Are belts the way to go (from a brown belt)?

Charlie B

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I've been training with a Wing Chun group for the last 5 years. Once or twice per week. I've taken two gradings per year and I've always felt like the gradings were good motivation for learning i.e. when I knew there was a grading coming up I would practice.

I recently failed my second brown. Feeling pretty gutted however it's making me reflect on my progress over the last few years which I think is helpful.

First up, I'm not bitter, I wasn't good. I got very flustered on the forms we were tested on and in particular the dummy. I admire our Sifu and he really knows his stuff so this is in no way a criticism of him.

My biggest concern is that I'm not sure I'm progressing. I started wing chun for the self defence benefits and I said I wasn't going to take any belts, but then I've but carried along with the process a bit and now I feel like they're being used as a measure of progress, when I'm not sure they always are. In some ways I'm glad I failed as it's making me reflect; in some ways I've been training very specifically for the grading in terms of the combinations we're asked to demonstrate, but I don't think I necessarily understand what I'm doing and doubt I could use it in a real confrontation. Rather I've learned to recite a series of mechanical movements in order to gain a belt. We do very little contact training, given this has been impacted negatively by covid but I'm wondering if I need to change clubs to somewhere less 'belt focused'?
 
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Callen

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I've been training with a Wing Chun group for the last 5 years. Once or twice per week. I've taken two gradings per year and I've always felt like the gradings were good motivation for learning i.e. when I knew there was a grading coming up I would practice.

I recently failed my second brown. Feeling pretty gutted however it's making me reflect on my progress over the last few years which I think is helpful.

First up, I'm not bitter, I wasn't good. I got very flustered on the forms we were tested on and in particular the dummy. I admire our Sifu and he really knows his stuff so this is in no way a criticism of him.

My biggest concern is that I'm not sure I'm progressing. I started wing chun for the self defence benefits and I said I wasn't going to take any belts, but then I've but carried along with the process a bit and now I feel like they're being used as a measure of progress, when I'm not sure they always are. In some ways I'm glad I failed as it's making me reflect; in some ways I've been training very specifically for the grading in terms of the combinations we're asked to demonstrate, but I don't think I necessarily understand what I'm doing and doubt I could use it in a real confrontation. Rather I've learned to recite a series of mechanical movements in order to gain a belt. We do very little contact training, given this has been impacted negatively by covid but I'm wondering if I need to change clubs to somewhere less 'belt focused'?
Welcome to MartialTalk, Charlie B!

After 5 years of Wing Chun, you should definitely feel like you're progressing in the system. The fact that you may not understand what you're doing, given the amount of time you have invested, is also an indicator that you are not training properly.

I would suggest making a serious assessment. You have to dig deep and determine the quality of your training effort vs. what you are being taught. Thats what matters most, not the color of a belt. Wing Chun is concept based, and as you're now realizing, it's impossible to just memorize movements and combinations and fully develop the concepts and principles of the system. The way you train has a direct result on your understanding of the system and the ability to use it effectively.

Have you spoken to your Sifu about this? In my opinion, that should be the first thing you do.
 

MadMartigan

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I'm wondering if I need to change clubs to somewhere less 'belt focused'?
To put it simply... no ... unless you want to of course.
The 'belt focus' you speak of (while it may form part of of the general culture in a club) does not have to be your focus.

Unless these gradings are mandatory twice per year; you don't have to take every one. If you're not ready... don't test. Let your Sifu come to you and ask why you're not signed up for 'x' test date (often a pretty good indicator that you're getting close to ready).
I've always felt like the gradings were good motivation for learning i.e. when I knew there was a grading coming up I would practice.
This is one of the primary benefits of the belt system. We all respond to different motivations: and breaking things down into bite sized portions is helpful for many.
My Wing Chun experience is minimal; and they didn't use belts at all where I trained vs my TKD and BJJ experience where belts are a common aspect of training.
I see no problem with either method.
Rather I've learned to recite a series of mechanical movements in order to gain a belt.
Sounds like you've already identified what you need to change. It can be easy to get caught up in rushing towards that next outwardly visible achievement.
Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that the belt is only a symbol.
If you don't feel that your skill/understanding matches the color around your waist... slow down. Wearing a certain color belt doesn't mean anything unless I actually can represent what that belt is supposed to mean.
 

isshinryuronin

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I recently failed my second brown.
This is good. Shows that the instructor has standards and is not simply handing belts out. Do you know what you need to improve on? Work on it. Next time, you know when you get a belt, you've really earned it. Progress is not always a straight line forward.
I don't think I necessarily understand what I'm doing and doubt I could use it in a real confrontation. Rather I've learned to recite a series of mechanical
This is bad. If the instructor has not taught you the applications for your techniques he is not doing his job. Maybe he doesn't even know? It happens. As already mentioned, talk to your instructor. Just admit exactly what you posted here.

