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

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Martial arts, like any hobby, seeks to be accessible to anyone. This means that students come in with a wide range of initial capabilities and overall potential. Some students intuitively pick up the basics, and then stall out. Some start slow and steadily progress. Some will never be coordinated. Some start fast and turn into metaphorical gods of the sport.

Hopefully they won't all progress through the belts at the same pace. The students that learn faster should rank up faster, but to a point, everyone should rank up. They should be judged in accordance with their abilities, and rewarded for the gains they have made in their understanding and ability.

With that said, at some point the rank gets high enough that you become qualified to be an instructor, or even higher to where you could be a master (or equivalent in your art). If a C student becomes a teacher, then their A students will be the equivalent of someone else's C students. Maybe they have a student or two that can elevate themselves above. Maybe not.

Is there a point at which rank progression should switch from progress to merit? What point would that be in your art?

Or should it always be progress, or always be merit?
 

dancingalone

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In Goju-ryu I learned all the material by 3rd-4th dan. I did not physically test for my last rank. It's all political and based on growing the art anyway after 3rd or so.
 

dvcochran

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Most all style have 'merit' based advancement at the higher Dan levels but the term merit is not used and I think it carries some bad inference. For example, Kukkiwon has pretty clear guidelines stating that advancement above 6th Dan has more to do with growing the art and what a person has done in their community relative to and using their MA. It is much harder to get to theses higher levels without being a school owner or major factor instructor in a school(s). Commonly called 'seeding'.
My last promotion in MDK was very cool because it was the last promotion that GM Chon, Jae Kyu was in attendance. He has since passed. My time was mostly oral dissertation and a pretty grueling explanation of several forms performed by others. Quite a lot of confirmation/explanation of the alternative use(s) of one-steps. Sitting around talking MA's with the dying head of an organization and several other high ranking Masters was pretty amazing.

Circling back to the question(s); I see nothing wrong with pure physical prowess causing faster advancement at the lower color belts, within reason. Fewer people are beyond the memorization stage of techniques at that level and the mental components that must be learned to advance in the higher ranks carry a lower weight. I find it is fairly consistent that the lines of physical and mental acuity converge somewhere close to red belt in more tradition MA school/systems and around 1st or 2nd Dan in systems that promote faster.
We have all seen red belts that could wipe the floor with some 2nd Dan's at at tourney. They are simply more physically gifted genetically and using their aggression as their driving force. But they almost always fall short somewhere else looking at their MA skills comprehensively.

So merit has no place in the lower ranks and could easily be seen in the wrong light, looking like favoritism. It could be a hard pill for a person who does a lot in the background for their school. However, depending on the way a school is structured things like this could play a big factor. For example, at the two schools I am involved with students still do all the cleaning. An unwritten rule that plays a positive factor in setting the tone of the school. Does it mean much at the lower ranks in regards to testing? No. In the wholistic and humbling approach that we teach? Yes. Is it considered at the Dan levels? Yes, along with the intent and continuity of the action. It never fails that someone will get really active in the background stuff a few months before they think they are testing. This is noticed because it shows up as not genuine and only thinking for oneself.

I think your A student/C student analogy says it all. Never should a C level person become an instructor. But you cannot place the 'C' level tag on a person purely based on their outward appearance.
 

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Martial arts, like any hobby, seeks to be accessible to anyone. This means that students come in with a wide range of initial capabilities and overall potential. Some students intuitively pick up the basics, and then stall out. Some start slow and steadily progress. Some will never be coordinated. Some start fast and turn into metaphorical gods of the sport.

Hopefully they won't all progress through the belts at the same pace. The students that learn faster should rank up faster, but to a point, everyone should rank up. They should be judged in accordance with their abilities, and rewarded for the gains they have made in their understanding and ability.

With that said, at some point the rank gets high enough that you become qualified to be an instructor, or even higher to where you could be a master (or equivalent in your art). If a C student becomes a teacher, then their A students will be the equivalent of someone else's C students. Maybe they have a student or two that can elevate themselves above. Maybe not.

Is there a point at which rank progression should switch from progress to merit? What point would that be in your art?

Or should it always be progress, or always be merit?
Two things strike me in your post. First, that instructor is in there as a seemingly intrinsic step. And two, isn't progress inherently a measure of merit? I mean, merit can be a mixture of things, but I would think progress is a big one in any evaluation of merit. What else do you have in mind?
 
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Two things strike me in your post. First, that instructor is in there as a seemingly intrinsic step. And two, isn't progress inherently a measure of merit? I mean, merit can be a mixture of things, but I would think progress is a big one in any metric.

