Curriculum and tests

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Talk' started by skribs, Mar 15, 2019.

  1. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    This is kind of going to be a multi-tiered question, because it will apply differently depending on which type of school you have:
    • Belts/grades/ranks that are earned through testing
    • Belts/grades/ranks that are awarded when the Master (or equivalent) has determined you are ready
    • A system without belts/grades/ranks
    For each style of school, I have a different question.

    Rank Earned Through Tests

    If your school earns ranks through tests, how do you differentiate between technical knowledge, conceptual understanding, and rote memorization on the test?

    It's easy to devise a test which covers the basic structure of the techniques, forms, sparring, and board breaking. It is more complex to devise a test which shows an understanding of different concepts regarding footwork, timing, combinations, and tactics. There's the understanding, but also the application.

    Do these sorts of things get included in the test? How do you integrate them in a way that's easy for the test-taker to follow? Or do you just expect that during the time it took to memorize the forms and hone the techniques, they also picked up on the concept?

    Rank Awarded Through Merit

    Some schools have rank to show where you are in the curriculum, but don't have a formal test process. Instead, when the Master has determined you are ready, you move up.

    If your school is like this, how do you track who is ready? Sometimes someone might get something one day and then forget it or not build the habit, so checking one time on a concept or technique might not be enough. Are you tracking the entire curriculum or only specific things?

    No Belts/Grades/Ranks

    If your school does not have a curriculum hierarchy, how do you determine what to teach the students while they are there? So that the newbies aren't overwhelmed and the veterans are still challenged? I have very limited experience in this type of curriculum, so I don't have much more to base a question on.

    I will answer later in the post for myself. I don't want this thread to immediately turn into a discussion of my school. I want to learn about other schools and how they do things. I've been in a lot of discussions with folks about rank progression (or how rank is a fallacy) and I'd like a better understanding of where everyone else is coming from.

     
  2. WaterGal

    WaterGal Master of Arts

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    For our TKD program, we have a series of drills to train footwork, timing, tactics, etc. Obviously these don't perfectly cover every possible situation, but they do cover some basic stuff that's common in TKD. We have them perform the appropriate drills for their level at their test. That doesn't distinguish between rote memorization and conceptual understanding, but I think, honestly.... for kids' TKD, rote memorization is fine. Since we incorporated those drills into our training, we've seen the overall quality of sparring, and confidence/fun of the students during sparring practice, improve quite a bit. So even if they don't necessarily have a conceptual understanding of the technical reasons why to do this or that technique at this or that time, I think the memorization can lead to a subconcious understanding.
     
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  3. Never_A_Reflection

    Never_A_Reflection Blue Belt

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    Our school tests people for rank, but only allows them to test if we have already determined that they are ready, and they are, essentially, always being evaluated. Every time our students are in class, we get to see how well they perform, how well they pick up new material, whether they understand its connection to other material they have learned, and how well they apply it in drills and resistant training. Once we've decided that they have the necessary skills and knowledge to pass a test, then we will put them on the roster.

    As we have already evaluated them before the test, the primary purpose of the test is to evaluate them under pressure--we know they understand the material, already, and can apply it in training, so it gives us a chance to see how well they apply it while exhausted, and under mental and physical stress. We start the test with a workout of various cardio/calisthenics--we call it a "warm up," but it really is meant to get them tired before they even start. Then we start evaluating basics, then kata, drills, and self defense techniques/kata applications, and end with sparring. We spot-check their understanding of various techniques and concepts throughout by asking questions, or requiring them to demonstrate things that they may or may not have actually practiced before. We specifically push them out of their comfort zones, to the point where they want to quit--especially in sparring--so that they persevere and see it through to the end. Obviously, for the lower ranks and younger students, we don't go overboard on this, but it gets more intense as you go up in rank/age.
     
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  4. Danny T

    Danny T Senior Master

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    Every training session is a test.
    For the instructor as well as the students.
    A good instructor should know by the time the student gets to the point for testing if that student is ready. And a good instructor should know if they have the technical knowledge, conceptual understanding is going to be based on the mental maturity of the student and the level of understanding they are on. I certainly don't expect a 9 year to be on the same level of conceptual understanding as a 22 year old even if the 9 year has been training for 4 years and 22 year has only 6 months of training.
    Ask the students questions. Have them to explain what they are doing and why are they doing it in such a manner. Have them give or demonstrate different applications of movements. At higher levels one should know the what and the how as well as the why and when.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2019
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  5. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    Is it rote drills they have to do? Or do they have to memorize vocabulary and put combinations together on the fly?
     
