What does your grade mean to you?
Within the Japanese martial arts belts are given out at the end of a grading to show that you are one step higher, but what does that belt mean?
Some students are rushed through the syllabus, once they have finish one grade, they start the next and then the next, other students know that they will take a grading every three months without fail. But what have they achieved, yes some will obtain their black belts but at what cost, will they be worthy of it or will they only remember what they did for their last grade. Then crunch time happens outside and they may find that things do not work the same way as they did with a training partner inside the dojo. Then the student blames the martial art that they studied, gives up and then looks for something else. But why do instructors push their students through continuous gradings, the answer is money. The more times a year a single student goes through a grade the more money that is earnt (it is always funny how these types of clubs attract a lot of students, maybe it is also the student's fault).
The Instructors of these clubs are not concerned about the outcome of the product (the student) only that they have sold enough three year courses, white to black in three easy steps. My students on the other hand take a grading once a year, I care more for the standard of the students than I do for the money (hence the reason I am not rich).
Within the art that I teach when people ask I tell people that it will take them at least seven years training several times a week to achieve black belt. If they want the black belt quicker then they will be better off buying my black belt without the tabs for a hundred pound. So far I have had no takers for the black belt but I have had people leave because of the statement of seven years.
At times I have felt bad because very few students don’t pay for the rent of the hall, but it is not worth the hassle when someone is expecting to be graded every three months.
I teach slowly so that everyone is able to grasp the basics of the art that I teach. With a good foundation the confidence of the student can grow so if and when they need the art they will not freeze and will be able to respond according to the attack. With good foundations anything can be built on top, from simple scenarios to complicated ones involving multiple attacks with weapons whilst sitting down enjoying a pint with one hand.
When you go to a different place to train, the first reaction from most is to look down to see what grade you are before they engage in conversation. This is made worse if you are a black belt because you can actually see them counting how many tabs you have. Years ago someone I knew was a green belt and we were both at a course and she had been training well with a brown belt. Within the interval the brown belt asked how long the Green belt been training and the answer was three and a half years.
The brown belt proclaimed so had she and twice a week, the green belt then commented that she also trained twice a week and with that the brown belt got angry and walked off. What caused this reaction was it the realisation that she had been chasing grades or was it the thought of a green belt being as good as she was? Who knows?
At the end of the day, that belt that we hold so dearly is only a piece of cloth to hold our jacket together and only shows how much work and time we have put into our art. The belt does not mean that I am superman or that I am the greatest, because even monkeys fall out of trees. It is only a personal gauge of achievement for me and no one else.
Some people moan that they should be this grade or that grade due to the length of time or that they should be higher than Sensei x, who cares! These people should be proud of what they have achieved and know if they have trained properly then the art will not let them down. Otherwise you could be a tenth Dan and still have no confidence or knowledge to face an aggressor, at the end of the day you won’t be wearing that piece of cloth when you walk down the street and only you know how well you can or can’t do.