ID the problem, find a fix, implement fix and you're on your way.
 

Poppity

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I'd not worry about the belt side of it but instead have a really good think about your other point...

"I don't think I necessarily understand what I'm doing and doubt I could use it in a real confrontation. Rather I've learned to recite a series of mechanical movements in order to gain a belt. We do very little contact training"

...and think about what you want from the martial art your training.

I don't think there is anything intrinsically wrong with belt systems. They can be used to carve up an extensive curriculum so at a glance an instructor knows who has covered what.

Absolutely there are schools which hand out belts all over the place as a money making scheme... But equally back when I did competition taekwondo people weren't graded for a long time purposefully so they would compete better in their belt class. Each school with belts uses them in different ways.

It sounds from what you've said that your school might have ended up using the belt system to help the instructor remember what areas he has covered rather than ensuring the level of understanding a student has.

If you are unsure of your own ability to apply maybe see if some of the other students are happy to meet down the park and try out their skills in a light sparring setting. I'd recommend videoing it and then analysing whether you are over-reaching, over stepping, in range, compromising your structure etc. Etc.
 

drop bear

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Go do a boxing match. Then you will see where you sit in the scale of a real confrontation. And what you need to work on.
 

Gerry Seymour

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I've been training with a Wing Chun group for the last 5 years. Once or twice per week. I've taken two gradings per year and I've always felt like the gradings were good motivation for learning i.e. when I knew there was a grading coming up I would practice.

I recently failed my second brown. Feeling pretty gutted however it's making me reflect on my progress over the last few years which I think is helpful.

First up, I'm not bitter, I wasn't good. I got very flustered on the forms we were tested on and in particular the dummy. I admire our Sifu and he really knows his stuff so this is in no way a criticism of him.

My biggest concern is that I'm not sure I'm progressing. I started wing chun for the self defence benefits and I said I wasn't going to take any belts, but then I've but carried along with the process a bit and now I feel like they're being used as a measure of progress, when I'm not sure they always are. In some ways I'm glad I failed as it's making me reflect; in some ways I've been training very specifically for the grading in terms of the combinations we're asked to demonstrate, but I don't think I necessarily understand what I'm doing and doubt I could use it in a real confrontation. Rather I've learned to recite a series of mechanical movements in order to gain a belt. We do very little contact training, given this has been impacted negatively by covid but I'm wondering if I need to change clubs to somewhere less 'belt focused'?
How belts/ranks are used - by the school and by the student - determines whether they are a good fit for any given individual (and group). There are benefits, including the things you pointed out. There are also drawbacks if you end up focusing too much on the rank, itself, rather than the work that gets you there. And that's not a poke at you - I think many of us have done that at times. I will say that sometimes being close to a rank for too long led me to do some work to finally get to testing (some of our tests included baseline material not really covered much up to that point, so left up to the student), and that extra work was beneficial.

But, as you've noticed, belts and ranking can't really accurately measure overall capability evenly, unless they are entirely based on who can beat whom (without regard to whether they are using the style the rank represents). Some styles (I'm looking at you, BJJ) manage pretty well, since they don't hold too much to "style". But if someone came in and was able to make their way thorugh the ranks without using anything learned in the school, that rank isn't really a BJJ rank, IMO.

And then you have the question of how to recognize technical ability, as opposed to "fighting skill". How do you recognize those who really "get" the art, but maybe are older or have some other limitation that makes them less able at the fighting/sparring/rolling/randori part?

So belts/ranks have issues. I'm not sure just not having them doesn't present its own set. Since some folks are well-motivated by rank, removing that rank means they no longer have that extra motivation to keep them moving (and most of us know that problem happens in many styles at BB, as well). And where the rank does give some quick info on where someone is in the style (in my primary art, it tells you which techniques they've been trained in, so which falls they are ready for, and a few other bits of information), then not having those ranks means having less information when working with someone new (or someone you simply haven't had a chance to work with in a while).

