I have a few personal convictions when it comes to "testing" "grading" or promotion within any combat system.
I firmly believe that any true test should tick a number of boxes.
1) There should be no pressure or requirement to grade, test or attempt promotion. Each student should be free to train at whatever level within the system they are comfortable and they desire.
2) There should be a clearly defined objective to the testing. The examiner should understand fully what the participant is required to achieve within the test. No ambiguity and no changing of requirements to fit the participant.
3) The test should be a final part of a continuous assessment of the paticipant. The examiner should have a knowledge of the participants ability to pass the test. Their understanding of the requirements and their ability to meet the required level of physical and mental participation. In short, the examiner should already know that the participant is at the level they are testing for, the test is a confirmation of that knowledge. Anyone can dig out a great performance for an hour on a given day. The real test is ensuring that they have the ability and knowledge to perform at that level on a regular basis and have the required understanding of the material to allow growth to the next level. That takes a lengthy period of time spent with the examiner.
4) The test should involve pressure. Each and every stage should include stress, exertion and pressure for the participant consistent with the level they are testing at. You cannot short change this element. For me this is a very black and white issue. If you cannot perform at the required level than you simply cannot be considered to have passed the test overall.
5) The test should not be a money making exercise for the examiner. Any organisation or examiner who gives definite timeframes for promotion or who is charging ridiculous amounts of money for testing should be regarded with serious mistrust.
I have other personal beliefs on how testing should work but those are the basis by which I have tested and by which I have tested others.
My latest testing took place on December 2nd. It was for a senior instructorship and 3rd Dan grade.
Sunday the 2nd was unusual in that for every other test I have done in the last ten years (5 of them) I have normally spent the build up to the event in a state of nervousness. Sunday was different in that while I was nervous I also knew that I could achieve the level being asked for. My internal voice wasn't saying "you may crack under this pressure" as it has in the past, it was saying, "you may fu*k up your shoulder at the beginning or the middle of the test". A few weeks earlier I had torn the rotator cuff in my left arm and my ability to use the arm with authority and its range of motion has been significantly impacted. I'm no macho idiot or hero, I was worried about it but I was also committed and had been waiting for years to take this test so really didn't want to postpone. At the end of the day there is always a reason not to do something frightening or uncomfortable and sometimes you just have to HTFU and do it.
8.00 am and we loaded up the car. Five of us travelling down to the testing centre (Keith - Head Doorman, 6 foot 200lbs, trains five days a week in BJJ/Striking. Chris - Young, strong, 200lbs JKD background with seriously heavy hands, Andy P 190lbs Karate dan grade, doorman, dan grade in jiu jitsu and hard as a coffin nail.) plus me and Andy T who were about to suffer!
We met up with three other guys at the testing centre. One of the guys I knew already but the others were there simply because they wanted to be part of the test. Rich - 220lbs. 21 years on the door, senior dan grade in Jiu Jitsu. Andy, years of judo and jiu jitsu and built like a racing snake and Presh about six foot four and 250lbs of muscle and experience. Heavyweight fighter, doorman and seriously intimidating unit.
They lined up and my heart sunk. They looked serious and they looked hard as nails. I was first up on the mats, a lightweight and increasingly more concerned 147lbs!
The cycle was to be twice through the lot for each rotation with six rotations. At 1st, 3rd and 5th dan the name of the game is purely pressure. At 2nd, 4th and 6th it is technical testing.
The idea at this level was that for the next hour these lads would beast me and punish me in a number of different and imaginative ways. Then for an hour and a half afterwards I would be part of the teaching stage of a seminar for the lads on the mats. Massive adrenal overload and then a requirement to be alert, capable and able to teach or act as UKE on the seminar.
First rotation and Rich set the tone screaming across the room and throwing a massive right hander that looped towards my head with all his bodyweight behind it at my! No preamble, no warm up, no warning just a massively aggressive action and a 200lbs plus bloke trying to genuinely take my head off. I stepped into the right hander and did some stuff I can't even remember that ended up with Rich on the floor. Dave (the tester) looked at me and simply said, "make sure you duck Chris"
Twice through the line and all coming at me with whatever they felt like throwing. All of them striking and all of them massively aggressive. I was punched, kicked, slapped, kneed and elbowed. Every attack has to be accepted, dealt with and worked to a finish. Ten attacks later and my heart was already in my mouth.
