Monday, October 02, 2006

Testing - but not for me

One of our requirements this summer was to go to one of the TKD belt testing days, and watch how they do it. I was in Boston during the last set of tests, so this Saturday off I went.

It was very different from my sensei's testing. First off, it was huge. Forty people, ranging from second dans testing for third, to tiny tots testing for their first stripe (They get five, and then they graduate to the regular kids' class as a white belt). We were there four hours watching tests.

They started with the black belts. I was mostly not impressed. Of the half-dozen testing, only one (the youngest of them all) had what I would consider good form. The dojo head corrected them as a group at least once - for having their thumbs hanging out during knife hand strikes! Two of them were hardly chambering their kicks at all, and only the one really chambered hard and well.

The two testing for promotion to first dan were worse. I would - personally speaking - have knocked them down a rank or two for their performances, not promoted them. Ironically they both very nearly failed for failing to break the required boards, but each managed after a dozen-plus tries. I would have failed them at the first form. Neither of them could make a decent fist! One had her thumb straight - sticking out past her knuckles. The other had loose hands, and a cocked wrist. Neither of them could have punched anything hard without injuring themselves. Sensei bawls out white belts for form breaks less egregious.

Interestingly the lower belts generally looked better. Why, I'm not sure. But most of the lower belt testees seemed appropriately skilled for the levels they were testing for. Did they change teaching styles recently or something?

At least now I know why facing the TKD black belts in kumite has never particularly fazed me. If I can block their feet (and I have pretty sharp defense), they have nothing up top to threaten me with. Though if we keep sharing classes on the weekend, that may change.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't it just get your goat when people get promotions they don't deserve? This is one thing about my dojo. It seems the ones coming up now have it so much easier than James and I. It just burns me up the way sensei seems to baby some of them.

PerpetualBeginner said...

I have mixed feelings about the testing. On the one hand, it's not my sensei, so there's no feeling that his standards are slipping. On the other hand, the TKD people are the primary group at our dojo (their head is the dojo owner). If they are presenting to the public this sort of sloppy form and students unskilled for their rank, then that affects how people are likely to view our style and sensei as well.

[Mat] said...

"then that affects how people are likely to view our style and sensei as well."

Yep, it does. No offense. I guess it happens in all club.

Go figure.

Miss Chris said...

I can't stand it when undeserving students get their next belt. Argh! I gripes me because there are those of us who work hard and want to perfect everthing but those who are lazy know they'll manage to pass so they don't put forth the effort to learn.

PerpetualBeginner said...

No offense at all, Mat. Every student who walks out of the dojo is a reflection on the rest of us, regardless of the style they take.

Miss Chris - I agree fully. The few TKD students who really perfect things stand out a mile. At least three or four have come to the karate classes to sharpen their te waza, because the TKD classes simply don't teach those skills adequately. How can they when only two or three of two dozen instructors really have good hand technique themselves?

The general reation among the Isshinryu students seems to be an amused superiority. Pretty much only Sensei and I seem to find it a shame that we're comparing students with strict requirements to those without - not a fair comparison of the two martial arts. Whether it's because Sensei and I are the two old enough and experienced enough to see the consequences to the dojo as a whole, or because the others just like winning kumite against people three or more belts higher, I don't know.

I do know that at our home tournament, I shouldn't be able to be put in with the junior black belts (as an orange!), and hold my own - third in kata, second in breaking, second in kumite(only because Sensei joined kumite to provide more bodies). It might be fun, but it just shouldn't happen.

Anonymous said...

In Korean styles, certain kicks are performed without a chamber: axe, crescent, etc.. Of course, basic kicks like front and side do require a chamber. TKD is definitely a kicking art, so in some schools maybe the punching aspects are glossed over.

They started with the black belts for testing? That's a first. Four hours of watching tests sounds like a long day.

PerpetualBeginner said...

John - apparently doing black belts first was not their usual order, but I have no idea why they changed it.

I wouldn't presume to judge TKD students on form for the kinds of kicks we don't do (at least as a rule), but these were straight up front snap kicks. I was quite startled. That they don't do hand techniques even one tenth the amount we do is a given. I don't expect any of the TKD people short of black to have particularly competant hand technique. However, having black belts that couldn't manage the most basic of hand techniques (straight punch? Knife hand?) without major form breaks was worse than I was expecting.

I think I have my answer as to why the lower belts are looking better, though. I came early to class last night and Sensei was on the mat with the TKD instructors (at their request apparently), helping out with a portion of the class. Having broken his hand twice, and torn ligaments once, he's absolute death on sloppy hand technique.