There are plenty of places - in many styles - that do quite fine without belts. There are plenty of places - in many styles - that do quite well with belts. I've trained both ways, and have a slight preference for ranks. I'm convinced at this point it's mostly irrelevant whether they exist or not in a given school. If you enjoy the training and it focuses on what you like to focus on, then it's all good.
 

Yokozuna514

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I've been training with a Wing Chun group for the last 5 years. Once or twice per week. I've taken two gradings per year and I've always felt like the gradings were good motivation for learning i.e. when I knew there was a grading coming up I would practice.

I recently failed my second brown. Feeling pretty gutted however it's making me reflect on my progress over the last few years which I think is helpful.

First up, I'm not bitter, I wasn't good. I got very flustered on the forms we were tested on and in particular the dummy. I admire our Sifu and he really knows his stuff so this is in no way a criticism of him.

My biggest concern is that I'm not sure I'm progressing. I started wing chun for the self defence benefits and I said I wasn't going to take any belts, but then I've but carried along with the process a bit and now I feel like they're being used as a measure of progress, when I'm not sure they always are. In some ways I'm glad I failed as it's making me reflect; in some ways I've been training very specifically for the grading in terms of the combinations we're asked to demonstrate, but I don't think I necessarily understand what I'm doing and doubt I could use it in a real confrontation. Rather I've learned to recite a series of mechanical movements in order to gain a belt. We do very little contact training, given this has been impacted negatively by covid but I'm wondering if I need to change clubs to somewhere less 'belt focused'?
You've been given a lot of feedback to reflect on and the only thing I have to add is, what do you feel YOU need to do to get back to the state your were in before your failed.

You failed a belt test and this has caused you to reflect on the reasons why you failed. This is a good process to use as it allows us to understand and deal with feelings and emotions when we are 'unsuccessful'. It teaches us about ourselves and how we deal with adversity. Regardless of the reason you failed (eg: unpreparedness, nerves, just a bad day......etc) has made you question your focus for the past 5 years. Is the reason you failed internal or external ? The more you look, the more you will learn about how YOU deal with things that do not go your way. Remember, this is a 'belt level' so what does that really mean ? Can you take the corrections given and improve to succeed the next time ? Would you want to ? Would it be better to switch clubs ? What will you do when you things do not go your way there ?

Forgive me if the questions seem rude but as part of your reflection, remember that the club was 'fine' before you 'failed' the test. Not to say that the club is 'fine' because now you see that there is very little contact and perhaps is a little too focused on 'belt promotions' compared to other clubs but this did not seem to bother you before the test. Personally I prefer my MA with 'full contact' but not everyone likes spicy food and that is fine with me. Food for thought and good luck with your journey.
 
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Charlie B

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Thanks all for that overwhelmingly thoughtful and supportive advice.

ALL of the above comments are food for thought:

On reflection perhaps I am a little bitter - I told my sifu that I didn't want to take the grade as I wasn't ready and I was encouraged not to worry and that it would be fine - I should have trusted my own judgement in this case. And I felt that going to the grading was a show of solidarity with the Sifu whose livelihood has been all but destroyed by Covid lockdowns and restrictions in our region. So I didn't expect a free ride - but maybe the Sifu wasn't aware that I was really struggling with some parts ahead of the day. Background to this is that it's virtually unheard of for someone to fail a belt - I've only heard anecdotally - so I do feel I've been shot down to some extent and I know that I will be subject of conversation in the club so will find it difficult to walk in with my head held high.

Some of the things I like about the class are the generally laid back approach - I've previously trained in Jiu Jitsu and it was so aggressive I was literally scared of making mistakes. This definitely suited some people but not myself.

And now I'm seeing that what failure has made me see that, although I probably knew I wasn't progressing well, the twice-yearly belts acted as an ego boost which pushed this concern to the back of my mind for a while.

I suppose my aim now is to work out whether I can engage with the class, and with my training/study outside the class in a way that I can achieve what I want to, or whether I need to rethink. For example I I find classes a difficult environment to get a really comprehensive understanding of detailed processes such as wooden dummy form, and then it's difficult to study this outside as each Sifu has a slightly different way of doing it.

