Thursday, 11 November 2010

Are you a black belt? Can you help?

My karate organisation (SSK) is holding a dan grading on Sunday 28th November. As the manager/main writer of the SSK's blog I am planning to write a post for it giving advice and tips to those student's in our organisation who are grading for their black belts. The problem is.....I'm not yet a black belt myself and so cannot give this advice first hand!

Are you a black belt? Can you help? What would be your best advice to someone who is preparing to grade for their black belt? This can be advice for preparation prior to the grading or advice for coping with the actual grading day. It doesn't really matter whether your black belt is in karate or another martial art - your experience and advice will still be valid. So whether you have recently become a black belt or you are a black belt/instructor of long standing I would value your contribution.

I plan to compile the tips/advice I receive from you into a single blog post. Each piece of advice will be attributed to its author and I can provide a link back to your blog/website. The blog post will appear on the SSK's blog early next week as well as on this blog. You can send me your advice either by leaving it in the comments section below or by e-mailing it to me at: mailto:kickasssuec@googlemail.com

Thanking you all in advance for your help........

Here's a link to the SSK blog if you want to check it out first: http://www.sskarate.com/ssk-blog.html 

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21 comments:

John Coles said...

Buddhist approach which is reflected in some of the combat teachings - no expectations ... also referred to in the philisophically inspired Calvin and Hobbes. Works a treat. Also, another Buddhist approach but which Rudyard Kipling expressed - if you can treat success and failure as the same imposters, then you are a man my son. Just focus on what you can control with on expectations, and leave the result to take care of itself. ... just some thoughts.

Sandman said...

Great idea Sue! I'll look forward to seeing the whole list :-)

Here's my two cents, as I just recieved my black belt back in summer:

1) Make sure you know clearly what you will be expected to do, and start practicing those things well in advance. If its allowed in your organization it is a good idea to attend a black belt test ahead of time, just to watch.
2) Try to get feedback in advance on what your biggest weaknesses (relative to the test) are - from your sensei or another trusted blackbelt who's been there. In our dojo we actually have a formal mechanism for this - the black belt pretest. About a month before the actual test we get a "practice" test, which is just like the real thing. This gives us a chance to a) see if we are ready, and b) if we are indeed ready, see what needs the most polishing
3) Practice all of your testing material regularly, but allocate more practice time to the stuff that needs the most work (see point #2)

Its all about good planning and preparation. If you've thoroughly prepared the nerves will be much calmer on test day.

I hope that helps :-)

Alicia said...

I had a very hard test for my probationary black belt. I had to retake parts of it because I did not pass. Before that test, I spent a lot of sleepless nights thinking about what I was going to do and trying to imagine being successful. When the test day came and things didn't go the way I had imagined them, I started to do worse and worse. I think I psyched myself out. So, for my black belt test I tried a different approach:

Denial. I practiced every day, but (especially that last week leading up to test day) once I was out of the gym, I did not think about the test anymore. It did not overtake all my waking thoughts. I trusted that if I practiced every day then I would be prepared, but really I tried not to think about the particulars very much at all. Since I got my black belt, I've noticed that when you come to class regularly and show your instructors your enthusiasm for the material, you are really passing your next test every day.

Mathieu said...

:)

here is what I did :

Check out the curriculum. Train hard.
Work out 5 to 6 days a week : two days are for classes.

The other 3 :
1-basics and Kihon
2-kata
3-bunkai

Always mixed with pushups, squats and abs. If you only do those, with some running, you'll get in shape in no time.

I'd mix days to get out of the routine, mix katas, do only one kata all night long.

But you get the idea. Train. Then train. And if you have a spare moment in the day. Train. Live karate.

Felicia said...

Hi, Sue. This is such an amazing idea! And you are a real gem for putting it forth.

Before my test, I kept having dreams about forgetting my gi or not being able to find the testing room. I had to talk it out with my (now) sensei before I realized that I didn't really think I was ready to test. But the reality is that every day is a test - it truly is. Showing up for class is literally half the battle, but it doesn't end there. I don't think it's possible to learn karate by popping in for class a few nights a week. Martial arts is not just something you do for a few hours at a time, but something you are/become. So to me, the ancillary stuff done OUTSIDE of the training hall is just as important. Whatever that means for you is what it means.

Practice the basics. Do them in front of the mirror when you're brushing your teeth, at the bus stop, while waiting in line at the post office (OK - so people won't stare at you like you've lost it, you can visualize and go through it in your head in these instances), but doing them over and over is key.

The most important part of any test is knowing the format. Ask and instructor or another black belt from your school/style what the order of events will be. Know your weak spots and work on them a little harder than the other stuff. Be as prepared as you can both mentally and physically. Your instructors already know what you can do or you wouldn't be grading. They want to see what you can do when your cup is empty, so cardiovascular strength is important, too. Know your body and its limits and expect to be asked to push past them.

Most importantly, believe you can and will make it through - and that making it through is only the beginning. Enjoy the journey, not just the end result. Hurt no one and allow no one to hurt you - and know that you will be great - and you will be :-)

Have a blast!

