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Anf's picture
The paradox of grades

A thought occurred to me. When I was a white belt, I used to pride myself on being quicker than the higher grades. If we were doing, say low block, front kick, double punch for example, I used to endeavour to finish the combo before my higher grade peers. I'd take pleasure from achieving such. They didn't seem to bat an eyelid, sometimes to my frustration.

Now I'm fairly high grade for a low grade. And I see the lower grades finishing before me, and I don't care, because I'm not racing them, I'm focusing on the techniques. I know that if it comes to actual combat I'll do whatever instinct manages to drive me to do in the cloud of chaos and adrenaline and panic but in the safe environment of line drill I'm more focused on training my brain to fire the right muscles in the right order to make an awkward move feel natural. I want to visualise the technique.

I see it like making a curry. The beginner might simply add the hot spices until it blows your head off. The more experienced chef will add the right spices in the right order to build a depth of flavour.

Which kind of brings me on to the paradox of the grade. As a white belt, the total beginner belt, I was certain that a kick was a kick, a block was a block, and perfection meant doing these things faster and with more power. Now, I realise that there are so many principles at play, a kick is about balance, timing, focus, the chamber is about ensuring you don't simply smash your own toes off among other things, etc etc, so much depth of flavour, and I realise I am less sure now than I was as a white belt.

I've taken the decision not to grade further until I get my head round this, but I'm not even sure that's right.

Chris R
Chris R's picture

Anf wrote:
I realise I am less sure now than I was as a white belt.

That just means you're learning more and gaining experience. Being aware of all the important aspects of a technique is the foundation for you to start perfecting that technique. You know a lot more now than you did when you were a white belt, which is why you have these thoughts. To me, it sounds like you're progressing in a way that is perfectly normal. If I were you, I'd just keep training and grading as normal. It doesn't sound like anything is wrong to me.

Katz's picture

Yep, just normal progression!

It's not just for martial arts, but it is true for everything: The more you know, the more you realize you don't know. So, as you say, you have to think about a whole lot of other things than a beginner. You might be slower, but your techniques are probably better.

When teaching difficult techniques, I sometimes tell me students: "Try it this way. It will feel wrong, look wrong and have little power, but it will be good for you." That's because they need to focus on a different spect of the technique than just speed and power. Once they get, for example, balance or footwork, they can get speed and power again and make it better than it was before.

As far as progression, I don't know how it goes in you art, but where I teach (and depending on your rank), I might encourage you to keep grading. Typically, for the first two years or so, I would expect students to indeed go faster and harder, and slow down a bit after that to work on technique. Only when getting ready to test for black belt (~4-5 years) would they be expected to pick speed up again.

Then again, there is nothing wrong in delaying grading for a bit. I would talk about it with my instructor, though, see what they think.