Second rotation, same again but the attacks come with no gap between them. Ten attackers following in one after the other with the intent that the participant has no rest at all. As you finish with one the other is waiting inches away to jump. The end result is always that the tester ends up exhausted and beaten down. I finished the second rotation and the little voice that could barely be heard over the sound of my thumping heart and furious breathing was saying to me "you may be in trouble here... you're weak."
Third rotation. Attackers can grab and try to take you down from any position they choose. Again no rest between attackers. You aren't fighting multiples but you are fighting a continuous stream of individuals. They bounce you, drop you, drag you around and generally pile on more and more pressure as the rotation progresses. This is the rotation I remember least about, I am certain this is because of a self protection mechanism adopted by my body to assist in forgetting trauma!
Fourth Rotation. Ground work. You're taken to the ground and you have to fight on the ground. Again no rest, the idea being that you simply keep your head, keep working and keep a clear head. Do not give up. By this point you are seriously struggling physically. There is nothing in your arms, nothing in your legs and nothing in your back to assist in even holding onto the guys. This is really about making sure that you are in defecit physically before the sparring round where all you should really be able to do is defend yourself (if you are lucky!) problem is that you are expected to do more than just defend!
Fifth rotation. Sparring. Each of the lads gloves up and you spar a round with each. I was battered! I was just praying for the shot that would put me out of the game and I could just crumple to the floor! All the lads have solid and heavy hands. I spent most of my time covering up and surviving and doing just enough to push on them and look as if I was still in the fight.
Sixth rotation and the lads surround you. Their remit is to take you to the ground. To keep you there until they are told to let you up (let you up means that you have just enough space to start to rise to your feet then they smash you to the ground again. They can slap, knee, smother, knee, trip, throw. The idea is to try and break your heart by constant pressure and letting you fight your way to far before bringing you back down and punishing you again. Two minutes is a long time! I was later informed that Presh was watching me like a tiger until I was just moving from my knees upwards and then he was spearing me like Edge or Goldberg from the WWE. I was cranked, kneed, choked, slapped and kicked. It's the kind of stuff that makes seriously tough men quake. I have been through it before a few times and this was the first time I was completely clear headed while under the crush. It's like being buried alive, a rugby scrum that allows you to kick the stuffing out of the guy on the ground!
After what seems like forever it's over and done with. The physical part is complete.
Five minute break and we are into the seminar. I was uke for a demonstration of impact techniques and the conceptual framework that underpins what we do. I was kicked, slapped, punched, struck, cranked and choked. Already on trembling legs I caught an early shot on the back of the head and had to take a knee. The toll of the earlier exertion and the precision of the shot just finished me off. I wasn't knocked out but it was as close as I could get to it without taking an inopportune nap on the mat!
I was expected to walk the mat keeping the lads right with technique, making minor adjustments where necessary and generally being capable of participating in a mental and physical activity which required control, understanding and communication skills. The test was to be switched on in a totally different way.
Three and a half hours after we walked into the room we were finished. Andy and myself both passed and we were buzzing on the drive back home. The lads enjoyed the experience (no small thing to be a participant on these types of gradings) and we were on our way home knowing that we had met the standard set by guys we all hold in the utmost regard. I am not a grade hunter. I am more concerned with how I feel about myself than how others feel about me so this was an exercise in self awareness and growth rather than an exercise to have a nice new grade to show off in front of outsiders. As I said to the lads on the way back home. How can I push you, demand more of you and ask you to take the knocks if I don't put myself out there and ask the same of myself. I just couldn't look myself in the mirror if I hadn't earned it on the mat and in the pressure cooker.
Job done, and I firmly intend to be the oldest 3rd Dan in the world!
with great thanks to all the lads and to Dave T who put us through the ringer. He's a great bloke but he certainly isn't Father Christmas!!