I think at advanced degrees, there's often an assumption that you're a leader in the art. I've actually read from people that they won't promote past a certain degree unless the person is going to be a leader.

Progress is a measure of merit relative to yourself. What I mean by merit (for the purpose of this thread) is a measure of your capabilities against a baseline.

Let's take baseball as an example. Let's say you can throw a 30 MPH fastball. You spend a lot of time training the throwing technique and working out in the gym, and after several years of training, you can throw a 65 MPH fastball. There is no way you're going to qualify as a professional pitcher with that fastball.

I've seen a lot of students continue to make progress, but there are certain details that they've missed or haven't been able to learn. Or they've learned at one point, but can't remember all of the details of all of the forms and techniques. They might do 80% of the techniques right, but there are certain things that they don't do well. They may have a few bad habits that never got ironed out - like bad timing on a certain kick.

If someone is to be an instructor, and they only know 75% of the details in a form, they can only teach 75% of the form. If there are specific pieces of the stances that they don't understand, then their students will never learn the stances properly. If there are certain basic techniques that they can't do correctly, then that basic technique gets lost. Yet, there is no denying that these people have continued to train hard and increase their knowledge. They've progressed from where they were before. So at what point is progress not enough?
 

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I think at advanced degrees, there's often an assumption that you're a leader in the art. I've actually read from people that they won't promote past a certain degree unless the person is going to be a leader.

Progress is a measure of merit relative to yourself. What I mean by merit (for the purpose of this thread) is a measure of your capabilities against a baseline.

Let's take baseball as an example. Let's say you can throw a 30 MPH fastball. You spend a lot of time training the throwing technique and working out in the gym, and after several years of training, you can throw a 65 MPH fastball. There is no way you're going to qualify as a professional pitcher with that fastball.

I've seen a lot of students continue to make progress, but there are certain details that they've missed or haven't been able to learn. Or they've learned at one point, but can't remember all of the details of all of the forms and techniques. They might do 80% of the techniques right, but there are certain things that they don't do well. They may have a few bad habits that never got ironed out - like bad timing on a certain kick.

If someone is to be an instructor, and they only know 75% of the details in a form, they can only teach 75% of the form. If there are specific pieces of the stances that they don't understand, then their students will never learn the stances properly. If there are certain basic techniques that they can't do correctly, then that basic technique gets lost. Yet, there is no denying that these people have continued to train hard and increase their knowledge. They've progressed from where they were before. So at what point is progress not enough?
I think you have not crossed into the realm of evaluation on an individual basis. A very good thing. As a teacher/coach, if you helped the person get from a 30 MPH pitch to a 65 MPH you have succeeded. As for the individual, if 65 MPH is the best they can ever do then they have succeeded And reached your maximum.
Individual evaluation is much better for the student and much harder for the instructor, especially in a large student population. But to get a realistic sense of potential within a person it is the only fair way to measure things like technique, skill, merit, etc...
I have seen this time and again; two people of the same general build do a front stance. By the numbers, both are technically correct. However, one stance just do not look right. Since both are technically correct, how do you fix it?
So, I do not think there is a 'color by the numbers' way to measure merit.
I also feel progress as a measurement only works if you comprehensively know the persons work and merit. If not careful you end up with low value high ranking people. Akin to your 'C' analogy.
 

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Imo skills should determine a belt. And I mean every belt. I dont care what your age or rank you should be made to test and a good hard test where you leave it sweating and tired. I hate that crap where youre given a belt. Ive seen guys promoted by a guy who doesnt even live in the same country as the guy hes promoting so he doesnt actually know what his skills are like. Personally I will never ever accept a belt I havent tested for. I want to work for and earn everything I have otherwise whats the point. Also making high ranks test means they actually have to train and keep their fitness and skills sharp. This helps stop the mass of morbidly obese black belts who get out of breath throwing a jab and can barely remember white belt syllabus but calling themselves grandmaster. To me that rubbish Is whats destroying traditional martial arts....black belts dont mean anything anymore. When I tested for my black belt I was training just as hard as I did for a fight camp. I was running 5 miles a day in the morning, hitting the bag 15 3 minute rounds And doing 100 press ups and sit ups then going to training in the evening. I worked by butt off for it and imo thats how it should be for everyone. Skills should be all that matters. NOT how much you teach (for higher ranks teaching should be an requirement but not the only thing that matters) how many seminars you run how many medals you win, how much butt you kiss or how many beers you buy .
 