Anyway - this forum seems like a really supportive place so thanks again for all of your time.

CB
 

Urban Trekker

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We do very little contact training, given this has been impacted negatively by covid but I'm wondering if I need to change clubs to somewhere less 'belt focused'?
If there's a woman I like, and I don't ask her out on a date, she can't say no. But even if I take that mindset on, one thing remains true: I'm still attracted to her, and I'm choosing not to do anything about it.

I think that if you choose a martial art without a belt-rank system because it lacks a belt-rank system, it's a similar mindset. You're consciously choosing a martial art where a particular thing doesn't exist so that you won't feel bad for not achieving it. But deep down, you know you still want it.

I say stay the course. You'll be glad that you did.
 
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Yokozuna514

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Thanks all for that overwhelmingly thoughtful and supportive advice.

ALL of the above comments are food for thought:

On reflection perhaps I am a little bitter - I told my sifu that I didn't want to take the grade as I wasn't ready and I was encouraged not to worry and that it would be fine - I should have trusted my own judgement in this case. And I felt that going to the grading was a show of solidarity with the Sifu whose livelihood has been all but destroyed by Covid lockdowns and restrictions in our region. So I didn't expect a free ride - but maybe the Sifu wasn't aware that I was really struggling with some parts ahead of the day. Background to this is that it's virtually unheard of for someone to fail a belt - I've only heard anecdotally - so I do feel I've been shot down to some extent and I know that I will be subject of conversation in the club so will find it difficult to walk in with my head held high.

Some of the things I like about the class are the generally laid back approach - I've previously trained in Jiu Jitsu and it was so aggressive I was literally scared of making mistakes. This definitely suited some people but not myself.

And now I'm seeing that what failure has made me see that, although I probably knew I wasn't progressing well, the twice-yearly belts acted as an ego boost which pushed this concern to the back of my mind for a while.

I suppose my aim now is to work out whether I can engage with the class, and with my training/study outside the class in a way that I can achieve what I want to, or whether I need to rethink. For example I I find classes a difficult environment to get a really comprehensive understanding of detailed processes such as wooden dummy form, and then it's difficult to study this outside as each Sifu has a slightly different way of doing it.

Anyway - this forum seems like a really supportive place so thanks again for all of your time.

CB
It takes courage to pick yourself up and go back. No one will dispute your tenacity for overcoming adversity and so what if people give you jibes. That says more about them than it does about you.

Whatever you decide to do make sure it is the best decision for YOU and not because of anything that was said to you or because you are the centre of chatter for the moment. Water coolers have a short memory and often tend to go to the next piece of interesting gossip. If you want to be part of place that has this type of environment is a legitimate question.
 

Xue Sheng

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Just as a note, There are no belt/sash ranks in Traditionally Chinese martial arts, and Wing Chun is a Traditional Chinee Martial Art. This would have been added after it left China and got to wherever you are.

If you like the testing go for it. But I've been in TCMA for awfully darn close to 30 years in multiple TCMA styles, and only ran across a colored sash system in one , which was a Wing Chun school run by a person I know, who trained in a system that had no colored belts. He added them because his students seemed to be better motivated when they had goals to aim for.
 

Steve

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sounds like you've be very introspective and thoughtful. Lots of great suggestions. Only thing I'd add is that you mention lack of contact. If you can't get that from your school, may not mean you have to leave the school. If you like what you're learning, you can always try to find ways to add more contact on your own. This might be finding some like-minded students in your school, or perhaps meeting up with folks from other MA styles to do some cross training. If you haven't used the skills in any kind of contact, you will probably be pretty bad at it, at least at first. One of the first things folks learn in any kind of competitive art is that everyone sucks at first, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. Learning is a process.

Only other thing to say is, I recommend being open and transparent with your sifu. If he's got a problem with you working out with other martial artists outside of class to develop your WC skills... that might be a red flag. I mean, if you aren't getting what you believe is sufficient contact within the school, and are discouraged from seeking it outside of the school... that's a problem. That's where you get into the self defense snake oil arena.
 

Martial D

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I've been training with a Wing Chun group for the last 5 years. Once or twice per week. I've taken two gradings per year and I've always felt like the gradings were good motivation for learning i.e. when I knew there was a grading coming up I would practice.

