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Martial Arts Promotions . . . Testing, 1, 2, 3

In most modern martial arts, in order to earn a higher belt rank, you must take a test. Unlike testing in geometry class, looking at your neighbor's paper won't help you here. That's why you need to be prepared before you pursue a promotion to the next level.

Depending on your style, you may be eligible to test for rank every few months or only once a year. Black belt candidates test much les often than colored belts. The higher a degree the black belt is testing for, the longer she must wait between tests.

In almost all schools, testing costs money. Be sure that you understand this expense up front. Just use your common sense. Rank promotion may cost as much as $100 for nonblack belts. So, if your instructor insists in charging you $1,000 for that blue belt, you may ask yourself if you're prepared to invest that amount or if you're wiser to do some school comparisons — just to be sure that the spirit of the test is not bound to bucks.

Although some schools allow informal testing, where an instructor watches you perform your techniques, ask you a few questions about the martial art, and then gives you a brand new belt, most require more formal rank promotion testing.

Usually, groups of students at about the same level are tested at the same time. A panel of judges observes them and determines whether they're proficient in the techniques taught at their levels. The judges consider each person individually, although everyone takes the test at the same time.

A senior student or instructor leads the students through the test. Often, the test is simply a shortened, fast-pace version of a regular training session.

You should be wringing wet and exhausted after you finish a promotion test. If someone asked you to demonstrate a kick, you wouldn't have the energy to do it. That's the kind of energy and enthusiasm the judges appreciate.

What the judges are looking for

Skill isn't the only criterion. Judges also take into consideration what you are capable of. (So, age and any physical disability are taken into account.) Your effort, the courtesy that you show toward others, and your overall attitude also count a great deal.

Even if you fail you demonstrate proficiency with a certain technique, you can still pass as long as you persevered, showing a winning spirit, and in general, appeared to be a credit to your school. Similarly, someone who could do all the techniques easily but was rude to the judges may not pass.

A student may be passed "with reservation," which means that the student is awarded the higher rank but must work on certain aspects of his training before the next test. In general, a student isn't given two "with reservation" promotions in a row. He won't be passed the next time.

Preparing for your ordeal by fire

A rank promotion test is less intimidating if you know what to expect. Therefore, if you can watch one before it's your turn, take the opportunity. Also, ask the instructor and other students what you'll be expected to do for your test.

For the most part, you need to know how to do the techniques that you've been taught so far. You should be able to demonstrate all the forms (also known as kata or hyung) that you've been shown, even those you learned for previous belt ranks, and you should be able to perform mock combat drills similar to the ones that you might do in class. You may also be expected to know some terminology, such as the Japanese and English names for your techniques. You may be quizzed on aspects of martial arts culture, such as why one bows to senior belts.

What's expected of you at your test is usually quite clear. Now and then, something unusual will be thrown in just to see how you react. Just do your best. Prepare for what you know is coming, and expect a little something no one told you about, such as board-breaking, conditioning exercises, and concentration drills.

Often, your focus and concentration are judged at a promotion text. Practice for this by performing your forms with your eyes closed or oriented in a different direction from usual. You'll be surprised at how much concentration this takes, but when you're asked to do it at your test, you'll be ready.

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