Assessing Martial Skills

In college, I knew a Kenpo guy who used to pick fights on the streets to see how well he’d hold up.  He did this pretty much every Saturday night–that is until he got jumped and hit in the head by a lead pipe.  When he woke up in the hospital the doctor advised him to stick to the dojo.  Thankfully, the Kenpo guy took the advice.  Still, anyone who knew him might say he wasn’t quite right afterward . . .

I’ve been thinking of this question lately:  How should your skills as a martial artist be tested?  Even practitioners within the same style have varying opinions.  Some masters prefer to evaluate their students as they train from day to day.  They only allow the student to test when he or she is ready to be promoted without question.  Other masters prefer to evaluate students’ skills on test day, basing promotions more on performance under pressure.  They might even reward students who put forth great effort on test day–even if they haven’t trained as long as their peers.

Some masters focus on traditional testing in which following form and protocol is one of the most important aspects of the test.  Others don’t mind so much if their students know all the history of the style, so long as they can clearly demonstrate all the skills required for rank.

In the end, which is better?  I’m not sure I can answer this question.  The number one thing instructors I’ve spoken with say is that consistency and quality of training are the most important factors they consider when granting a promotion.  That seems to jibe with most testing practices I’ve come across, though actual evaluation methods differ.

In the interest in learning more about the subject, what is your experience with testing?  What is your personal testing philosophy?  What are, in your opinion, the best ways of assessing a martial artist’s skills and determining when he or she should be given rank?

Here’s some food for thought.  These videos are from  different martial arts and show how they evaluate skill.

First is Kenpo.  This is a test for orange belt.  Among other things, it includes forms and self-defense techniques.

Here is a Uechi-Ryu karate sanchin kata test.  It is meant to check the karateka’s stance, conditioning, and technique.

Lastly, I’ll include the classic trailer from Gracie Jiu-Jitsu In-Action. You can see highlights of classic tests (i.e. fights) members of the clan put themselves through to test their skills against others styles.

Enjoy, and let us know what you think.

About moaimartialarts

Lucky enough to grow up with the martial arts, I have felt their positive influence throughout my life and am especially interested in sharing these experiences with others. I enjoy working with youth and adults to give back some of what I've received. If you would like to learn more about Uechi-Ryu/Shohei-Ryu Karate, or if you want to find people to train with, please contact me. I am the head karate instructor for the Meriden Martial Arts Club.
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