Saturday, November 8, 2008

Shiramizu Belt Tests

Carl here...

This past week there has been kyu belt tests at the Shiramizu dojo. Because of the sheer number of students (approx 450!), the kyu tests take a full week and so normal training sessions are cancelled.

I only managed to catch a few days of the belt tests because of my work commitments but it gave me an idea of how Arakawa Sensei tests his students.

Photo taken from Arakawa Sensei' blog

The big test
From what I could see, all the students, regardless of rank did the same basics for example junzuki and gyakuzuki through to shuto-uke etc... Obviously the grading panel of instructors expect a higher standard from the senior kyu grades! Also, all of these basics have been performed in 99% of the sessions that I've trained in, so the standard of the techniques, even for the junior grades is pretty high.

The students were given a choice of which kata they would perform, depending upon their current rank, so naturally the students would pick their best.

Brown belts had the choice of Pinan Yodan and Godan; and Kushanku and Seishan, with all students choosing Pinan Godan and Seishan.

In addition to the Kihon (basics) and Kata (pre-arranged form), most students had to do Kumite (fighting) too. This allows the examiners to check all areas of a student’s Karate standard before awarding a pass.

Photo taken from Arakawa Sensei' blog

Making the grade
After all students have been tested, the examiners go into an office to discuss the results. After a while, they come back out and announce the results. What surprises me is that Arakawa Sensei will not pass a student if they are not good enough for the next belt, pure and simple. In England I've grown accustomed to students being given a pass, but informed that they must train longer for the next belt. I think that for a commercial dojo to take this stance is great, it shows that they are not just after a students’ money. It's also the reason why the Shiramizu dan grades are so good too, they have earned each and every grade and haven't simply been awarded them for time served.

On Monday, 80% of students passed their test (testing was done in age groups, like elementary school grades 1&2, etc). On Tuesday, 60% passed. On Wednesday, only 40% passed and in Sensei's words ‘they were terrible!’, I think that approximately 30% passed on Saturday. Sorry, I don't know the pass-rates for Thursday or Friday but this gives you an idea of how strict Arakawa Sensei is when testing his students.

(Richard here: I'm just going to interject here to say, since I know Sensei very well, that when he says something like 'they are terrible' he would not actually be angry and overly disappointed, and I bet Carl an Asahi Dry he laughed and smiled when he said it, then shrugged it off afterwards. My hope here is to make sure people understand Arakawa Sensei is never one to be overtly negative, in fact he is positive to a fault, creating a very warm atmosphere in the dojo hence the 450 students who love to be with him and the other instructors. Of those who failed, probably none will quit, which speaks volumes in itself.)

(Carl here again... Yup! It looks like I owe out a bottle of Asahi lol!)

I watched the belt tests on Saturday and made notes of what techniques were tested so that I could compare it with my own dojo syllabus. Both the kids and adults followed the same program. I liked the fact that all the students said ‘onegaishimasu’ before and ‘arigato gozaimasu’ after they were tested, sort of like a ‘please and thank you’.

The students were tested on the following:

Yellow and Green belts
1. Kihon Waza
a. Junzuki
b. Gyakuzuki
c. Shuto-Uke
d. Junzuki no-tsukomi
e. Gyakuzuki no-tsukomi
2. Kata
a. Pinan Shodan (Yellow)
b. Pinan Sandan (Yellow)
c. Pinan Yodan (Green)
d. Pinan Godan (Green)

Brown belts
1. Kihon Waza
a. Junzuki
b. Kette Junzuki
c. Kette Junzuki sandozuki
d. Gyakuzuki
e. Kette Gyakuzuki
f. Shuto-Uke
g. Junzuki no-tsukomi
h. Kette Junzuki no-tsukomi
i. Gyakuzuki no-tsukomi
j. Kette Gyakuzuki no-tsukomi
k. Tobikomizuki

2. Keri Waza
a. Maegeri, mawashigeri, ushirogeri – combination
b. Nidan-geri

3. Renzoku waza
a. One-two, Jodan tobikomizuki, gyakuzuki
b. ‘made up’ combination – Arakawa Sensei made up a random combination on the spot.
c. ‘Free form’ combination – Students had to move the full length of the dojo using any techniques they wanted to, and back again.

4. Kata
a. One of either Pinan Yodan or Pinan Godan
b. One of either Kushanku or Seishan

5. Kumite (JKF points system, with body armour and head guard)

The syllabus that Shiramizu use is a lot simpler than the one I use in my own dojo in England, but it does have the advantage of allowing 30+ students tested in 1 ½ hours! Also, the test covers the basics which are needed at all levels in karate.

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