Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Expectations In Studio 5

I have been attending Tai Chi Chuan classes at the gym. Each Tuesday night, I head to Studio 5 for class. There are four new students (including myself) and two students with several years experience. The class includes: exercises that open the hips, practicing the first part of the form, pushing hands and hugging the tree.

There is so much to learn. I do not expect to walk out of Studio 5 and feel like I know what I am doing. I leave looking forward to the next time I have the opportunity to attend class. Several people told me that Tai Chi takes a lifetime to learn. I believe it! My partner for push hands was the senior student. He advised me not to get frustrated and to give it time. I told him "that I do not expect to learn it quickly". I sensed that he was relieved to hear me say it. Apparently, students come and go and very few stick with it.

I see a similar phenomenon in the karate dojo. One of the first questions that a new student asks is "How long will it take to get a black belt?" The standard answer is to explain the recommended time requirements set by the Federation. I further explain that it depends on the amount of time they spend in the dojo and whether or not they take extended time away. I can almost hear the pages of the calendar flipping in their mind as they calculate an end date. This is ultimately a problem because they view earning a black belt as the end of their journey.

It is the beginning.


Perpetual Beginner said...

We saw this a lot when our dojo was sharing space with a TKD dojang. The TKD place gave entering students a very specific time-frame, and barring serious foul-ups, they got their black belt in the alloted time (36 months). This was achieved by mandatory testing every three months - and a student who failed a test retested every month (with test fees each time) until he or she passed. Very few people who stayed ended up more than a few month past 36 for their black belt test.

Our sensei, by contrast, refuses to give a time frame. He will test only when he's certain the student will pass -he's notoriously slow, even by Isshinryu standards, which aren't exactly fast.

We have far fewer students start with us, but over time I came to notice that the advanced TKD students were visibly unhappy about their skill level vis-a-vis their rank. When I was a purple belt (san-kyu, or three steps from black), several of their black belts were showing me significant deference, and when I asked, explained that they thought my rank, given by my sensei, was equivalent of a second or third degree black belt, given by their instructor.

It's a frustrating attitude to be sure, but it can backfire on a dojo to go along with it, however much the entering students may wish it.

Michele said...

PB: I am surprised that a school would give a specific time frame. We have kyu rank testing four times a year. The students must be pre-tested and approved by the instructor. The Federation guideline is four years until black belt but it is just that...a guideline.

Thank you for your comments.

Colin Wee said...

It could backfire, to be sure. I have had my own school for some 8 years now. My students average 2+ years with me mostly. But I've only promoted one through the ranks up to 2nd Kyu. I've had a few 4th kyus. Mostly they drop out at green or blue belt. In contrast many of them might have possibly received their black belts at other dojos. Who's to say I'm right? If they had had faster promotions maybe they'd have stayed longer?


Hack Shaft said...

My school states that the average time is 28-30 months, but it really depends on how much effort you put into it.

Currently I am blue belt in my system, traditionally the halfway point to black with only red and brown remaining.

That all being said, there are increments between the belts as well. So after Blue is Blue with a Red stripe, then Red, Red/Brown, Brown, Brown/Black, Brown/Double Black, and finally Black.

Up to Blue, the tests are typically every other month--again, depending on attendance and effort.

After Blue, however, things begin to stretch out a bit with 3 or more months being the norm between tests.

As for me, Karate has become such an integral part of my daily and weekly rhythm that I no longer worry about when the next test is. It's usually a surprise, like "Oh, time for THAT business again???"

All that said, what I enjoy most is how much easier fundamental things are; that's the real measurement of progress for me, and not the color around my waist.

Michele said...

Colin: I think testing should be when the student is ready rather than on a time line. After reading your post, I was curious about how many black belts tested from the dojo. The dojo has been open since 1995. Twenty-five people have achieved black belt. However, less than ten are still training and only 2 nindan and 2 sandan. Interesting.

Hack Shaft: Good to hear from you! I hope all is well with you and your knee. I applaud how you measure your progess.

Colin Wee said...

Back in my old school in the states, testing was changed to be every three months. These sessions were taken as 'feedback' sessions, so if you didn't make it, you didn't make it. I adopted that system when my group was larger, and used it as an opportunity to provide coaching feedback in a report to students. Most sessions had about a 60-80% failure rate, if you thought of it that way, but I felt that the benefits of such formal feedback was somewhat helpful to overall training. Nowadays, it's more on a rubber band time. Typically longer. Colin

Colin Wee said...

I thought I'd just point you to a post which lists grading links from a whole bunch of different blogs. Colin

Michele said...

Colin: Thanks for the grading links!