Rank based on progress vs. merit, and/or when to switch

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Talk' started by skribs, Sep 12, 2020.

  1. skribs

    skribs Grandmaster

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    At my school, there is a consistent quantity of stuff to learn. That is the same for virtually every test for the same rank. There are a few differences based on age group, but for the most part you are expected to know the requirements on the test. All kids purple belts need to know Basic Forms 1-3, Kicks 1-5, Jumping Kicks 1-3, and Punch Defense 1-5. If you don't know these things, you wait to test until you do know them.

    However, how well you do those things is where the "progress" comes in. Our basic form (KIbon #1) is essentially just down blocks, punches, and simple turns and steps. For a 4-year-old yellow belt who's been training for 8 months, it may be that simply moving in the right direction is enough to pass, even if half the time they turn wrong or end up on the wrong hand. Whereas older students we'll expect to know at least the basic movements to 100% accuracy. They may not have the best stances or techniques yet, but they at least have some semblance of what the stances and techniques are supposed to look like, and they should be able to execute the steps and turns properly.

    Let's say a student comes in, and they consistently learn the requirements, and they consistently improve. However, that improvement is very small steps over a long period of time. Let's say the average time to get 4th Dan is 12 years. It could be 3 years for 1st Dan, another 2 for 2nd, 3 for 3rd, and 4 for 4th - longer than the minimum requirements, but a typical progression. This student has been training for 20 years. They've learned all the forms and other testing requirements for 4th dan. But their coordination isn't there. Their stances are still only 90% the definition of a proper stance. Their movements are stiff and disjointed. They never learned how to do their techniques with rhythm or flow.

    If you were to take your average blue belt (maybe 1.5 years of training) and this guy, have them practice in street clothes (no belts), people would look at them and assume they're peers. That they are a similar level with a similar amount of training. He's made personal progress, but he started way behind in coordination, and the progress was slow.

    If this student becomes a teacher, he may be able to teach better than he can do. But if he never figured out how to do a lot of the stuff properly, then he probably can't teach how to do it properly. It could simply be that his teaching won't be very effective. It could even be that he teaches the wrong way to do things, because the right way is something he never quite caught onto.

    Should this student continue to be promoted to higher levels of black belt? Especially considering that the higher you go, the more influence you have? Or at some point should the Master say "you need to be able to meet these metrics for height, speed, proper stances, and so on before you can get promoted."
     
  2. dancingalone

    dancingalone Grandmaster

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    It's a good question. On a practical level does this come up often or at all. I find myself over the course of my MA career that people weed themselves out because they are innately respectful of the arts and the merit-based nature of the belt system. I have a student that has been with me for over 15 years. He is respectable for the time he spends training but he has missed his window probably for ever becoming elite due to age and family requirements. He told me he didn't want to test anymore until something drastically changes in his life situation because he doesn't feel right about it. I more or less concur. He is still a valued student and relative senior in my dojo.
     
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  3. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    I like this.

    I think there can be an attitude that if people are to train, then they must advance in rank. I disagree with that attitude.

    I think value needs to be placed on the activity itself, for its own sake, rank-be-damned. People can get tremendous value from training and coming to class, even if they never test or gain further rank. There should be nothing wrong with that, from anyone’s point of view.
     
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  4. dvcochran

    dvcochran Grandmaster

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    I hoped I had answered this question before. IF the 4th Dan does not know the techniques, forms, drills. etc... they should have never promoted to 4th Dan. Based on what you have said they certainly are not qualified to teach. That is a separate issue from how well they can physically do said techniques, etc... This is the individual component I was talking about. In your description the 4th Dan is lacking in mental or physical coordination. Assuming the training they have received is of good quality And the person is giving it their all it is hard to hold the deficiencies against them cart blanche. Should both the student and instructor identify any short comings and work to minimize them? You bet. This is a classic area that is harder to judge and survey as the instructor. Everyone has to understand they are working to find their own best.
    There are always going to be physical prodigies like your blue belt that 'just get it' quicker/better than others. All too often these are the one's that quit early because of the lack of challenge.
    Being honest, I feel like I am in the same category as the 4th Dan. I used to whole heartedly agree with the old saying "those who can't, teach". I think I better understand the saying now. I know the material very well and know how it is supposed to be done and more importantly I understand the why and when. But physically there is SO much I can no longer do. It frustrated me for a long time, still does sometimes. That said, I have a good body of work that shows I am a good teacher.
    So I would ask, can you look at the 4th Dan's body of work and give it a passing grade?
     
