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"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." - A guide to passing your next belt.

By Sally Gleaves, Owner of Worcestershire Martial Arts

At the last grading Worcestershire Martial Arts graded a record number of students, both colour belt and black belt gradings had a very large number of candidates. While many of the candidates are successful, the are always those who fail, those who are borderline, and those who exceed expectations.

What do those special people do to ‘exceed expectations’?

Well, they are not special people, they may be flexible, or powerful or have a good ability to recall theory, yes, but this doesn't make them special. People who may not be any of the above can still exceed expectations. It’s no secret how, flexibility can be improved, power can be gained, and theory can be learned… it is all in the preparation.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

I never wish people luck or gradings or exams, if you've noticed, I never post a good luck or ‘you will smash it’ comment on Facebook or say it at the start of the grading - because quite simply there is no such thing as luck when it comes to being tested. Gradings are there to test your knowledge and syllabus recall. Gradings push your boundaries and investigate your deeper understanding of the things you have learnt in class. There is no luck associated with that, just hard work and preparation. Quite simply you get out of your training what you have put in.

At Worcestershire Martial Arts we hold colour belt gradings every 3 to 4 Months and black belt gradings every 6 months, the dates are released at Christmas/start of the new year, which gives plenty of time for students to plan and prepare for gradings. Some schools grade in shorter time periods, however this does not give enough time to truly learn the syllabus. For example, if a student is training twice a week over 3 months, that is only 24 hours of learning time - one whole days learning per belt, some schools even double grade or skip their students up a grade in this time… on 24 hours of learning. We always encourage students to train twice a week or more, but we also encourage practice at home too.

Worcestershire Martial Arts students are extremely lucky to have a fantastic eClassroom containing eLearning videos and further info for each grade - not many other schools have the opportunity to have guided learning from home - never mind for free! That coupled with the tools the instructors give you in class, our audio files which can be purchased for less than £2 a belt and your own motivation to self-study will put you on the right path to pass.

The not so secret, secret to success!

1. Pre-grading Preparation

  • Syllabus & Technique Practice - As Bruce Lee Said " I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times", essentially the more you correctly practice the techniques and syllabus such as set sparring, the more natural it becomes and therefore you are more confident when you perform them at your grading.

  • Deeper understanding - Another stumbling block for students is the application or understanding of the technique, at gradings we ask things like "What is that block used for?", "What type of attack is that releasing motion being used on?" or "What type of motion are you performing in moves 13 & 14 in Dan-Gun". Think, have you questioned your instructor? Have you looked at the pattern step-by-step? Don't just perform it because the instructor says so, think about what you are doing!

  • Consistency and effort - If you/your child attends class once a week and put in minimal effort, this will be reflected in the results of gradings. Coasting along every class is not going to pass gradings, consistent training with maximum effort will. Plain and simple.

  • Fitness - As with consistency and effort, fitness is something that must be maintained, gradings are gruelling, at least they should be! A black belt grading is well over 3 hours of intense consistent movement and performance. Fitness plays a vital role in completing your gradings.

  • Theory - I have seen people fail gradings due to not knowing their theory! I repeat, people fail gradings for not knowing their theory! Don't think that you can get away with knowing half a pattern meaning or half your theory sheet. It is your responsibility to learn your theory. Worcestershire Martial Arts students have the eClassroom containing all the theory, so you have ZERO excuses. You have 3 months’ worth of evenings to practice your theory. When you have been successful at a grading, start as soon as you pass, don't leave it until the night before.

  • Trust in your instructor - If your instructor holds you back from grading, then trust that you are not ready and reflect on why this may be! If you have been given the green light to grade, this means that your instructor thinks you are capable of passing but it is up to you to perform on the day!

2. On the day

  • Etiquette - Students receive a mark against their name from minute one if they do not adhere to the etiquette of Taekwon-Do, such as bowing into the Dojang, not saying "yes sir, ma'am" and not standing to attention when answering theory questions or awaiting instructions etc.

  • Performance - People get nervous when being tested on their syllabus, its natural! The more you have practiced in the lead up to your grading, the more confident you will feel on the day and the better your performance will be. If you mess up, then you will need to pick up your effort for the rest of the grading to show your resilience to set backs.

  • Work rate - Coasting in class? Then you will coast at your grading too, you perform how you practice, however if you train hard normally and decide to coast at your grading, expect this to be reflected in your result. Work rate must be high, show off your skills and your learning - especially while sparring. Self-defence must be performed as realistically as possible otherwise there is no point in learning it!

  • Theory recall - I repeat my earlier statement "People fail gradings for not knowing their theory". The expectation is that theory is to be recited word for word, not half a sentence, not "I think it is a blah blah blah Ma'am" or "I don't know/I can't remember" those answers are COP OUTS. Answers should never start with "Is it?", you are not asking the questions - the grading examiner is! Simply, you should be able to answer your theory without a second thought, it’s not like you've not had months to prepare!

3. Post grading

  • Pass percentage - The pass percentage at Worcestershire Martial Arts is 60%, for both colour belt and black belt gradings, anything less than that will result in a fail. We do not give conditional passes i.e. you get your belt and are either a. retested in class or b. given a longer time before you are eligible to grade next, some schools do this - we don't think it allows for learning how to fail. With us It is a pass or fail system if you fail then you can retake at the next grading if your instructor says you can. Standards are something we take very seriously, and so it is not a buy your belt school.

Grades are earned, not given
  • Ability to overcome setbacks & boredom - Mental toughness is important, it is an important lesson for children and adults alike! Mental toughness is a measure of individual resilience, it is a skill that you develop, it is not something you are born with. Essentially it is your ability to cope with difficult situations and persevere through them to succeed. The components you need to develop your toughness and ability to overcome setbacks:

1. Viewing the challenge as an opportunity rather than an obstacle

2. Remembering that you are in control of your actions and their consequences

3. Commitment, having the ability to see your tasks through to completion

4. Confidence that you have the ability to succeed

  • Being held back for next grade - Don't be offended if you are held back again for the next grading, you may not be ready yet still, but question, have I worked on what the instructor fed back? Have I been bringing my child to class consistently/encouraging them to stay strong and keep trying?

  • Quitting - Nothing is ever achieved by quitting - read our blog post "But, I want to quit!"

Every person’s journey in martial arts is different, some journeys are slower than others, some never get started and some never finish - what will yours be?

Most beginners have the ultimate goal - getting a black belt. A black belt should never be an easy thing to achieve but it is not impossible either. Following the advice above will get you started on the path to success.


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