29 April 2011

Promotional Tests at 'The Way'

Master Kim Hoon ceremoniously
ties Cory's new black belt

Since coming to Korea I have been forced to rethink the purpose of promotional tests and the methods of testing.

Last night a friend and colleague, Cory, received his black belt at 'The Way' Martial Arts Academy of Seoul. Shortly after I joined the ITF Taekwon-dojang in Seoul as an assistant instructor, Cory also showed interest Taekwon-Do so I invited him to join the gym. After nearly three years of training, Master Kim Hoon told him it is time for his black belt test, which occurred last night. I've assisted with other black belt promotional tests here in Korea with Master Kim before, but Cory's feels extra special because he is, in a sense, also my student. He is the first student that started as a white belt attained black belt since I've started teaching at 'The Way'. Since Master Kim allows me to teach according to my Soo Shim Kwan philosophy, Cory is somewhat part of our system too.

Master Kim has an interesting approach to promotional tests. Usually colour belts are not tested at all. When he is convinced that they have attained the next level he would merely walk over to the student, take off his or her belt and replace it with a new higher ranking belt. (He has hinted to have done the opposite too. A student that digressed had his belt revoked.) I once asked him why he does not do formal promotional tests. He answered that he knows his students. They train with him every day so he knows their individual levels and therefore do not feel it necessary to formally test them. However, if he were to promote another instructor's student he would have to test that student to ascertain his or her level first. His approach is very different from my experiences in South Africa and even from my Hapkido and Taekkyeon training in Korea where the promotional tests are quite formalised. In my hapki-dojang colour belt tests occur on a monthly basis and is performed by the kwanjangnim. In Taekkyeon, tests are spaced out more and performed by an external examiner, much like we tend to do it in South Africa.

To be honest, I like Master Kim's approach. There is something simple and personal about it. The idea of your instructor testing you all the time, always checking your progress, feels more engaging. Of course a formal test with an outside instructor could assure quality control as it brings a level of objectivity to the table, but if the instructor is honest and clear-headed, as I consider Master Kim to be, I can see no reason to object to his approach.

For black belts, Master Kim does have an actual promotional test, but his is more of a formality. The tests are not as formal as I've seen it done elsewhere. My own fourth degree black belt test with Master Kim occurred over several weeks. He would sometimes suddenly ask me to do something, like break a number of boards, or do a pattern, or answer some theoretical question. Only later, when he announced my black belt test day, did I realise that I have been tested for quite some time.

A formal test has an advantage in that it tests your ability to function under stress. But it can easily become something else, like a money making scheme. Many instructors use the test, not really to test a student's progress, but as an extra income for the club. This is something that is absent from 'The Way'. Colour belts do not pay a testing fee and black belts pay only the testing fee required of the international certification body. The instructors therefore do not benefit financially from the students' progress. With money out of the equation, progress becomes a much more personal thing. You can be assured that the instructor is interested in your progress, for your sake, and not for the instructor's sake.

Congratulations to Cory on attaining his black belt!


Anonymous said...

I also like your master's approach - simple and to the point. Too many MA schools make a business out of belt testing.

Skryfblok said...

As you say, simple and to the point.

By the way, I like dropping by your blog every now and then.

Anonymous said...

Not a problem. I look forward to your visits.

Anonymous said...

Wow! This article makes me appreciate Kwanjangnim Kim more. You probably remember my skeptical moments, but your observations on his method makes it more personal. He'st a better teacher than I expected! Thank you Sahbum Sanko.


SooShimKwan said...

Master Kim Hoon's teaching method and my method teaching method is quite different, as I am sure you can tell. However, as I am also sure you have noticed, I do not critique him. He was captain of the Tiger Demonstration team, he is a Taekwon-Do Hall of Fame member, he is well respected in Korea's martial art circles--was even a martial art lecturer at a university, not to mention his advanced degrees in a couple martial arts. He has a practical wisdom. So while we don't do things the same, I believe that he knows what he is doing.

Also, I know he wouldn't just promote you if he did not think you to be ready. Since I have been here he has, as far as I can remember, only promoted four people to ITF black belts at our dojang. That should say something.