White Belt Perfection

By Erik HofmeisterKarate Rocks Balance

Every now and then, I encounter either a new student who wants their technique to be perfect, or a teacher who wants their white belts’ technique to be perfect.  Striving for perfection is a good goal, but it must be tempered with the understanding that it is frankly not possible, and may even hinder progress in some students.

Learning anything is a progression.  You first learn some information, then more, and then a little bit more.  At the vet school, we don’t expect first-year students to be able to diagnose anything, much less complex diseases, but we do expect them to be able to make diagnoses 3 years later.  What changes?  Why not expect them to master diagnosis in their first week?  Quite simply, because they can’t do it. There is too much information- they aren’t capable of assimilating the information in a useful manner.  They might memorize the data, but they don’t know how to use it.

Some students want to learn everything they can as soon as they can.  After promotion, they want to learn and master their next kata.  As white belts, they want as much feedback as possible on their technique so they can perfect it.  I have already discussed the utility and necessity of dwell time of information in the brain.  In addition, over-eager students are not grasping the larger concepts of patience, commitment, perseverance, progression, esprit de corps, and understanding. A white belt who develops an excellent front kick must do so at the cost of some other techniques (since there’s only so much time in a day), and may become overconfident in their abilities.

New students have to learn basic elements like balance, strength, and coordination as well as basic techniques like front kick.  Trying to get the perfect front kick out of a white belt is pointless- they may be able to DO it, but they won’t be able to understand it, teach it or, most importantly, replicate it.  The ranks exist to facilitate a constant progression of understanding and mastery.  A white belt has thousands of hours of practice in front of them before their front kick will be excellent because it needs all the elements, most of which take time.  There’s no point in cramming information which they cannot use into their brain in the first week- let them learn in an ordered, steady fashion.

Striving for perfection, continuing toward excellence, is what’s it’s all about.  Wanting or expecting to be excellent with a technique when you first learn it is counter-productive.

KarateWhiteBelts

One of the first classes at Athens Yoshukai – notice all the white belts.

Advertisements

Advancement Requirements

By Erik Hofmeister

The nuts and bolts of requirements for advancement are available in each style’s curriculum.  Usually, there is a combination of time in rank (i.e. number of months that has elapsed since last promotion), number of hours in class since last promotion, learning new techniques, and refinement of existing techniques.  Usually, each of these must be met at a minimum.  That is, you cannot have the minimum number of class hours and then test unless you also have the time in rank and KarateQuotePathadvancement of techniques.  Why, if you’ve learned all the material in a month, can you not just test and promote?

1) Dwell Time

This is the term I give for learning or improving material, and then time passing.  Maybe you practice that material, maybe you don’t.  After a period of time, trying the same techniques, you will have learned something, or developed.  Not as much as if you had been practicing, obviously, but the brain has had some time to process the information, integrate it into what it already knows, and evolve around that information.  Even if you practice your techniques every day for a month, you will learn something different if you practice the technique once a month for a quarter of a year.  I’m not advocating this as a way to actually learn the technique well- that requires actual practice.  But your knowledge and understanding will evolve just with time.  There is no substitute for time.

2) Giving Back

A student could just come to class and learn the material and soak it up in fewer class hours or fewer months than the minimum.  In doing so, though, they likely will not attend enough class to learn how to apply it (in sparring) or practice teaching it.  Teaching is a critical part of Athens Yoshukai.  It makes students better by improving their understanding, and allows students to give back to the dojo by helping more junior students learn in a smaller group setting.  If a student only learns techniques, their understanding will always be more limited than if they also teach those techniques.

3) Parity

Not all students are equal in athleticism, ability to learn material, ability to attend class, and many other variables.  The minimum requirements help maintain some equality among students.  No matter how many classes you attend or how long you hold a rank, you must learn the material for the next rank and spend the required necessary time in your current rank. If you are able to come to class every day, you must still have that minimum time in rank.  This helps to make sure that all students have a similar rate of opportunity to advance. Again, the more time you put in, the better.  But the minimums help maintain some equality among students.

In addition to the stated minimums and curriculum, there are other important intangibles that affect advancement.  Students should show that they follow the five precepts in the dojo.  Students who are resistant to instruction, who are not respectful to their peers, or have other attitude problems- even apparently minor ones- may not advance.  Yoshukai is not only about technique.  If it were, we would be a karate-jutsu.  Yoshukai is about a way of life and a philosophy.  The combination of time in rank, class hours, learning technique, improving technique, and intangibles are all necessary for advancement in this karate-do.  This is a traditional art, with traditional ideals.  For a more American, monetized way of doing things, try a different style.

A young boy encountered a Zen master on his travels.  “What do you wish from me?” the master asked.  “I wish to be your student and achieve enlightenment,” the boy replied “How long must I study?”  “At least ten years,” answered the master.  “What if I studied twice as hard?” asked the boy.  “Twenty years” replied the master.  “Twenty years!” “What if I practice day and night with all my effort?” the boy asked.  “Thirty years,” was the master’s reply.  “How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?” the boy asked.  “The answer is clear. When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way.”

KarateMichiPath