  5. KenpoMaster805

    KenpoMaster805 Black Belt

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    Well my opinion as a Martial Artist you have to make progress 1st and see how student progress to see there ability if they can pass the test or the requirement then give them the merit thats how student progress you cant just give the merit and they are not progressing

    In my Martial arts school some progress fast some quit and some takes time to progress so each student have their difference of progress

    Yes there this family in my karate class they are treated like Metaphoric gods because they progress fast and their all black belts from Uncle aunty cousins so yea but their good peoples
     
  6. skribs

    skribs Grandmaster

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    That wasn't a prodigy. That was an average blue belt. I have some students that started in their late 30s/early 40s, and have been training hard for several years, and have barely any coordination. Whereas I'm assuming you used to have more coordination than you do now (I'm assuming due to age), these students have never had it.

    Let me put it this way. There are tons of details that go into every technique. These details include:
    • Position of each hand, elbow, and shoulder during chamber (6)
    • Specific path of the hands and elbows during execution (4)
    • Position of each hand, elbow, and shoulder at completion (6)
    • Shape of each hand at chamber and completion (4)
    • Posture, Eye Contact, Breathing (3)
    • Angle and Orientation of each knee (4)
    • Direction of each foot (2)
    • Width and Length of Stance (2)
    • Orientation of Hips (2)
    • Timing of Technique (1)
    That right there is 34 pieces of information to do any individual technique correctly. More come in when you start adding footwork or combinations, such as the pace of the combination, the path of the foot, etc. There may also be some details I missed; these are just off the top of my head. But let's just take these for now. 34 details to know for every technique. Now take a form that has 20 techniques. That one form now has 680 details to know. If you have 11 forms required to get your 4th Dan (Kukkiwon minimum), that's 7,480 details that you need to know on those forms. Some of them repeat, yes. The double knife-hand block is the same in Taegeuk #4 as it is in Koryo. But even if they repeat, it's that many details to know and do correctly.

    You can memorize the gross movement of the form and the basic structure of the stances, and yet get virtually 0 of these details correct. This is incredibly common in the lower belts, especially for younger students. Barely any chamber, no snap power during execution, sloppy completion, poor posture, holding their breath, they do the whole form in the WT sparring stance instead of a KKW front stance (except they slightly bend their front knee). Yet, as bad as this sounds, this is actually a high bar for some of our students...at least, for the basic forms, when they're just a yellow belt. Being able to at least step in the right direction and remember what type of block or punch to do is a big step for them.

    For other students, we expect more. A student who memorizes the form easily, I'll be looking for the other habits I've talked to them about in class. Maybe their off-hand is typically across their stomach instead of chambered. Maybe they have a tendency to "bounce" their stance (i.e. get their front stance for a split second, and then straighten their leg before moving to the next step). I'll be looking for them to have eliminated bad habits, and/or learned and applied more of the details to their form.

    For the more advanced student, it's quite possible they don't have all 34 pieces of information. Sometimes this is habit that takes time to excise. In some cases, I think it's coordination that will never be met. Sometimes it's information they learned and forgot (or worse: misremembered). There may also be things that they do and don't know, for example their feet might point the correct direction, but they don't know that's actually correct, it's just how they've naturally done it.

    This is the question. At what point do you stop looking for those improvements (increased knowledge, reduced bad habits), and start saying: "there are 34 details for every technique. If you can't properly demonstrate (or at least explain) a minimum of 28 of them, then you cannot be promoted." That could be a brick wall in front of a student who has made slow, steady progress for a long time. Those students tend not to test as fast as some of the other students, but they won't be too far behind. For example, an average student at my school takes around 3-4 years to get their black belt, around 2-3 years for 1st Dan, and 2-3 years for 3rd Dan. (Not that 3rd Dan is faster, just the people who get 3rd Dan tend to be faster). So far, we haven't had a 4th Dan; I'm hoping to be one of the first two next year.

    If we started putting in strict expectations at 3rd Dan, instead of simply learning the required rote memorized pieces of the curriculum and continuing to improve your skills, then I could see a few of our red belts or 1st degree black belts that would get stuck at 2nd Dan for several years - if not forever. Is there a point that this should be done, where the rank should be gate-kept for only those that are worthy? Or should their improvement continue to be rewarded, even if their improvement doesn't bring them up to par on their understanding of those 34 details for every technique?
     
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  7. dvcochran

    dvcochran Grandmaster

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    I think for most people who practice regularly some if not many of the 34 individual components morph and become engrained to the point of being involuntary, regardless of technique performed. I would expect that mostly through repetition this happens. But again, anatomically not everyone is going to look the same, nor should we expect them to be lemmings. That said, it is paramount for people to learn Why each of the 34 components have value and are important. For example how sonnal momtong makki can be a block or a strike and the value of the ready hand.
    You timeline for belting I would say is commensurate with most TKD dojangs. But if a person has trained for 3-4 years and only came to class once a week the effects of regular practice will not be there for many folks. So overall timeframe is less important than real practice time. What does you GM say about some of the concerns you have? It is important to be concerned about reputation, for both you and your school but you have to remember everyone is there of their own free will and some are just not going to make the commitment that others will. A more common reality in a larger school.

