptions are Sempai’s Dave and Daylen, who worked their way up the HIS ranks and have been with us for some 10 years.  So, whenever you see a purple or brown or black belt in our lineup, please be aware that each represents many years of dedicated training and perseverance.

Final thought on promotions

Any time you receive a promotion, remember: It means that the examiners believe that you have the potential to succeed at this level.  You must train hard to prove that you really deserve this rank.

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