Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Making the grade.

Kikuchi Sensei, Suzuki Sensei, Arakawa Sensei & Uehara Sensei judging a grading.

This past November 5th-9th was the second Shiramizu kyu rank tests of the year. I managed to sit through both the elementary school 5th years and the junior high school/adult gradings.

The tested material was standardized across all the gradings and varied only according to the student's kyu. For ido kihon, lower ranking students finished after junzuki, gyaku zuki, and shuto uke. Middle ranking belts moved on to junzuki tsukkomi as well as kette versions of all three zuki variations. Lastly, higher ranking belts ran the gamut of the ido kihon including everything before and gyaku zuki tsukkomi, tobi komi zuki (but no tobi komi nagashi zuki), as well as various kumite renzoku drills such as mae geri, mawashi geri, ushiro geri combinations and nidan geri.

After ido kihon came kata. Students had to perform two kata (provided they knew two) and higher ranking belts were given the chance to pick from a choice of three. Popular choices included godan and seishan, although I distinctly recall not a single student in any of the gradings picked kushanku if the choice came up.

Afterwards, any student 3rd kyu or higher donned kumite gear and sparred. Though the kumite was refereed as per a tournament match, there was no time limit nor was the score kept. Instead, when all the Sensei felt they had seen enough, a buzzer was sounded and the match stopped.

Once finished, all the Sensei retreated to the office whereby they made the final decision about the students' performances. Then everyone was lined up once again and Arakawa Sensei read out the decisions in front of the class for everyone to hear. He would accompany the result with comments on the student's performance which I felt was an excellent way to discuss important issues with the whole class because what one student needs improvement is certainly applicable and useful to other students. The 2 hour grading finished with final comments from any other Sensei that attended the grading.

As Richard Sensei mentioned in the JKFan post before, there is no rubber stamping of belts with this many students and this fact was very much true, especially in the junior high school/adult grading where only a handful of students passed. It's a good thing I didn't wager on who would pass and who wouldn't because I handed out more passes than actually happened, even having readied myself with strict observation.

Which brings me neatly to what I had learned watching the students and listening (as best I could) to the comments made by all the Sensei. Motivation was definitely a key factor as, underneath any level of ability, motivation to improve provides the greatest possibilities for results. Some students only par for the level or even slightly below in certain aspects passed because the Sensei had a sense for whether their work ethic would bring about the required changes.

Beyond that, it was interesting to see which students had passed even with the occasional mistake surfacing. Again, a sense for what is easily fixed and what isn't is important and, as it varies from student to student, is something that comes only with experience and a good understanding of each student's abilities.

But the one aspect I admired the most was that every student was judged upon the same standards and although that means sometimes quite a few students don't make the grade, those that do can be relied upon to be the model for the younger students to strive towards.

One look at (or, rather, one practice with, in my case) the black belt class for the JKFan shoot clearly demonstrates the results.

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