Is failing an option?

A common question in the martial arts scene is of course, can/should students be failed at graduations/belt promotions, if they are not up to the correct level? How should that be handled?

I have never failed anyone! Every semester ends with a graduation for the adult class, where we sparr, show some techniques under pressure, and celebrate the past semester. Why celebrate? Because every time you show up at the Dojo (or a competition, a camp, etc), you graduate for a small percentage of your next belt! The single most important thing for being pushed over to the next belt level is the confidence that you get when you pass the graduation itself on the last day of the semester! You get a new belt, and we will have pushed you enough for you to not break, but feel really worthy.

Ok, so why don’t we break you? Why don’t we push even harder? Because the graduation can always “win”! If the goal is to break you and fail you, that’s very easy to arrange. We can always give you one more round of sparring against a tough opponent, ask you to break more boards, make you do more push-ups, but why? My ultimate goal with the graduations is to get BETTER students, not HIGHER RANKED students! As the students gets better, they also get higher ranks, so I don’t feel that I have had to give up the option of giving out decent amount of new belts each semester, even though that is not the main focus.

With that said, I always ask all students to show up at the graduation, but not everybody will get a new belt.

At black belt graduations it’s a bit different, I have touched this subject before in this Blog. I see the black belt as a PhD, after the brown belt (1 Kyu) you have to “study” for your black belt test for at least two years. There will be a black belt graduation, there will be an exam, there will be a party, but just like with the Kyu graduation, the graduation test is more your chance to show the other students (and family, etc) what you have been doing for the past two years, and the conclusions that you draw from it. However, at a black belt graduation it’s very important that you know that you will be failed if it’s not up to a high standard. It’s supposed to be one of the harder things in your life, so it should be taken seriously.

For kids, I hand out stripes for belts some semesters, and new belts other semesters, but I never fail anyone. If they have started very late in the first semester (or if they broke their arm in school and couldn’t practise for some time during the semester, or whatever) I have learned over the years that it’s better to just graduate them anyway. If I graduate them, it will even itself out over the years anyway. If I don’t, they usually quit, and then I can’t teach them anything at all.

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