There are those in the martial arts who have never been given the opportunity to fail. They’re held by the hand and led along by those who came before them, and when something arises that they’d fail at they’re held back or guided around it. This is most unfortunate.
Many instructors, coaches, sensei, etc. do this because they’re concerned that failure will somehow have a detrimental impact on their student… and dare I say, the instructor’s pocketbook. The concern being that if the student faces failure, they’ll be so discouraged that the student will simply walk away and not return. Perhaps from embarrassment… Perhaps from frustration… Perhaps simply for not getting an expected return on their investment.
For the past several years I’ve been working with my Matsubayashi Ryu instructor to modify my Kihon and Kata, to make them align with expectations held within the World Matsubayashi Ryu Karate-Do Association (WMKA). Due to the global pandemic, we have worked primarily via video exchanges and conferences to train me up.
So, after several years of being a Shodan-Ho within Matsubayashi Ryu a testing board was arranged, a date was decided, and on September 5th, 2020 I tested for my Shodan in Shorin Ryu Karate for the very first time in my life.
The evaluation board for the testing comprised of two Yondan via the WMKA (one of whom is a Rokudan in Shogen Ryu), a Sandan via the WMKA, and a Nidan via the WMKA. These 4 would evaluate my physical skills and academic knowledge and decide the outcome.
The evaluation from start to finish lasted a bit longer than two hours, with myself being the only individual under evaluation. Needless to say I was drenched in sweat and quite breathless afterwards.
Now, if you read the title you already know the outcome: I failed. The evaluation was conducted in two parts, Physical and Mental, with each part being graded on a 100 point scale. To pass the evaluation a score of 70 or higher was required on both sections. On the Mental portion of the test (which included knowledge about Karate’s history, Matsubayashi Ryu’s history, Japanese and Uchinaaguchi terminology, physics, theory, etc.), I scored a 93. The examiners even admitted I knew some things that they didn’t. However on the physical portion I scored a 63.
Having been doing martial arts since the age of 6, and having promoted as high as 4th dan in other styles, this is the first promotion I ever failed.
Concerned about how I would react, several of the evaluators checked up on me in the weeks to follow and were relieved to find that I was laughing and in good spirits after failing. To be honest it was a relieving experience. For the group that evaluated me, I was glad that they could use me as an example for others.
When I trained in Youn Wha Ryu the standards for testing dropped dramatically over the years. I was very vocal (as their Historian and Record Keeper of the time) about raising the standards back up, making the tests more comprehensive, and failing those who deserved to fail. Instead of just passing everyone who wrote a check.
So, it actually filled me with joy and jubilation to know I now belonged to a group of practitioners that maintained more rigorous standards. Though, I can only vouch this for the sub-branch of the WMKA I currently belong to, as another branch I attended previously did not hold such high standards.
Yet, those other branches don’t concern me and their leaders can lead as they please. The freedom to do so, is why I joined the WMKA in the first place. I could uphold and set my standards, use whatever systems I wished, without being micromanaged by those who think they’re above me just because of how many “Rank Stripes” are on their belt. I don’t utilize rank stripes, so… meh.
The day after the testing I retired my Youn Wha Ryu Belts (as previously blogged about). Furthermore, I was instructed, by my Matsubayashi Ryu instructor, to begin wearing my Kuro Obi with the kanji 空手道 (as it is a general karate obi, not specifically a Matsubayashi Ryu obi, and I’ve been given permission to wear it by my previous instructors as well, RIP).
Have you ever failed a rank exam? Have you ever passed one in which you know you should of failed? No need answering, those are just reflection questions.
PS. Six months later I was reevaluated and rewarded my official Shodan in Matsubayashi Ryu.