John Vesia said...

Ask how the test is going to be run. Is the whole thing being done in one day? Some organizations opt for two: kata and self defense on one day with kumite the next.

What are the standards? Will the fighting be to see control and skill, or marathon style to test one's mettle and endurance?

Does the aspirant need to know the bunkai for all the forms (s)he knows, or just a portion? Which ones?

Videotape your performances of basics, self defense, kata, etc.

Ask questions! Things vary from school to school, even in the same organization. The board that's doing the testing possibly doesn't know the exact teaching criteria of the school the BB candidate comes from. They may require something unusual. You don't want any surprises on the big day.

Stay away from things like caffeine and alcohol a month or so before the test.

Don't tell too many people (aside from close friends and family) about your black belt test. Keep it to yourself.

Train hard. Sleep well.

Journeyman said...

Lots of feedback on that one, Sue.

I don't expect to be credited with any comment as I started my journey all over again from white belt.

My only advice is to believe in yourself as the test approaches. I was once told my a high school teacher that cramming the night before a big test wouldn't make me know the content if I didn't know and understand it before. Better to get a good night's sleep. Visualize yourself performing flawlessly but don't worry about the actual movements, kata or technique at the last minute. You'll just make yourself nuts if you have a mental mind blip. Just see yourself moving and succeeding.

After a certain point, it's all mental.

Cheers.

Denman said...

It is my understanding that black belt signifies proficiency in basic karate techniques.

They need to perform a correct punches and blocks, including proper location, tight fist, and hip rotation.

They need to know correct stances and kicks, including required foot and knee positions.

They should be able to demonstrate their proficiency in punches, blocks, stances and kicks individually and as part of the school's katas.

Bob Blackburn said...

Get good board holders. Having experienced students will help a lot. If they move, it will be very hard to break.

James said...

My advice is to work hard on issues obviously relating to Kata, and Kihon, and Kumite, but dont forget to work hard on your stamina, my black belt grading was long and gruelling, if you cannot maintain your form because you are totally exhausted, it really spells against you.

Having participated in a black belt grading previously (i was one of the fighters) i can also attest to the fact that polishing your weak points is absolutely critical. In so far as you may have relatively good techniques its your poor ones which will sell you short.

tayla said...

I just recived my black belt before i left for the army back in June. I have a black belt in Shotokan, which is tridational. It took me about six months to get ready for my test, and it was the harded than all of basic training, not tomention i was the only female who tested. However, my test was eight hours long and it was worth all the time and effort i put in. For anyone getting ready to get their black belt, prepare youself. As long as you give it your all, know you material in which is required for the test and you give 110% the whole time, there is a slim chance you will fail. Believe and Succeed and anything is possible.

SenseiMattKlein said...

Hi Sue! This is from by blog "Kids Karate Grading: How to Pass", the post applies to adults as well.

Before the Grading

Ask the Sensei what will be on the grading. Many instructors will give you a handout that includes all the techniques on the actual grading–just ask for it. Some instructors will even let your parents video or photograph the techniques required.

Take the list home and mark the techniques in which you are not 100% sure; next class ask the sensei how to do them.

Once you have all the techniques down, have someone call them out one after the other. Now try to do it faster. Then do it in random order. By doing this, you are preparing yourself for the stress of the actual test, and you will know each technique by sound.

The forms or kata will take the most practice since they are the most difficult. Do them facing all directions and then do them with your eyes closed. Pay particular attention to the stances as that is what the sensei will look for. Do each form with intensity (imagine attackers coming at you), even while practicing.

Go to class early (or stay late) and ask one of the black belts to take you through a practice grading. Most will be willing to do this. The sensei will notice your initiative.

If your test involves sparring, get yourself fit for it. Run, bicycle, hit the bags, anything to build up your heart and lungs. Do as many rounds of sparring as possible, even if it is only against a moving kick bag.

During the Grading

Get there early to warm up and stretch. This will help you get those kicks up and prevent injury. You do not want to pull a muscle on grading day. Even though most kids are naturally flexible, don’t take a chance.

Perform your techniques with full power. It is amazing how many people do not do this.

Spirit is really important. Yell your kiai each time you do a technique. Pop back into position so you are ready for the next move.

Do not let your classmates throw you off with their mistakes. Keep a razor-sharp focus on your imaginary opponent, right in front of you. Other kids may try to talk to you during the grading. Ignore them.

You will make mistakes, it is human nature and no one is perfect. Do not let it get you down. Improve on the remainder of the test and you will still have a good shot.

After the Grading

Pass or not, always ask the sensei how you can improve. This will help you next time you grade. It also shows the sensei that you care enough to ask.

SenseiMattKlein said...

Hi Sue! This is from by blog "Kids Karate Grading: How to Pass", the post applies to adults as well.

Before the Grading

Ask the Sensei what will be on the grading. Many instructors will give you a handout that includes all the techniques on the actual grading–just ask for it. Some instructors will even let your parents video or photograph the techniques required.