    Congrats on being the first 4th Dan in you dojang. I hope you can get to a place where you can focus on your performance and not the other guys. It will make moving forward a hell of a lot easier.
     
  8. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    The problem with physical metrics for higher levels is that they favor younger (and usually less experienced) folks. After a certain age (it differs by individual), no amount of training is going to make up for what age takes away - and certainly isn't going to create an increase in athleticism. So, if we had a higher physical requirement at each successive rank, we'd reach a point where only gifted athletes or extremely fast learners would be able to progress, rather than gifted instructors. I don't know what the right answer is, nor where to create the break between physical testing and other criteria, but if a style has higher ranks that are meant for instructors, those shouldn't be based on physical ability. Technical skill (with physical limitations taken in mind) would be reasonable to test at every level, but it needn't increase if the rank is meant for an instructor.
     
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  9. skribs

    skribs Grandmaster

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    Minimum of 2 days a week. I honestly haven't talked to any GM. Everything is through the master at my school. I'm not saying that we have people at 3rd Dan that don't deserve it. We've had relatively few make it to 3rd Dan at all (during my 7 years here, where we've consistently had around 250 students until COVID hit, we've only had around 12 make it, and they've all definitely had the skill. I'm more looking at some of our advanced students (red belts, 1st degree) and wondering when the switch is from progress-based to benchmarks.

    As an instructor, my job is to focus on the performance of the other guys. When I become a Master of a school, my ability to run an effective school will be based on the performance of my instructors, and myself and all of the instructors should focus on the performance of the other guys. I really don't understand why I shouldn't focus on other people, especially as I get more and more responsibility for other people.
     
  10. skribs

    skribs Grandmaster

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    A lot of the metrics I talk about (such as the list in post #26) are going to be doable by the majority of folk, especially those who train hard. For example, on a down block in front stance:
    • Chamber your blocking hand on top of your shoulder, other hand under your arm. Shoulders square, elbows forward.
    • Blocking hand travels diagonally down into blocking position with extension of the elbow, other hand twists back and elbow travels straight back. The motion should be sharp; it should start and stop suddenly with no "wind-up" or overswing.
    • Blocking arm is slightly bent, fist over your knee. Other hand is tight at your hip, just above your belt, elbow straight back. Shoulders still square.
    • Each hand is a tight, proper fist from start to finish of the technique
    • Eyes face forward. Back straight, head up. Sharp exhale on execution.
    • Front knee bent over your foot, facing front. Back knee straight, also pointing front.
    • Both feet pointing straight
    • Feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, and double that long
    • Hips facing forward
    The vast majority of these can be done by anyone. Especially things like the orientation of your feet, hips and shoulders, the timing of the technique, and the proper motion. You may not be able to have as long or deep a stance, or you may not be able to execute a snap motion, or get the full range of motion in your arms. But barring something extreme, I think it's reasonable to expect that most people are capable of meeting at least 90% of these metrics, so long as they learn them and commit them to habit.

    On the other hand, if someone is chambering with only one hand, or their stance is too narrow, or their rear foot is pointed to the side (resulting in their hips and shoulders not being properly aligned), that's more likely due to them either not knowing the proper mechanics, or else not having trained them enough to ingrain them.

    It takes different people a different amount of time for a mechanic to "click" where they understand it, and another different amount of time for that to become habit. This is, of course, assuming that the particular detail is something they're even working on yet. If someone is struggling with 8 details, then how can they manage 10? And this is just for one technique.
     
  11. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    I'll go further. Almost nobody ever thinks of more than a few of those 34 things for any given technique, though which few will vary by person and their individual progression. Ask a student to name out those 34 things, and they'll probably instantly find they can no longer do the technique as well, because they're too busy with the data points. The concepts are what the student eventually learns. They have to be told certain points for a while ("get that hand higher in chamber"), but eventually they have a concept for the chanber position (that concept covering several of the bits of information in a single idea), they have a concept for the movement (which includes the path and the mechanics for covering it), and they have a concept for the finish. Those specific divisions may not apply for a given student, but that kind of chunking by concept will always apply. If they aren't thinking of it in those conceptual chunks, they don't actually know the technique yet - just a set of data points they're trying to replicate without understanding (which is where most of us start techniques).
     