  6. Rat

    Rat Brown Belt

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    for the last one, i think most people would try to keep a record of who has done what, they just don't officially award ranks per say.* Or try to remember people. (the record is much more effective)

    I think there is a element of memeory in what you have taught people in the other systems unless you mark it somewhere, how would you know they have done what they need to, to get the next belt for example? (hypothetical, you would note it somewhere preferably on a record so you dont forget)


    also I think i saw a school which doesn't have any ranks in training and any belt given is just to mark where you sit in what you have proven competency for. Or i dremt it. :p
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2019
  7. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Early in the process, I don't care which it is. At "foundation" (a test without any rank) and yellow belt (first earned rank, usually about a year in), I'm just testing for the ability to do certain things (specific techniques and strikes, mostly). By blue belt, I start to test for actual knowledge, and that continues to be an increasing factor in successive ranks. By black belt (terminal rank), they've been tested (starting at brown) for conceptual understanding, as well.

    I test for memorization of the "right" movements in kata and shorter "classical forms", as this is part of the transmission system for NGA. I test for technical knowledge in both asking questions about the "why" of movement and in how they apply the techniques and principles to various scenarios. For conceptual understanding, we're back to some questioning of principles, discussion of the higher-level principles, and demonstrating applications of principles that are not directly tied to any of the Classical techniques (the techniques formally part of the NGA curriculum).

    And there's also the factor of technical competence (as opposed to knowledge), which is mostly expressed in free sparring/grappling tests. The application scenarios also test this, as they are more fluid than some of the more formal tests.

    I'm responding to this one, too, because this goes to how I know when someone's ready to test. If I have a student testing with me, I expect them to pass, because I've decided already they are ready. They may end up with some re-testing before promotion, but I don't expect anyone to get to the test and be bad enough to actually fail unless they just go through the motions (that would be more my fault than theirs). And some of the testing is informal. To date, almost everyone promoted to yellow belt has been awarded by surprise - they weren't aware they'd been tested (though some changes to my tests may make this impossible in the future).

    Before someone can test with me for a given rank, I'm looking for three things.
    1. An overall sense that they're advanced enough in their overall skill. This has three factors in it: sparring/grappling ability, ability to apply the Classical techniques at the appropriate level, and technical comprehension/skill. One of these very advanced can tip the scale, or more commonly all three at about the right level for that next rank.
    2. They are remembering all of their Classical techniques and kata easily. Early in each rank, they are introduced to the 10 Classical techniques for that rank. They will get the kata for that rank somewhat later (much later, for yellow, since it's built of the 10 Classical). I won't consider testing them until they are no longer struggling to remember any of that. It's a mental check I do regularly.
    3. Something to convince me. I'm not even sure what all this includes. Some of it goes back to #1. Some of it is effort and desire. Some of it is making progress. Some of it is attitude. I readily acknowledge this is ENTIRELY subjective, and am content with that.
     
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  8. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Just a quick note: the phrase is per se. (Roughly translates to "intrinsically" or "as such".)
     
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  9. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    I am glad you include #3. There is an intangible component that separates MA from classical, school room learning. Even in gymnastics, which I feel is looked at more critically by the "experts", has room for interpretation and sheer will. This, hopefully will never be tamed.
    One of the best things we do during all adult testing and most older kid testing is have them spar with high color belts or black belts. They have all done this often in class but the more formal environment of testing makes for a great experience. It is a true litmus test.
    Occasionally, there will be an exceptionally gifted kid who can push some of his senior belts. It is a good experience for both sides; the lower belt to discover there is more to learn and for the higher belt to confirm what they already know and be pushed a little.
     
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  10. Christopher Adamchek

    Christopher Adamchek Blue Belt

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    I award rank through a combination of merit and testing
    • i work with the student and let them know when i think that they are ready for testing
    • i value testing for the student being put on the spot to demonstrate their knowledge
    • however the idea of testing can be silly if there is no chance of failure
    • so i add a singular section of the testing that is pass/fail
    this gives the students confidence that i know they are ready, the stress of demonstrating themselves, and the slight fear of failure
     
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  11. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    In my program, self-development is an overt part of the purpose of the training. That's not something I can readily evaluate within testing on everyone (with some folks I can), so I'm looking for that "something" that tells me they are pushing in some way that is meaningful to them.
     
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  12. KenpoMaster805

    KenpoMaster805 Purple Belt

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    Rank Earned Through Tests

    If your school earns ranks through tests, how do you differentiate between technical knowledge, conceptual understanding, androte memorization on the test?

    In my Martial Art school you will get your rank once your ready it takes 2 or 3 months to take a yellow belt test you have to know your basic sets and form and 10 technique in those 2 or 3 months if your ready you will get your 1st yellow tip or stripe for forms set and basic and the other stripe for technique if you get those your ready to test

    Its up to the instructor really when they see you know your forms sets basic and techniques you are ready
     
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  13. Tony Dismukes

    Tony Dismukes MT Moderator Staff Member

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    At my school, we award BJJ ranks based on consistent performance on the mats, primarily in sparring (but also when drilling and for higher ranks, how they do when coaching others) . Students will have good days and bad days, but we see how they do day in and day out and don't make a decision based on a particular day when they might have been over or underperforming.

