Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Preparing For Black Belt Testing

We have a group of 1st kyu students in the dojo preparing for shodan. The test is in two parts. There is a comprehensive in-house black belt test which includes kata, weapons, basics, self-defense, combinations, sparring, ground fighting and bunkai. This test is performed over three weeks and takes 25-40 hours. If the candidate is approved, they must test formally in front of the Federation President and advisory board.

The testing dates are fast approaching. Here are a few of my recommendations for the 1st kyu students.

1. Enjoy. This time in your karate journey should be special. Enjoy the training.

2. Have confidence in your training. Remember that you have been practicing for this test for several years. When questions are asked or kata are to be demonstrated, your training is your resource.

3. Continue to practice your basics. My husband will tell every testing group the same story. When he was training for shodan, he made sure to attend a beginner class each week to work on the basics.

4. You will make mistakes. It happens to everyone. You will be judged on how you manage them. Once a student who made a mistake during in-house black belt testing walked off the dojo floor and went home. Nothing was said...she simply went home. Work through your mistakes.

5. Avoid the "deal breakers" - poor basics, poor weapon handling, non-functional bunkai. Sorry about this...I had to state the obvious.

6. You cannot cram for a martial arts test.

7. You are what you train. You will reap the reward of your effort during testing.

8. Expect the unexpected. During my last test, I felt certain I would not have to perform an individual kama kata. Well...I did!

9. Try to stay calm. Easier to say than to do. Three hours before one test, I had an ocular migraine complete with flashes of light, spots and stars.

10. Be prepared for long hours.

Tuesday Tip: Preparing for Black Belt Testing.


FredInChina said...

Good advice Michele.
We also have a few 1st kyu taking their shodan test on May 8th... It is visible that their test will mirror their training.

Our assistant instructor is one of them; he asked me to train with him all the way to his test. It is an unfair exchange:
I give him company and some enthusiasm and energy when he gets tired.
I get invaluable insight on this part of the road - when my time comes in the last straight line to shodan, the experience I am accumulating will come handy.

I will go with him to Shanghai on may 5th and ride shotgun with him during his final camp, all the way to his test.

I'll tell the stories and what I learned.

KataCatMcCracken said...


I am still some way from shodan grading, but feel that I am preparing for it even now (gulp).

Thank you for your good advice. I feel you are right to suggest that we enjoy the process, and that we've been laying the foundations along out way. I know though - going for 1st Kyu and then shodan - that I'll start feel sick almost exactly one week before the grading...with waves of nausea whenever I think about it. Oh! there goes one now.

I'll come back and read this again in a year or so : )

Felicia said...

Hey there, Michele,
Enjoying it is soooo key. I remember being really, really tired about two months out (I was over -training) and writing to another instructor (who is now my sensei) about how the fatigue was causing me to wish the grading would hurry up and get here already - which upset me because I didn't want to feel like that. It was a very special time - and I don't think I ever worked so hard in my life - one that I wouldn't want to change a thing about now that I look back. I wish the same for every 1st kyu as they get ready to grade. Enjoy the journey Fred and KataCat!

Anonymous said...

I think the best preparation is simply to train as much as you can and repeat what you have to know over and over again: sounds trivial but there isn’t more to it. There isn’t some magic bullet that’ll enhance your abilities without any effort nor a sudden moment of enlightenment: as Musashi said ‘the Way is in practice’. Practicing techniques and sparring is paramount, besides that supplementary exercise in the form of aerobic & anaerobic exercise and maybe some meditation to calm the nerves certainly can’t hurt. During testing it’s important to relax and react instantly and immediately: if you mess up so be it but the worst thing you can do is stop mid-movement and show hesitation. If you muck up your technique do something else but for heaven’s sake don’t freeze up! Nobody’s exam will pass without even the smallest glitch and besides technical mastery the most important thing judges look for is spirit and the ability to cope with stress. If you find testing stressful just try to visualize getting jumped by three guys wanting to maim or kill you: that is real stress, all the rest is mere horseplay by comparison. Show heart, exhibit an empty mind and let your body do the work for you. As a Shodan you should have at least a clue about the higher mental states in the martial arts & Zen: sanshin, mushin & fudoshin. I value the last concept above all else: the stout heart that is unmoveable & wheaters any storm; that way even in defeat you can still persevere and only your body can be slain not your spirit. This correlates with the ancient concept of a noble death on the battlefield: in samurai-manuals they call this ‘making sure you fall with your face in the direction of the enemy’.

