Last Sunday we had our first belt promotion in our new location. As it usually is with these kinds of events, most of the people participating are filled with nervousness and uncertainty. They don't know what to expect or what will occur. Even though I informed them many times that there will be no surprises and the material that will be covered in the promotion will be the same they have been going over for months, some part of our being human dreads the unknown.
Within the context of a martial art, a promotion takes on a slightly different context than say, in the corporate world. Within a martial art, a promotion signifies that you have a working knowledge of a certain body of material. Your new belt or rank means that you are in essence, starting over again. This can be a frustrating concept for some students, who upon reaching a new level of study suddenly feel overwhelmed by a large amount of new material to learn.
The definition I found that most fits this concept of promotion is : Encouragement of the progress, growth, or acceptance of something; furtherance.
Within our school, a promotion is not only a factor of time but also of ability. I was never an advocate of the policy that if a student has been studying for an X amount of time that they should automatically be promoted.
That being said, I am immensely proud of the students that did go for promotion this past weekend. They each performed to the best of their ability and exemplified what it means to have a strong spirit.
Perfection is not a quality that is ever sought at a promotion, in fact in a martial art perfection is never attainable. What is sought over the long term(usually defined by many years of study) is mastery. Mastery means that a person has attained a high level of skill in an endeavor, in this case a martial art.
In a promotion what we do in our school, and in most schools, is create a situation of pressure and stress and then request that you perform what you know. Because this situation is not the norm, what is being tested is not only your physical skill, but also your ability to deal and cope with mental pressure.
I recall quite vividly during one of my promotions where I forgot a move in one my katas. It was the reinforced block in Pinan (Heian) five. Somehow I kept ending the kata before all the students performing the kata with me and I was so exhausted that I could not see that I was missing the block. Add to that the fact that we started the kata in a different area of the dojo(which, of course was intentional) and my mental state was completely out of sync.
I share this to illustrate that this does and can occur to anyone. The important thing is not to allow yourself to remain in that state but to continue with your training realizing that the concept of ren ma ( diligent practice) is applicable to us all no matter the rank.
Its often been said that the martial arts is like a mountain with a summit that is obscured. No matter how high you climb, you never reach the "top". I have found this to be true in my training. Every time you learn something, a technique or kata, you find that you still have so much more to learn, that there is still more of the mountain to climb.
It is an honor to have a new group of students who are just beginning to ascend the mountain into what I hope is a lifelong journey.
strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
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