I recently failed my second brown. Feeling pretty gutted however it's making me reflect on my progress over the last few years which I think is helpful.

First up, I'm not bitter, I wasn't good. I got very flustered on the forms we were tested on and in particular the dummy. I admire our Sifu and he really knows his stuff so this is in no way a criticism of him.

My biggest concern is that I'm not sure I'm progressing. I started wing chun for the self defence benefits and I said I wasn't going to take any belts, but then I've but carried along with the process a bit and now I feel like they're being used as a measure of progress, when I'm not sure they always are. In some ways I'm glad I failed as it's making me reflect; in some ways I've been training very specifically for the grading in terms of the combinations we're asked to demonstrate, but I don't think I necessarily understand what I'm doing and doubt I could use it in a real confrontation. Rather I've learned to recite a series of mechanical movements in order to gain a belt. We do very little contact training, given this has been impacted negatively by covid but I'm wondering if I need to change clubs to somewhere less 'belt focused'?
Belts? In wing chun?

Lol ok then.
 

APL76

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As a person who runs a wing chun school I can tell you (as someone above has already) that a belt makes it really easy for me to look at what's hanging around someone's waist and it immediately remind me where a person is, roughly, in terms of learning the system. So they are great when you have a room full of people and a fairly regulated curriculum. They can also have the affect of inspiring students to achieve the next one though that's not really a consideration for me personally.

The more important issue from what you have written concerns you feeling as though you are not progressing.

I can think of a number of possible reasons for this, and there might be a mixture of them to of course.

Firstly, learning goes through stages of uptake that happens reasonably quickly, then consolidation of what you have learned in which you refine what you are doing. Then, usually you begin to understand on a mental level what you are doing more deeply, and how it fits into a bigger picture. Its at this understanding stage that we often plateau off in physical ability vis a vis our understanding of what we are doing. Indeed, you may actually feel as though you are getting worse because your understanding and expectations overtake what you can physically deliver. You could be at this stage of learning. It does tend to happen periodically throughout the months and years, but it can also happen on a much bigger scale in terms of learning the overall art rather than just techniques and so on. From my observations of years at my Sifu's school, as well as my own, not to mention having gone through it myself, 3 to 5 years seems to be about one of the points at which it happens on a bigger scale. The good thing is that the plateau is usually followed, eventually, by a new phase of uptake and also eventually, the whole cycle sort of fades away. It did for me at least.

Secondly, foundations will set a limit on what you will be able to achieve. That is to say, if you have fairly shallow foundations, or none at all, then you will plateau off and not really progress much past that unless you go back and do the foundation training. From observations I have made, that is usually at about the 5 year mark of training. For an illustration of what I mean you could go to a few wing chun schools and see how different the people there are between one who has trained for 5 years and one who has been at it for 10 or more. If there is a marked difference, I'd be willing to bet that the school puts more emphasis on foundation training. If you can't tell the difference I'd be guessing that they don't much emphasise foundations.

Thirdly, the overall nature of training changes the more you have learned. When you are making your way through learning the forms, chi sao, and whatever techniques you have to go along with all that, its a much more 1 to 1 focus in learning and progress. That is to say you learn x you practice x and gradually get better at x; then you lean y, and so on. You learn x, Y and Z, it becomes more about coordinating them and perhaps a bit if refining them. When you have the whole alphabet its much more about making it your own. And also once you have it all its not so much about learning new things, and 'progressing' as you had to that point, but more about a constant and generally fairly slow "polishing" of what you already have.


There's some thoughts about what you might be dealing with anyway. I'd recommend having a chat with your Sifu about it.
 

Gerry Seymour

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If there's a woman I like, and I don't ask her out on a date, she can't say no. But even if I take that mindset on, one thing remains true: I'm still attracted to her, and I'm choosing not to do anything about it.

I think that if you choose a martial art without a belt-rank system because it lacks a belt-rank system, it's a similar mindset. You're consciously choosing a martial art where a particular thing doesn't exist so that you won't feel bad for not achieving it. But deep down, you know you still want it.

I say stay the course. You'll be glad that you did.
That's a lot of assumption about why some folks don't prefer belt systems. It comes off as condescending.
 

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