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I think at advanced degrees, there's often an assumption that you're a leader in the art. I've actually read from people that they won't promote past a certain degree unless the person is going to be a leader.
being a leader and being an instructor are not the same thing. Right?
Progress is a measure of merit relative to yourself. What I mean by merit (for the purpose of this thread) is a measure of your capabilities against a baseline.
progress is objective, not subjective. If you are progressing, by definition you are improving. I think I need to better understand how youre defining merit. Can you explain what you mean?
Let's take baseball as an example. Let's say you can throw a 30 MPH fastball. You spend a lot of time training the throwing technique and working out in the gym, and after several years of training, you can throw a 65 MPH fastball. There is no way you're going to qualify as a professional pitcher with that fastball.
thats true. So are you saying this person has stopped progressing? Is 65 mph their peak?
I've seen a lot of students continue to make progress, but there are certain details that they've missed or haven't been able to learn. Or they've learned at one point, but can't remember all of the details of all of the forms and techniques. They might do 80% of the techniques right, but there are certain things that they don't do well. They may have a few bad habits that never got ironed out - like bad timing on a certain kick.
once again, it really seems like youre misusing the term progress. Progress occurs over time, but youre using it to describe a snapshot of a person's ability. Unless youre saying that they will never get any better,( I.e., that they have progressed this far and no further) youre talking about something else. Not sure what.
If someone is to be an instructor, and they only know 75% of the details in a form, they can only teach 75% of the form. If there are specific pieces of the stances that they don't understand, then their students will never learn the stances properly. If there are certain basic techniques that they can't do correctly, then that basic technique gets lost. Yet, there is no denying that these people have continued to train hard and increase their knowledge. They've progressed from where they were before. So at what point is progress not enough?
yeah, How is this functionally different from saying that anyone who isnt yet qualified to teach isnt qualified. Its a circular statement. A person who knows only 75% of the system can only teach what they know, which is 25% less than they will need to teach. Im getting dizzy.

Is this person stalled out? Will they never learn that last 25%? What if their instructor only learned 75% and didnt even know it? This person will have learned 100% of the 75%.

Where does merit come into play?
 

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Which would you guys prefer.......

Have the ability and knowledge of so and so.....like a Bruce Lee, George St Pierre etc.

Or have a third of their ability and knowledge.....and get to put on that sweet looking Black Belt in your dojo?
 
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progress is objective, not subjective. If you are progressing, by definition you are improving. I think I need to better understand how youre defining merit. Can you explain what you mean?

Understanding and ability.

That you are progressing is objective. What is required for progress depends on the person. For example, let's say you're a B student and I'm a D student. We both get a C. I improved, you declined.

Promotion based on progress would mean that if the D student does techniques worthy of a D+ or C-, that's improvement and should be rewarded.

Promotion based on merit would say you need to meet a minimum standard of a B grade in order to continue.

yeah, How is this functionally different from saying that anyone who isnt yet qualified to teach isnt qualified. Its a circular statement. A person who knows only 75% of the system can only teach what they know, which is 25% less than they will need to teach. Im getting dizzy.

This is my point. At what point do you have to stop focusing on personal growth, and start setting hard lines as to whether or not to promote?
 
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I think you have not crossed into the realm of evaluation on an individual basis. A very good thing. As a teacher/coach, if you helped the person get from a 30 MPH pitch to a 65 MPH you have succeeded. As for the individual, if 65 MPH is the best they can ever do then they have succeeded And reached your maximum.
Individual evaluation is much better for the student and much harder for the instructor, especially in a large student population. But to get a realistic sense of potential within a person it is the only fair way to measure things like technique, skill, merit, etc...
I have seen this time and again; two people of the same general build do a front stance. By the numbers, both are technically correct. However, one stance just do not look right. Since both are technically correct, how do you fix it?
So, I do not think there is a 'color by the numbers' way to measure merit.
I also feel progress as a measurement only works if you comprehensively know the persons work and merit. If not careful you end up with low value high ranking people. Akin to your 'C' analogy.

I agree...to a point. I can feel proud of the progress my student made. But let's say I'm the talent scout for a minor league team. And if they don't have a fastball of at least 88 MPH, I can't recruit them.

And that's the main question - at what point do you stop going "good progress" and start saying "but here's the requirements."
 

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In Goju-ryu I learned all the material by 3rd-4th dan. I did not physically test for my last rank. It's all political and based on growing the art anyway after 3rd or so.
Within the NGAA, there's a similar approach. Everything beyond 2nd dan is more or less an honorary rank. There's no new curriculum, and rank is mostly tied to actions that further the art (growing a school, promoting good instructors, etc.).
 