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  12. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Agreed. My point was that a given technique can only go so far. By some point (3rd dan, perhaps, in your system), the technical requirement for a given technique has gone as far as it can. There's really nowhere further to go for the next grade. If we try to keep upping the requirements each grade, we end up with requirements that favor younger folks. This is why every system I've seen eventually either goes to technical testing (meaning no performance requirement like sparring) or drops physical testing, entirerly.
     
  13. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Where I did most of my training, the test wasn't a formality, but it wasn't as physically demanding as the training, if you were training hard.
     
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  14. skribs

    skribs Grandmaster

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    For some people, yes. For most people with all of the techniques? No.
     
  15. _Simon_

    _Simon_ Senior Master

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    Nothing further to add that hasn't been said, but I just really admire your passion and love for your art @skribs . It oozes out in everything you say, and it's so refreshing and nice to see.
     
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  16. Dirty Dog

    Dirty Dog MT Senior Moderator Staff Member

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    How are you differentiating the two? As you progress, you reach a point where you merit promotion.
    As rank goes up, what you do to merit that promotion also changes, and at some point it becomes more about service to the art (or org) than anything else. In our system, that would be 7th Dan.
     
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  17. skribs

    skribs Grandmaster

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    Progress is improvement relative to yourself, merit is meeting a minimum baseline standard.
     
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  18. dvcochran

    dvcochran Grandmaster

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    So then, have you voiced your concerns with your Master? Yes, I agree it is quite natural for people who both train And teach to be concerned about their students. Not everyone has that desire but it is an admirable one. 250 is a big school by any standard and I certainly see the need for some kind of organizational hierarchy. You mention a legitimate excuse (it that is a thing) that the virus has changed somethings for everyone out there. Especially with kids who are dependent on someone else just to move around, and disposable income taking a Huge hit right now, training has definitely taken a hit for almost everyone.
    When you say 2 days a week minimum, if this for you or a school rule? With the retention rate of many kids 2 days would be deficient I think. This is assuming the kid is doing little to no practice on his own outside of class.

    Traditionally, progress based (as I understand your definition of it) ends with the color belt progression. 1st Dan would start the benchmark part of the journey. It is important for the individual to understand that They have to carve the journey out for themselves going forward.
    Certainly you can see that belt progression is shifting en masse from an organizational viewpoint. WT/Kukkiwon, ITF, ATA and many JMA's all have shifted the methodology of progression. We all know student retention is the number one challenge both in the business side and teaching/learning side of any MA school/system/style in terms of staying solvent. Stretching the format to make the higher Dan level's more attainable is a byproduct of many factors but it is a reality. Is this controversial? Yes, definitely. Can/does it introduce a higher probability of higher Dan holders of lower value? Yes. But as long as rank is the carrot used for retention this will always happen regardless of style. I am certain if you could look at the percentages of 'bad' BB's in say 1970 versus today the percentage would be about the same. Of course the sample would be much larger.
    From where I see it, this 'stretch' is factored out by 2nd Dan. Largely because of the much longer times between advancement. Even in the higher density curriculum's, nearly everything is covered and comprehended by 2nd Dan. Not always fully refined but the base of knowledge is there.
    Am I giving a mediocre 1st or 2nd Dan a pass? Hell no. And they will know this. And yes, I understand this can be pretty subjective. It is not fair for me to measure someone based on my own MA history. The large majority of people practicing have no desire to chase the sport side of it. If I based everyone on physical performance only there would be very few BB's as we all understand the model. Period. Thankfully, it is still Very esoteric but there is Much more to a BB in a good program.
    But I know from years of experience that they did the best they could to get to their rank in our organization. That is all I am capable of worrying about. So we have came full circle back to the individuality of practicing a MA. I have often it is the coolest individual activity that you do as a group. A very cool thing
    Is sounds like your dojang is at a very cool time in terms of progression/expansion. There is nothing better than having a bunch of red and black belts to knock around with and get close to like family. Great times.
    But lets be real. Of the total crap 11th Dan instructors you hear/see out there, what is their background or lineage? Usually there is absolutely no substance to them at all. We as informed, knowledgeable martial artist Must understand this and completely factor this kind of crap out of our own school/style/system ranking. It has zero bearing and means absolutely nothing in our own personal picture. Corporately, we all have to work together do debunk such crap.
     
  19. dvcochran

    dvcochran Grandmaster

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    Very good points. You see this in virtually every activity which require physicality. How many 40 year old's track and field people do see out there for example? A fraction of what you see compared to the teens and 20's.
    One of the very cool things about the MA's is you Can still practice, improve, and progress at 40 years old.
     
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  20. Steve

    Steve Mostly Harmless

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    Measuring progress against a well defined standard is objective. Honestly, while interesting, I think the thread boils down to a choice between A and A.

    And don't get me wrong, A is the right choice, because the alternative is choice B, a subjective or non-merot based evaluation of progress123
     

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