When to switch from promoting for progress to promoting for merit?

skribs

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Before I get into the actual question, allow me to clarify what I mean in the title. When I say "merit", I mean a combination of knowledge and ability, instead of purely for improvement. Promotion for progress is when you take someone, regardless of their skill level, and promote them based on them learning the curriculum and showing general improvement in their technique. Especially at the white and yellow belt level, it's more important to keep them coming to class than it is for them to be perfect. However, at some point, you have to set a standard of knowledge for promotion. Otherwise, you will end up with instructors and masters that are not very qualified.

When I say "merit", I largely mean ability, but with the caveat that some people will have limitations. For example:
Limitations:
  • Unable to jump or turn fast due to age, so you do a tornado kick step-by-step
  • Unable to enter a full deep front stance; but your front knee is bent, rear leg is mostly straight, feet/hips/shoulder are pointed forward, and your feet are shoulder width apart
  • Unable to fully articulate your arms due to a shoulder injury, so you make smaller motions in forms
Bad Knowldge/Habits:
  • Unable to do a tornado kick at speed because you have not drilled it properly to build the right timing
  • Front stance is sloppy, because you do not know how to align your hips (or you do not care to fix the habit)
  • Techniques are sloppy because you are lazy or do not know the proper details to execute them correctly
I would think that a Master who knows his students would be aware of which ones are limited by age, injury, or other conditions; and which are just lazy or sloppy, but could potentially have the techniques you want if they would put in the work to fix them. Someone who is unable to do things (but understands them conceptually) can still teach those things to students. They may have a tough time demonstrating, but they should at least be able to explain it. Someone who does not know the details at all won't know what to teach students, and someone who is too lazy to fix themselves cannot in good conscience criticize anyone else. If someone is going to be an instructor, senior instructor, or Master, then you would want to make sure they are qualified for the position.

The kinds of details I'm thinking of:
  • Proper stances, including length, width, orientation of feet/knees/hips/shoulders, amount of bend in each knee
  • Proper chamber and path of every technique; including where the acceleration comes from, how and when to rotate, and how to have a crisp technique
  • Proper timing on kicks, especially turning kicks and jumping kicks, including how to combine kicks together or use footwork with proper technique
  • Good habits on keeping your hands up or chambered tightly when appropriate
  • Other habits, like proper breathing or projecting your kiyhap
  • Knowing all of these details for every technique, drill, combination, form, or one-step in the curriculum
At what point is it that you switch from: "you must know X form and Y one-steps and show consistent improvement to test" to "you must know X and Y, but also your techniques must be up to Z standard* in order to test"? *Again, substitute proper knowledge for ability when necessary due to physical limitations.

Is it still in the colored belts? To get your 1st Dan? To progress to 2nd, 3rd, 4th?
 

Holmejr

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From the very beginning. The student signs up. They have a clear understanding of what is expected (goal) and when they reach that goal, they get an attaboy.

Were not that hard up for students.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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Keep in mind the below is not written from a TKD mindset, although the kempo system I spent most of my childhood seems to have a similar attitude to that of TKD, based on some of the TKD posters on this form. Either way, I think the below advise is pretty much irrelevant of style.

If you are a school that does not hand out white belts the first day, then white belt should be for progress (ie: once they know the school name, how to tie the belt, the entry/exit customs, school motto if you require that). After that, should always be for merit-based on their level. How an orange belt performs a form is going to be different than how a black belt performs a form (hopefully). But an orange belt should be performing the form at an orange belt level; if they are not, and the just have all the moves memorized, no promotion until they can perform it properly. Same with yellow belt, or blue or brown or whatever other belts you may have.
 

J. Pickard

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We have a set standard for each rank. Upon signing up or after a testing each student is given a packet of rank requirements and expectation that they must achieve for their next rank, for the more "Eco" minded student we also have them on our website in a members only section so they can have a digital copy. They are all very specific standards and a hard limit that all students must achieve for the next rank, no exceptions. We will also give individual feedback that is student specific to help them be the best they can and this helps us get around any potential physical limitations. All progress is good progress so we praise students verbally in class for that but if the little progress does not meet the standard for their next rank then they will not be promoted yet. By giving them positive feedback for the small progress they will feel good about themselves and continue to work hard to meet the standard that is expected.
 

Steve

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Aren't merit and progress different ways of saying the same thing? If you make progress that exceeds the standards of a rank, then you merit promotion to that rank.

I'm all for objective standards at every rank, and don't seen any problems at all with standards being measured differently at different levels.
 

drop bear

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Aren't merit and progress different ways of saying the same thing? If you make progress that exceeds the standards of a rank, then you merit promotion to that rank.

I'm all for objective standards at every rank, and don't seen any problems at all with standards being measured differently at different levels.