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I think at advanced degrees, there's often an assumption that you're a leader in the art. I've actually read from people that they won't promote past a certain degree unless the person is going to be a leader.

Progress is a measure of merit relative to yourself. What I mean by merit (for the purpose of this thread) is a measure of your capabilities against a baseline.

Let's take baseball as an example. Let's say you can throw a 30 MPH fastball. You spend a lot of time training the throwing technique and working out in the gym, and after several years of training, you can throw a 65 MPH fastball. There is no way you're going to qualify as a professional pitcher with that fastball.

I've seen a lot of students continue to make progress, but there are certain details that they've missed or haven't been able to learn. Or they've learned at one point, but can't remember all of the details of all of the forms and techniques. They might do 80% of the techniques right, but there are certain things that they don't do well. They may have a few bad habits that never got ironed out - like bad timing on a certain kick.

If someone is to be an instructor, and they only know 75% of the details in a form, they can only teach 75% of the form. If there are specific pieces of the stances that they don't understand, then their students will never learn the stances properly. If there are certain basic techniques that they can't do correctly, then that basic technique gets lost. Yet, there is no denying that these people have continued to train hard and increase their knowledge. They've progressed from where they were before. So at what point is progress not enough?
My approach is to separate rank from instructor certificaiton. Obviously, I can't tell folks they can't teach (well, I can, but there's really no way to enforce that), but I can make a point of only giving my stamp of approval to those who seem competent to teach. I have a separate curriculum and approach for training instructors.

In my case, it's mostly moot - it seems unlikely I'll ever get someone to a level where certification would be a question. But I wanted to think it through when I was putting together my curriculum and rank requirements.

I will point out that a C student may be a better instructor than an A student. The ability to do doesn't correlate exactly to the ability to teach. If you want to know if someone can teach, you need to see the result of their teaching.
 

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Personally I will never ever accept a belt I havent tested for. I want to work for and earn everything I have otherwise whats the point.
Does not having a test really mean you haven't worked, though? I've never tested a student for yellow belt (in my own curriculum). They get the belt when they've shown enough progress in class, and have learned the material to a given point. A test is one possible way to establish that, but certainly not the only way.
 
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Does not having a test really mean you haven't worked, though? I've never tested a student for yellow belt (in my own curriculum). They get the belt when they've shown enough progress in class, and have learned the material to a given point. A test is one possible way to establish that, but certainly not the only way.

In most places nowadays, I think the test is just a formality. You earn the right to test by getting to the point you describe.
 

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being a leader and being an instructor are not the same thing. Right?
progress is objective, not subjective. If you are progressing, by definition you are improving. I think I need to better understand how youre defining merit. Can you explain what you mean?thats true. So are you saying this person has stopped progressing? Is 65 mph their peak? once again, it really seems like youre misusing the term progress. Progress occurs over time, but youre using it to describe a snapshot of a person's ability. Unless youre saying that they will never get any better,( I.e., that they have progressed this far and no further) youre talking about something else. Not sure what.
yeah, How is this functionally different from saying that anyone who isnt yet qualified to teach isnt qualified. Its a circular statement. A person who knows only 75% of the system can only teach what they know, which is 25% less than they will need to teach. Im getting dizzy.

Is this person stalled out? Will they never learn that last 25%? What if their instructor only learned 75% and didnt even know it? This person will have learned 100% of the 75%.

Where does merit come into play?

At some point you can get rankings for what is basically service to the art rather than martial skill.

So you sort of get ranked in say having massive successful clubs full of badass students or something.
 

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Which would you guys prefer.......

Have the ability and knowledge of so and so.....like a Bruce Lee, George St Pierre etc.

Or have a third of their ability and knowledge.....and get to put on that sweet looking Black Belt in your dojo?

Definitely better to be good rather than ranked.

They are known here as black belt killers. And quite often, say guys who are red hot MMAers or sub wrestlers. But not ranked super high in BJJ. For whatever reasons they don't get ranked.
 

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Which would you guys prefer.......

Have the ability and knowledge of so and so.....like a Bruce Lee, George St Pierre etc.

Or have a third of their ability and knowledge.....and get to put on that sweet looking Black Belt in your dojo?