    We don't formally keep track of whether a student being promoted knows a specific technique*, but we do keep an eye on whether they know how to handle specific situations - clinch, takedown, guard bottom, guard top, side control bottom, etc.

    Theoretically it could be possible for someone to be promoted up the ranks without knowing some fundamental technique (like a triangle choke), but I've never seen it happen. Most people take 2-3 years between belts and that's plenty of time to have practiced all the fundamentals many times as well as having them used against you repeatedly in sparring. If you don't know the fundamentals, then you aren't going to be doing well enough in sparring to be promoted.
     
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  14. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    This is interesting. I think if you're looking at a sport-based art, this approach will for a grappling art but not a striking art. That's because there's enough phases in grappling to look at different situations, but with striking you're largely dealing with the standup phase, or maybe a clinch. So you have to get more granular in your evaluation.
     
  15. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Is that true? I'm wondering and thinking as I type this. If someone doesn't have a jab (fundamental striking technique) would they be able to spar effectively? If they're missing any other fundamental technique, would that show up similarly in sparring? Obviously, techniques that don't show up in sparring (in light sparring, knees are unlikely to come into play very often) might be missed, but that probably means they're not fundamental to the sport aspect, doesn't it? Someone could probably advance without one of the middle kicks (hook kick) and certainly could without the spinning kicks. But if they can, then it's probably not fundamental to the sport aspect.

    Of course, what we define as fundamental to the art needn't be the same as what's fundamental to the sport aspect, and perhaps that was your point?
     
  16. wab25

    wab25 Brown Belt

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    In Danzan Ryu, (at least with the organization I am with) most rank is for merit. Blue belt is the first rank after white belt. As a blue belt, you get to study the nage list, which is a list of about 30 throws. That list is the rank required study for a blue belt. So, promoting someone to blue belt means they are going to get thrown a lot. If you don't have the ability to take the falls, its not actually a good thing for the student. The same goes for all the ranks through 4th Dan... the list you study at that next rank, requires uke to be able to safely receive the techniques. If you can cram for the test and get it right that night... but don't really have that ability, up to par... you are going to get hurt, when you don't receive the technique correctly. So its not really a favor to promote someone for any other reason.

    It also helps that we do not have a culture of "pulling rank" over each other all the time. Our culture is to train and learn. We try to take the opportunity to learn from the person we are working with on the mat, no matter what color his thing is that holds his gi closed. Many of our guys cross train other arts... and may be highly ranked in other arts. If you go around pulling rank all the time, you miss the opportunity to learn from a lot of very skillful people. We take our rank to mean: "This is how far I have studied in this art, in this school." We do not misconstrue the color of the thing that holds our gi closed, as any indication of martial ability or effectiveness. (though if it is DZR rank, we do take it as an indicator of ability to take high falls...)
     
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  17. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    My point is, if I were to evaluate someone in their ability to apply principles to Taekwondo sparring, from a situations perspective, I would be looking at:
    • "Clinch"
    • Stand-up
    If I were evaluating for a grappling system, then you add to "Clinch" and "Stand-up":

    • Take-down
    • Ground fighting
    • Submission/Pin
    So it's not about whether or not you have a jab. It's about the fact there's generally a lot more situations in grappling than striking.
     
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  18. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    True. There are also - by my reckoning, which is pretty much just opinion - more "fundamental" techniques in grappling, because of the wider range of situations. That's what I was pondering about.
     
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  19. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    I will definitely agree with that. And because punching the face or the chest is basically the same thing, but attacking the wrist, elbow, or shoulder are entirely different.
     
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  20. Tony Dismukes

    Tony Dismukes MT Moderator Staff Member

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    The main reason we look at some of these different situations is so that a student doesn't "hide" their deficiency in one area by excelling in another. For example, we might have a student who looks ready for purple belt based on his consistent performance in sparring. However this student is really good at takedowns and always gets the top position in regular sparring. In that case we might make them start sparring from the bottom position to make sure they also know how to handle themselves in that context with an appropriate level of skill.

    For a pure striking art, as you say, this probably wouldn't be necessary. If you spar enough, all the standup ranges (long, short, clinching) are likely to come up repeatedly even if you are really good at one range or another. Someone who watches you spar a bunch of different people week in and week out should have a pretty good sense of your overall skillset. (That said, I have trained at Muay Thai gyms where trainees would do "kick sparring", "box sparring", and "knee sparring" as separate drills. Combine that with holding pads for a trainee and the coach should have a solid sense of the student's specific strengths and weaknesses.)
     
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