Generally yes. But not in this case.
 

wab25

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In Danzan Ryu, we do a lot of throwing arts. So, promoting someone who can not do the falls right.... is doing them a disservice. At white belt, the most important thing you learn is how to take a fall. At blue belt (follows white belt) you begin learning the throws for real. The first step in learning a throw, is to be thrown, by that throw, by your sensei. If you can explain how to take the fall, but can't actually take the fall... it won't help when sensei actually throws you...

To make blue belt, I need to be able to throw you, with any of the 25 throws that you will learn as a blue belt... without telling you or showing you the throw first. To make green belt, I need to be able to throw you any throw I have, up through the black belt throws and be able to walk away while you are in the air, and you have to take the right fall. (some of these throws you will have time to explain the fall before the sudden stop... but the explanation won't help much)

When we get people from other arts wanting to come in and wear their rank from another art, we let them see how our ranks get thrown... the higher the rank, the higher and faster the throws... Then we let them decide how they want to get thrown.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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Aren't merit and progress different ways of saying the same thing? If you make progress that exceeds the standards of a rank, then you merit promotion to that rank.
Not in the specific way skribs is defining them in his OP.
 
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skribs

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I kind of get the feeling that @drop bear and @Monkey Turned Wolf are the only ones who really understood what I was asking.

If you rank based on merit from day 1, a lot of people could easily get a high level color belt in a few months, because they are more naturally talented. Or if you had a higher standard, some students (especially younger kids) would be white belts for years.
 

drop bear

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Yeah. If someone is of huge service to the club and puts in the time and stuff like that. But is just crap at martial arts.

At some point you will have to grade the guy. And that would be merit in this case.

He has put in and earned his place in the community.
 

Steve

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I kind of get the feeling that @drop bear and @Monkey Turned Wolf are the only ones who really understood what I was asking.

If you rank based on merit from day 1, a lot of people could easily get a high level color belt in a few months, because they are more naturally talented. Or if you had a higher standard, some students (especially younger kids) would be white belts for years.
If you're asking at what point you stop promoting people based on merit and start compromising standards, I'd say the problem is your standards. If you can't explain why someone earned their rank, then you probably want to spend some time thinking about what you expect from that rank. And I don't think perfection at any rank is reasonable or achievable.

I also think there's a difference between accommodating someone and patronizing them. Personally, I'd be really offended, not to mention very uncomfortable, if I believed I had been given a belt rank I hadn't earned. That doesn't mean you can't figure out ways to accommodate folks who aren't as strong, flexible, or more significant, if they have physical or mental impairments. but the idea of an accommodation is it should help that person meet the standards, not abandon the standards.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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So this thread reminded me of something that might be seen as controversial, but looking back I like how it was handled. Given that @skribs mainly teaches kids, it might be something to consider for his own/future school.

When I was around 9/10 years old (I think, the age could have varied a bit but that's unimportant), I tested for my blue belt. For reference, blue was the fifth belt out of 11 total colored belts before black. At the time, I failed the test, not because I didn't know the material but because I wasn't performing it well enough, sloppy with my forms, not good enough sparring, basically the "merit" skribs is referring to here. If it was just for progress I would have passed.

However, when the tests came around and everyone was awarded the new belt, I got the new belt. Then after the test, the head instructor spoke with me and my parents, showed me that my certificate was not signed, and he'd let me wear the new belt to save face essentially and avoid having the other kids laugh at me for not promoting with them. But I wasn't allowed to earn any new material, and spent the next month refining what I already knew, then after a month had a private lesson where he tested me again and that time I passed. I think I actually did better than I would have been if I'd just passed initially because I knew the belt I was wearing wasn't accurate, and it prevented me from learning new things.

Ultimately, I was able to promote on merit, no bullying occurred, no feelings were hurt, and the materials were learned. It only happened to me the once, so I'm not sure how often he "passed" people without actually passing them, but that was kind of the goal. And resulted in everyone having the right belt for their skill level through the years.
 

punisher73

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In my mind, what I think of when you asked this question about merit, is that some arts promote based on "contributions made to the art". It is usually after YEARS of going through the ranks and is given after the actual material is already learned (not learning new katas etc. for the next promotion). The promotion looks at how the art is being spread etc. by that person.

But, I think what you may mean is making accommodations to your standards. If this is the case, I think it should still be based on progress. As an instructor, how do YOU teach people with those limitations. For example, the person can't do the jumping spinning kick. How can they apply the concept of the same kick within the parameters that they do have? Also, do they know the mechanics of the kick and how to apply it, so they can teach it to other students showing their understanding of the material?
 

