The grading process: A Warriors Journey

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By Jason Smith

Much like many aspect of Martial training grading is one of the components that is often misunderstood or simply taken for granted, so what’s the big deal?

In today’s world filled with martial arts politics, money making schemes and shiny packaging, it’s easy to see how many have lost sight of the true purpose of the grading process.

For many it’s simply seen as a way of distinguishing between skill and physical ability levels, those who are able to attain a higher level of technical proficiency achieve higher ranks faster, and few will argue that. Being able and possessing the ability to utilise your body in a truly efficient way should be celebrated, especially in society’s fuelled by fast food and junk TV.

So if it’s not just about establishing an order and hierarchy of skill and principle what is it’s function?

The core purpose of a grading is to influence growth from and within the student by immersing them into a high ( higher than normal) pressure process.

This development should be just as much mental as it is physical, even in your youngest student although the criteria is different.

So why is this so important, what more does this mean that teaching martial arts skills without a grading process have less value? The answer to this can’t be a simple Yes or No as it ultimately comes down the the values, principles and responsibilities of the instructor or teacher. Regardless the one constant that remains is that the entire process is a clear representation of the “Rites of passage”.

Rites of Passage:

A rite of passage is a ritual event which sees an individual undergo a change from one status to another, and can be generally broken down into three stages.

In many cultures children undergo trials to attain their rite of passage to adulthood.

These are often conducted through one or a number of high pressure tasks or rituals. For example native Indians and certain tribes from Africa engage their young women at the age of menstruation in ritual like talks where they are taught by an elder the art of womanhood.

Boys undergo trials to affirm their passage. These trials are often conducted in the form of a first hunt or exposure to certain dangers. The exposure to the dangers within the high pressure process prompts potential growth prior to acceptance and reincorporation to the tribe or community.

Stage One:Separation.  This Marks the time when the individual is selected or pulls away from what they know and steps into the unknown world of stage two, Transition.

Stage Two: Transition.

This is the period between the first two stages. A time often filled with fear, doubt,confusion and discomfort. This is when the individual is challenged or faced with adversary of potentially life changing proportions. Once completed the individual, and now victor are rewarded through receiving an empowering boon.

Stage Three: Reincorporation.

At this point that the individual  has over come his/her challenges and returns, with a new identity, status or boon.

We’ve heard these principles before in the form of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero With A Thousand Faces”. It’s the same basic formula that most of stories that we were told as a child and movies we watch today are based upon. For those who don’t already know “Star Wars” is the classic telling of the HERO’s journey.

So let’s apply this algorithm to what we do as martial artists.

Stage one: Wether it’s your first time in a martial arts class, or wearing that new belts just earned we are excited and maybe a little daunted to be walking this new road. And so we begin or continue our training under the guidance and tutor-ledge of a senior or master.

Stage Two: A testing/ grading date is set and the capacity to grow increases as the pressure mounts. With every second of practice, every mistake made, and being well aware of the consequences if you don’t achieve the level of skill and aptitude needed, keeps us honest, keeps our training true, and from this our growth is proportionate to the size of the challenge.

The higher the pressure,the greater the growth potential. This is where the real growth and development happens.

Stage Three: Reincorporation / The Return.

Following the various trials that had to be won, if the individual world hard enough they will receive an empowering new status. With this status come knowledge earned from the various trials faced placing them in a position to help others who are yet to face the before mentioned challenge.

Yet as the dust settles the individual starts the cycle again, all the time learning and acquiring new attributes, awareness and capacity.

So in reflection “Yes” the belt we wear is just a piece of cotton, but the skill’s and more importantly, the experiences, lessons and attributes gained during the training and grading process are truly  priceless.

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