My biggest problem is that one of my partners quit on me (due to work-issues he can’t attend regular training anymore so he has decided to leave me hanging as well) so that means less training-time while the test comes awfully close. I will remember this though: when he returns to training and he ever needs a partner or someone to explain things to him I won’t have the time too… In life what you give is what you get and vice versa and respect is of the greatest importance. If you want to move up in the ranks you must show character & honor your commitments, above all don’t be an opportunist and be grateful for the teachings & patience of your teachers. ...

Anonymous said...

It’s good people have to pass two tests to achieve black belt: over here it’s the same. The original test is in the dojo in front of sensei and a panel of impromptu judges (as it looks now a Nidan from our old dojo and the owner of the gym), after that it’s on to the federal jury for the official testing. While my first test will probably be in a month or so the second test will take longer due to different requirements and grading structure. In a way it’s more work of course but I like the thoroughness of the whole process and I do enjoy training so it’s not work per se.

Formal testing is all nice and well of course but the real test will come when you’re ever in a serious, life-altering conflict: then and only then will you see how much you’ve internalized and how your spirit will react to real stress & danger. Looking at it like that your average street-cop deserves more respect than your average black belt who’s never been seriously tested & whose knowledge is much theory & little practice in an actual hostile environment instead of the comforts of the dojo. I think this is a point every martial artist should be aware of: real fighting & play fighting (a.k.a sparring) are not the same thing and a black belt doesn’t make you a fighter let alone an invincible one. In that respect I highly recommend Marc MacYoung’s book ‘Cheap shots, ambushes & other lessons’. MacYoung grew up in a bad neighbourhood & used to be somewhat of a criminal himself, nowadays he’s an internationally respected author & expert in self-defense, conflict-management & an expert witness in legal disputes involving the justification of violence. This is a great adjunct to formal martial arts training (especially for prospective black belts) & it’ll do wonders for your general awareness & practical self-defense skills: as he repeats over and over again some fights can’t be won (what are you going to do when someone points a gun at you from over 4 meters away or you suddenly find yourself surrounded by a group of ruffians with knives) and just knowing what to look out for can save you a world of trouble. As the old JJ-saying goes ‘a fight avoided is a fight won’.

Great post Michele,


Ariel said...

The two part test is really intriguing to me. I've never experienced anything like it, and I'm wondering how the first part works. It sounds like a really long evaluation. How many days a week and hours per class is it?

To earn a black belt in our association, testing is individualized. If there is more than one candidate ready to test, they each have their own day devoted to their own test. All of the black belts from the grandmaster down are invited to attend, and the test usually lasts 3-4 hours.

Michele said...

Thank you for your comments and best of luck to all those testing in the near future!

BBat50 said...

I just passed by testing for second degree. There were four in my group going for second degree over the age of forty, two of us were over fifty.

We have a kenpo base (American Kenpo, I'm not sure how close that is to Okinawan) in our school mixed with muy thai, XMA, and other elements.

At our testing, there's the step of board breaking, do you have that? Do people ever have trouble with it? Watch the video.

elizasmom said...

What a great list — and, frankly, a lot of this advice would apply to anyone, testing for any rank. We have all-ranks and black-belt tests coming up soon at my dojo and I think I am going to pepper my chats with soon-to-test deshi with your advice!