Dirty Dog

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I kind of get the feeling that @drop bear and @Monkey Turned Wolf are the only ones who really understood what I was asking.
Disagreeing with you doesn't mean we don't understand the question.
If you rank based on merit from day 1, a lot of people could easily get a high level color belt in a few months, because they are more naturally talented.
So what?
Or if you had a higher standard, some students (especially younger kids) would be white belts for years.
Again, so what?
 

Kung Fu Wang

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If you rank based on merit from day 1, a lot of people could easily get a high level color belt in a few months, because they are more naturally talented. Or if you had a higher standard, some students (especially younger kids) would be white belts for years.
This is why in CMA, there are

- outdor students (general students).
- indoor students (disciples).

Confucius had over 3000 students. He only had 72 disciples.

A: What's your life long goal?
B: I want to be rich and powerful.
C: I want to promote world peace.

B is just a general student. C can be a disciple.
 
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Kung Fu Wang

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Or if you had a higher standard, some students (especially younger kids) would be white belts for years.
This is why in ACSCA, if you don't compete in tournament, the 1st degree BB is as far as you can go. You will never be able to reach to the 2nd degree BB, or 3rd degree BB (teacher certificate).
 

isshinryuronin

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I am not a proponent of promotion based largely on time in grade, business considerations, or other non-ability reasons. IMO, there should be a bar to reach for each level in order to maintain the integrity of that rank, school and style.

That said, things are not so black and white. TMA is a mixture of elements; not just how well one can technically execute. Effort, perseverance, courage, attitude, commitment, knowledge, desire and a host of other abstract and spiritual elements are a part of it as well. Should one who has little natural ability, but has all these other elements in abundance, be held back in rank?

If the school promotes mainly on all these other considerations, it's no longer a "martial" arts school. It has become a gym and self-improvement establishment; MA being merely a vehicle to achieve these other goals. This is not bad if that is the purpose of the school and it serves the interests of the attending students.

If pure technical physical execution is the sole determining factor in promotion the school will produce what looks like skilled practitioners, but they will be shallow, lacking in the moral strength and understanding that makes, IMO, a "true" martial artist. Once their physical skills wane, there will be little left.

In my way of thinking, there must be room for both the "do" (the way) and the "jutsu" (the science of combat) in TMA. I do believe that training for combat will foster some of the abstract elements I listed, just as one strong in these abstract elements will develop the "fighting spirit" that will aid in combat, acting as a force multiplier to whatever physical skills they possess.

My personal conclusion is that MA physical ability should remain the main focus and requirement for promotion, but by no means should the student's accomplishments in those other areas be ignored, especially for the lower ranks as they will help form a strong mental/spiritual foundation for higher advancement to be reached.
 

J. Pickard

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If you rank based on merit from day 1, a lot of people could easily get a high level color belt in a few months, because they are more naturally talented. Or if you had a higher standard, some students (especially younger kids) would be white belts for years.
is there anything inherently wrong with this? We have this exact thing happen all the time. New student signed up with us who has about 3 years experience kick boxing, he caught on super quick and learned faster than most why should he stay at a white belt? He learned all white belt to 7th gup material up to standard in about 2 months so he was promoted in 2 months. Eventually progress slowed down as things got more advanced and promotion happened at about the same rate as most at that given rank. On the flip side we have one kid, currently 12, that has a super hard time focusing and the #1 thing that students need to demonstrate to get past white belt is good focus, he's been a white belt for 4 months. It's not that he is worse or learns slower it's that he started off further back on the path and has a lot farther to go than someone who has already gotten a good grasp on focus. Everyone has their own starting point that doesn't mean you should move the goal post.
 

MadMartigan

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As others have pointed out, there are many variables in this. For us, the curriculum is the curriculum. Whether the student is 7 or 70. That said, the technical understanding of a 7 year old is never going to match that of an athletic 20 year old. There is a certain amount of allowance (in the early ranks) with this understanding in mind. If that 20 year old performed at the same level as the 7 year old (assuming no physical or other limitations), that probably means the 20yr old hasn't been trying (and as such may fail while the 7 yr old passed).

As mentioned above, a very athletic person may come in much further along than another student. For this reason, I'm very clear when grading students... on a test I am evaluating their performance of the techniques at their level... not simply their fighting ability. Everyone (disabilities aside) has equal ability to get their stances right, and chamber their blocks correctly, etc. That's what they are being tested on mostly at the early stages.

The same goes for sparring. On their tests I'm often telling students to focus less on "winning the fight" and show that they can apply their rank's material in a dynamic sparring environment. For instance, our yellow belts have learned front and side kicks (standing and jumping), back kicks, and roundhouse kicks. The goal of their test is to show they can perform these kicks with both legs. The student showing this, would score much heigher than the one who just knows how to fight and uses their 2 best moves to push their opponents around. Down the road, that first student will be far better off.
 
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