Belt testing is a key practice in many martial arts. By combining goal setting, ranking and your martial arts curriculum, belts and exams set a structure for a martial artist’s journey towards mastery. Each belt has a set list of techniques, patterns, and philosophies to learn, acting as stepping-stones towards a black belt.
This is a great opportunity for your school to showcase the standards and expectations for each belt level, allowing your students to know what’s expected of them. Students failing a belt test may make you more money short-term, when they redo their test, but it’s not a good long-term strategy for motivation or student retention. Here are some tips to make sure your students are prepared for their exams.
Set Clear Expectations for Testing
Depending on your style of martial arts – as well as the style of your school lessons and teaching – different schools will have varying expectations, when it comes to belt testing. While some may prioritize sparring, others may put more emphasis on patterns or techniques. Some schools will place a lot of importance in learning the martial art’s philosophies, while others may focus purely on the physical aspects of their art.
Some martial arts schools may even require fitness assessments, for higher levels. This makes the most sense for students who are training for competitions, as cardiovascular endurance plays a very large role in the success of a competitive martial artist. Some schools may even have community work as a requirement for black belt promotion.
We suggest creating handouts or having a webpage where students can access an outline of the required knowledge and techniques, especially if they need to learn about historical figures or philosophies. One thing that may surprise some students is that they will have to spend their personal time to study and train for intermediate and higher level exams. It’s better for the student to know this before going into the test, rather than after doing poorly on one.
The more frequent a student’s tests are, the less time they have to achieve mastery over their techniques. Finding a balance may be tricky but we suggest setting a high (yet attainable) standard and then seeing how long it takes students to be able to achieve those requirements for belt promotion.
There are a few factors to consider when you test this way. First, if you don’t have many students, you may not get an accurate average of how long it takes for students to prepare. Second, the quality of your instructors may be a limiting factor on how quickly students are able to be appropriately prepared for their exams. As your school grows and evolves, it should become clear to you what the optimal frequency is; just make sure your students truly earn that belt, as integrity is a key part of the martial arts.
Students should, at some point during each belt level, get one-on-one time with a senior instructor. This is in order to let them know what they need to work on and what they’ve got down already. This not only helps them to prepare for their exams, the personal touch is always good for sustaining and improving student engagement and retention. For younger students, it’s a great idea to get the parents involved, during this one-on-one time, so they know what their child needs to work on, in order to move forward. Parents love to see progress being made, as well as getting face-to-face time with the instructors, and we all know the importance of keeping parents happy.
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