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Testing Problem

A reader sent me a very nice email discussing the issue of testing. In a nutshell, who would you promote -- a student who does well every day but does poorly on the test day, or a student who barely tries each day but does excellent on the test?

We all know the right answer, but have probably seen the wrong results.

The problem is with the structure of testing. If the sensei observes the student each day, then testing is just a formality. Even if the student does poorly, the sensei will know the student's true ability. A test might be a good way to help the student to overcome his fear or lack of confidence when demonstrating in front of people. But the test is really not a test -- the test takes place each and every day.

But if the testing is done by a visiting sensei, then that sensei must base his decision on what he sees. He does not have firsthand knowledge of how the student performs each day. Of course, he can consult with the student's regular sensei.

We tend to assume that testing is part of the Karate evaluation process. But is it, or was it? At least in the old days, I really don't think that it was.

A student who learned personally from a sensei, particulary a "house student," was tested each day, each and every minute of training. That is what counted. Before there was such thing as belts, the sensei might have awarded his student a teaching license (or something similar). Or he might have given him nothing at all.

My sons are my sons. My daughter is my daughter. Everyone who knows me, knows them. This is how it was with teachers in the old days. You knew the student because you saw him with his sensei and his sensei recognized him as such.

If I did give a test and a lazy student passed it, I would fail him. Of course, I should not have allowed him to take the test in the first place. Lazy students do not deserve to do so.

But then, I do not give any kyu rankings and test for dan levels by watching my students closely over a long period of time. If I have them demonstrate prior to promotion, it is really just a formality.

If you are a student, you should try your best. If your dojo has a testing process, you should respectfully follow it. But don't forget that how you do on a test is not as important as how you do each day, and how you do at an unexpected time when you need to use your Karate techniques. A mugger doesn't care whether you passed a test or not.


Charles C. Goodin