Take the list home and mark the techniques in which you are not 100% sure; next class ask the sensei how to do them.

Once you have all the techniques down, have someone call them out one after the other. Now try to do it faster. Then do it in random order. By doing this, you are preparing yourself for the stress of the actual test, and you will know each technique by sound.

The forms or kata will take the most practice since they are the most difficult. Do them facing all directions and then do them with your eyes closed. Pay particular attention to the stances as that is what the sensei will look for. Do each form with intensity (imagine attackers coming at you), even while practicing.

Go to class early (or stay late) and ask one of the black belts to take you through a practice grading. Most will be willing to do this. The sensei will notice your initiative.

If your test involves sparring, get yourself fit for it. Run, bicycle, hit the bags, anything to build up your heart and lungs. Do as many rounds of sparring as possible, even if it is only against a moving kick bag. (cont.)

SenseiMattKlein said...

During the Grading

Get there early to warm up and stretch. This will help you get those kicks up and prevent injury. You do not want to pull a muscle on grading day. Even though most kids are naturally flexible, don’t take a chance.

Perform your techniques with full power. It is amazing how many people do not do this.

Spirit is really important. Yell your kiai each time you do a technique. Pop back into position so you are ready for the next move.

Do not let your classmates throw you off with their mistakes. Keep a razor-sharp focus on your imaginary opponent, right in front of you. Other kids may try to talk to you during the grading. Ignore them.

You will make mistakes, it is human nature and no one is perfect. Do not let it get you down. Improve on the remainder of the test and you will still have a good shot.

After the Grading

Pass or not, always ask the sensei how you can improve. This will help you next time you grade. It also shows the sensei that you care enough to ask.

SenseiMattKlein said...

Sorry for the redundancy. Said your "comment was not accepted; too long" so I broke it down.

B said...

1. Don't test injured. I did and it significantly impacted my performance. I still passed but if I had it to do again I'd advise waiting.

2. For sure video yourself and review it. It's very painful but also very informative. You probably know how most stuff should look so you'll be able to see a lot of your problem areas from tape.

3. Karate calls one-steps, three-steps, or self-defense steps bunkai, no? If you have two-person drills see if you can get someone to practice with you outside of class. If not do what I did: treat them as mini-katas and go through the steps until you are sick of them. This is one area of my Tae Kwon Do black belt test that I aced and it was due to treating them as mini-katas!

Good luck!

Michele said...

Excellent forum Sue!

Basics, basics, basics.

I think it is important for the testing candidate to know that they will make mistakes. The test is how the person deals with the mistakes.

Trust in your training.

Enjoy!

SueC said...

A huge thank you to everyone who has sent me their comments or e-mails - I am overwhelmed with the interest you have shown. I now have to write all this information up into a coherent blog post! This should appear on this blog tomorrow (Tuesday). Thank you again.

Nick said...

Some great suggestions here.

I have only a few to re-iterate from above. In all of my black belt tests I have noticed one thing that helps more than anything in almost every style. Cardio.

If you are busy sucking wind your techniques will sloppy. The trick to black belt cardio is that you need to train three different metabolic processes.

First, the aerobic(long term). walk, jog, or run. At least a week before the test you need to be able to cover something in the range of 3 to 5 miles at a pretty good pace. Very your speed but never stop moving throughout the trek.

Second, Anaerobic(short term). Sprints, or shuttle runs, or both. Sprints of course, pick a short distance, preferably on grass or something fairly soft. Or Shuttle runs, pick three spots at successive distances and run to the first nearest and back to your start, then to the next and back to start etc.

Third option (explosive, instant), get a box that is no more than 24 inches tall and very stable. Jump with both feet from a standing position to the top of the box and then hop back down (if in good shape). If not then step up with alternating legs and step down. (if in poor shape.) Intensity is going to change with the height of the box, speed of the jumps or steps or combination of those.

Do not do all of these on the same day. Just pick one and do it. Just my two cents. Enjoy and good luck.

Joseph Ansah said...

Hi Sue, Great idea. I train with Felicia and she asked me to post a response. In our school, we believe you test every day, so you should always perform your technique as best as you're able, each and every time. Infact, though there is a curriculum, you have to be told/invited to test by our chief instructor. This helps eliminate doubt about performance during the test. As with all tests, the point is to perform these skills on command. The material needs to be second nature to you before your test. Be confident in your knowledge of the technique, your ability to execute it on command and approach your test without anxiety. Like you do any other you train. Last minute craming of material won't save you if you're thrown a curve. Which brings me to my next point. Expect the unexpected. During black belt tests, I like throwing in surprises. As in real life you don't always know what you're going to get, you just have to deal with it. This is a test of character. It's about how you handle yourself during tough times/situations. Don't give up no matter how tired you may be. If you make it, you've proven that you know the basics, your mind is open and you are now ready to begin learning. Congratulations.

SueC said...

Nick and Joseph, many thanks for your contributions, as you may have seen I have included them in the 'The World guide to passing your black belt test'.

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