The majority of the systems I have studied use a belt system, so I don't need to make that choice. Obviously skill and knowledge trumps mere rank however. In healthy schools that use a belt system, the two converge. It would be odd to have someone really good in karate or aikido who has studied for a long time that does not have a black belt belt. Just like it would be odd in for someone who has legitimate lineage and study time to not have some appreciable skill.
 

dvcochran

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Imo skills should determine a belt. And I mean every belt. I dont care what your age or rank you should be made to test and a good hard test where you leave it sweating and tired. I hate that crap where youre given a belt. Ive seen guys promoted by a guy who doesnt even live in the same country as the guy hes promoting so he doesnt actually know what his skills are like. Personally I will never ever accept a belt I havent tested for. I want to work for and earn everything I have otherwise whats the point. Also making high ranks test means they actually have to train and keep their fitness and skills sharp. This helps stop the mass of morbidly obese black belts who get out of breath throwing a jab and can barely remember white belt syllabus but calling themselves grandmaster. To me that rubbish Is whats destroying traditional martial arts....black belts dont mean anything anymore. When I tested for my black belt I was training just as hard as I did for a fight camp. I was running 5 miles a day in the morning, hitting the bag 15 3 minute rounds And doing 100 press ups and sit ups then going to training in the evening. I worked by butt off for it and imo thats how it should be for everyone. Skills should be all that matters. NOT how much you teach (for higher ranks teaching should be an requirement but not the only thing that matters) how many seminars you run how many medals you win, how much butt you kiss or how many beers you buy .
Exactly why I said the discussion moved into the individual realm.
I fully agree Everyone should have a strenuous and technical test. But the test is not where a person learns is it? It is important but in reality it is just a formality. I think everyone has seen people who are super solid at there MA and is shows in testing, as well as people who were barely ready or not ready at all. Do all of the latter pass? I certainly hope not. A big reason that How testing is presented is important. I should never overly be the carrot that people chase to get the next belt. The class, instruction, and environment should be a big part of the equation that keeps a person working out.
It could be argued that something was missing in your classes if you had to do all the extra-curricular to get ready but I seriously doubt that. I doubt one had a lot to do with the other. Many driven people at the sweet spot in their physical life go above and beyond. A very good thing.
 

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I agree...to a point. I can feel proud of the progress my student made. But let's say I'm the talent scout for a minor league team. And if they don't have a fastball of at least 88 MPH, I can't recruit them.

And that's the main question - at what point do you stop going "good progress" and start saying "but here's the requirements."
I think much/most of the requirement should be up front. Or more accurately in stages of progression. As an example: "For 2nd Gup you must know all Kicho forms, Pyong Ahn 1-4 and Palgwe 1-5". A very active student would be expected to know a few Taegueks and would be aware of this. The same would be explained/known for one steps, individual skills (kicks, punches, sweeps, etc...). As the instructor or testing judge you have to understand that every 20 year old male, even of the same body type are Not going to perform exactly the same. Remember, we are into transformation not conformation. I think it was Headhunter who mentioned doing extra to get ready for testing. Especially when it is done outside of regular class, how does an instructor measure this? More to the point how do they deduct for the person who does not, considering they also meet the requirements?
So the question becomes do you want inclusivity or exclusivity? Very relevant in society today.
I used to feel there was exclusivity in belting but I do not any more. When I was really into competition my instructor was not involved nor did he want to be. More of a cultural/philosophical thing for him. By doing the key tournaments and research I learned what/ the competitors at the high(er) levels were doing it. Found a local trainer and strength/conditioning coach and just started. Did I expect everyone to do something similar? Back then, Yes. I guess I was dismissive of people who took more of a casual approach to their training, even some who went to class everyday. In retrospect, given that I knew our class format was very solid, it was not cool for me to think less of the people going every day or the ones that could not but worked really hard.
After my competition time several years later I took more of a mantle to set the bar in class. Again misguided. I went Hard with everyone and to this day I wonder how many people I ran off. There is a time and place for this and there always should be in every program. But in hindsight I was still being exclusive. It took time for me to reconcile this and learn to push people but not push them away.
It is a cold, hard fact that not everyone can be a MMA champ or Olympic competitor, and the vast number of people in the MA's are not looking for that. I like using the basic training analogy. Everyone who goes through has to pass but everyone does not have the same time on the obstacle course.
Now a days, if I see a person who is sub-par at something I pull them aside and talk through it and try to help them refine their technique. It has to be an objective observation. More often than not if you show them why their technique will Not work or work well they 'see' much better what needs to change. But it may 'look' different from you idea of perfect.
I know through your comments you have a large school. This makes it harder to get everyone on the same page. Possibly using the seminar approach where you take a small group (who need extra work), pick someone out to be the Uke and help the group that way. I hope this helps.
 
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