Sunday, July 13, 2008

Black Belt Testing

Federation Black Belt testing is around the corner. The usual testing schedule for black belt candidates is summer and winter. The summer testing occurs at the yearly training camp sponsored by the Federation. It is an intense three day camp with guest instructors. It includes formal testing and a banquet. Testing requirements may vary within dojo or styles. In our dojo, there is a comprehensive in-house test before candidates are presented to the Federation. At the Federation level, the testing candidate demonstrates their material in front of the Federation President and a board of licensed instructors (Renshi-Kai).

How do you prepare for black belt testing? It depends on the individual and the criteria. When I tested for Shodan, my training partner and I practiced combinations, bunkai and take downs two hours a week for six months. This was in addition to attending class three days during the week and group workout on the weekend. I was at the dojo all the time. I must mention that I am married to a black belt and our daughter was not yet born. Our life was work and karate. It was during this time that my husband opened up his own dojo. He would teach at his new dojo and I would go to the Honbu to train.

When students ask me what to expect at Federation Black Belt testing, I tell them to be prepared for everything ... open hand kata, weapons, basics and bunkai. Federation testing is pass or fail. I tell the students that if they do not have good basics such as stances and proper weapon handling ... they will fail. Testing is at least three hours long. Two hours into testing, it is sweaty and humid and your arms feel like they are going to fall off. That is just about the time that the board asks to see the nunchaku kata.

I let the students know that they will make mistakes during testing. The test is how the student handles the mistake. A student should correct the mistake and keep going. I have seen students fall apart after they made a mistake. Being a bit of a perfectionist, when I make mistakes, I am harder on myself than anyone else could be. During one in-house testing, a student that made a mistake walked off the floor, put on their shoes and left. Shocking! As students progress through kyu ranks, they need to constantly be reviewing the earlier material and bring it up to their current level. I have seen students leave behind material once they learned and passed their test. With each subsequent promotion, all the material up to their current rank is tested.

My last test was in 2006. Five weeks before the annual training camp, I was notified by my instructor (head of the Federation) that I was testing. The first thing that came to mind was "I am not ready". Five weeks!!! It was a different training experience for me. I was used to at least six months preparation. A year would even have been better. Five weeks!!! After the shock wore off, I just decided to do my best. I figured that I am "testing" each time I walk in the dojo. I will not be eligible to test again until sometime in the next decade. Thank goodness.

How have you or will you prepare for black belt testing? How much notice are you given? Are there fitness requirements? Sparring? Self-defense?


Steve said...

Very interesting to hear how others do it. My dojo is a fairly small "3rd generation" from Okinawa decent and handles everything inside, without a federation or governing body. Once you become a "brown belt with black stripe", you wait for sensei/shihan to tell you that you are now ready for black belt testing. There is a 3-4 page written test you must complete. Then you are the spotlight during one class. For 90 minutes, you must perform every kata going back to basic one, spar every person that comes to class that day (usually a large number as black belts that I've never seen before arrive!), and then defend yourself against attack from all the black belts. By the time you are done, you are exhausted to say the least. They present you with a very nice sword, certificate, and your black belt with your name on it.

blackbeltblues said...

At our school, we generally get about 6 to 8 months preparation, some of which may include one or two of brown belt exams.

I understand that way back when, our grandmaster used to just hand out kyu belts when deemed the student ready, often during regular classes.

But for black belt promotions, he required an exam. Which meant that none of the candidates had ever tested while being watched by everyone(unless they'd studied in another school). Talk about pressure!

Generally all our exams have four parts: kata, one-step combinations, self defenses, and sparring. As we reach the upper kyus, we should be able to answer questions about the history of our school and its precepts. Formality and etiquette also become increasingly important. And, because our founder is legally deaf, we are supposed to be able to sign the alphabet in ASL by our Shodan exam.

So far, I've found that I never feel prepared for any test, no matter how much notice I'm given. Still, whether it's been four weeks or two, I've always train much harder when one is imminent.

Meg said...

The two tests I've participated in had a requirement of at least 4 months' lead time for practice. The instructor had the Cho Dan Bos come in and work on their material and the Cho Dans and Ee Dans, plus anyone higher were to come in and work on their forms at least 8 weeks before the actual test.
We had to practice forms, one steps and Ho Sin Sul. Our instructor had us test in front of the head of our Federation (at the time) and of course, our friends and family. We sparred at the end of the test and then broke boards. It was fun.

I'm looking at joining a new dojang, so it'll be interesting to see how they do the testing. I am due to test for Ee Dan next September, so I have a LOT of work to do to catch up to where I need to be for the next test...

somaserious said...

Testing in our dojo consists of kihones, kata,bunkai, ippon kumite (self-defense), sparring and lots of will to perservere. They are very tough. We are also required to write an essay for each shiai about how karate has affected our lives. The essay for shodan needs to be very detailed and at least a page long. I was given six months notice before I tested for shodan. For training I was in the dojo at least three times a week and also did a kickboxing class twice a week for cardiovascular training. My husband was very happy when the test was over! Testing is not done on a regular basis. It's at least once a year for kyu ranks. My shodan test included five other people and was two hours long. We are expected to know all etiquette, all terms in Japanese, all kata, all bunkai.

Michele said...

Thank you for sharing about Black Belt Testing. Although there are differences, the common element is hard work and perserverance!

Hack Shaft said...

I'm years from testing, but have watched much of it in the time I've attended my school.

When you are deemed ready by your local instructor, you have to go through a series of three 3-hour screening sessions, which are held (I believe) one month apart. Typically these are held at the most central school in our system (mine), and is usually a packed house of 20+ candidates, all candidates' instructors, and the head examiner.

They're all taking constant notes, and this occurs in front of a very crowded lobby full of family and friends.

Once you pass the 3rd screening, you are invited to the formal ceremony to do it all one more time.

Tests involve everything you learn
- all weapon and open hand forms
- sparring
- self-defense
- classical "marching" combinations
- A VERY strong emphasis on fundamentals!!!

Besides proper technique, you are expected to keep intensity up all of the time. This makes the test fundamentally mental, but physically you have to be ready for the exhaustion as the temperature in the room rises probably a good 10-15 degrees from all the bodies working hard.