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Stopping to Smell the Sweat
December 27th, 2006 by Ryan V. | Posted in Training | View Comments

One of the downsides of Taekwondo, and most martial arts for that matter, is the system of ranks — the procession along a prescribed path towards an “end rank” that signifies an overall understanding of the art.

The few weeks leading up to a belt test are my least favorite times of training. Many classes are sacrificed in order to prepare us for the upcoming testing, learning forms, formal attacks, blocks, stances and moves. While it’s nice to have the sense of accomplishment after successfully testing and moving onwards to the next belt, I feel as if I am missing some part of Taekwondo.

Statements made in this column reflect the personal views of the author. These views do not necessarily reflect those of Lehigh Valley Taekwondo and its staff.

7 Comments

7: "Forrest" says:

I could weigh in on both sides of this debate, but will choose to select the developmental aspect of martial art within oneself and not the formal class as preparing for a test. A class, regardless of the training provided, should be to better oneself in some regard. If there is one item accomplished by the end of class that was not present prior to same, it should be considered an accomplishment, even if it is minute. Over time, these little accomplishments add up to a greater whole which is what develops the person to be a martial artist and not a test taker. Testing is just a regimented format to demonstrate the development process. Some people require it as it forces them to address areas they normally would avoid (such as terminology). The true martial artist welcomes all aspects of training [opinion] and then interprets the message for improvement. Just as a simple lesson in life at a younger age cannot be appreciated due to lack of experience (aging), when experienced at some later juncture in life has more meaning and can be recognized; that simple lesson holds a wealth of knowledge. You have to be able to read (see) inside the message and not take it at face value. There is much more going on than foot/hand position, weight distribution, focus and endurance. There is a mental development aspect that occurs every time you step on the floor as one’s perspective will vary with time, age, and the constraints of life.

6: "Motoo Y." says:

> The forms and formal techniques are obviously important
> to TKD, but I find it hard to see how memorizing given
> techniques and impractical strikes show anything other
> than memorization prowess.

This is a bit contradicting. If you think learning forms and self-defense is useless, why do you say it’s important to Taekwondo?

I think it was Master Lee who I heard explaining the importance of forms and self-defense techniques. He described them as training wheels. Before you can ride a bike, a child usually starts off using these. Eventually, he gets used to it enough that he won’t need them anymore. But the use of training wheels by itself is not very useful. It’s merely a stepping stone.

The same way with forms and self-defense. We practice them in very specific and controlled situation many times. Eventually (and hopefully), things would flow even in more difficult situations. The same thing goes for punching and kicking from specific stances without having physical targets.

I think this, combined with sparring and the kind of training you mentioned, makes the training a whole and effective.

5: "Ryan" says:

I hadn’t actually finished my thoughts on this article before I saved it for publishing. My purpose in writing it was not to show displeasure in the prep classes before a test but in the actual formal aspects of Tae Kwon Do. I myself greatly enjoy the physicality of the art. I enjoy the times when we are allowed to practice what I call free form tae kwon do, where you throw whatever comes to mind. A perfect example of this would be 5 attackers and 6 defenders with pads. People are running around and getting hit from all angles while the attackers are striking as they see fit. I think it is during these excercises that true skill and progression in TKD come out. The ability to flow from technique to technique, having the mental concentration to weigh the factors and determine the best move all in constant motion. The forms and formal techniques are obviously important to TKD, but I find it hard to see how memorizing given techniques and impractical strikes show anything other than memorization prowess.

4: "Ben" says:

Personally, I do not like spending too much time preparing for a test either. I have the same philosophy as Motoo; you either know it by now or don’t. Although, some people get extreme anxiety about taking tests in general, let alone one where everyone is watching you. For those people allowing a little more time to prepare is helpful. I do find though that certain students become really unfocused when left alone to practice. That includes both low ranks and high ranks and especially when practicing self-defense which is why I think people end up needing more time than they should. One benefit of tests is that it forces you learn the finer aspects of TKD like terminology, form symbols and their meaning, etc which I feel reflect on you as a serious martial artist.

3: "Motoo Y." says:

I remember, as a low rank, coming to a training the night before the testing, thinking that I’d have either refresher class, or relatively easy (physically) class. Boy, was I wrong. It turned out that that day was one of more physically demanding class. When I asked about it to other students who have been there longer, that was normal.

Also, finding a self-defense partner beforehand is fairly new things at our school for non-black belts. I had to do them with anyone who were happened to be there.

The idea is that the testing requirements should not be any surprise, as long as we regularly attend classes. Therefore, we should not have a need to have classes specifically to prepare for testing.

Still I am not completely against having testing preparation classes. Anyone can use some refresher.

But the problem, I think, is that many try to prepare for testing in short period of time, relying on these classes. Information gathered in short period of time is also easy to forget. If that happens, then those testing preparation classes become wasteful.

2: "Robbie" says:

How can you qualify classes as being sacrificial when the point of the class is to make you a better martial artist? The time taken out of the typical training regimen to work on techniques for testing should be looked upon as a chance to better yourself and your techniques. Even if one is not testing in the near future, it provides a re-sharpening of skills for all ranks. For example, as a college student coming back from an extended holiday break. First day back at class and you can tell you are a bit rusty, a bit less flexible than when you left, a little out of shape if you will. Would you prefer a solely exercise-based class, or one that gives you a chance to work on techniques that you have not practiced, much less thought about for the 4 weeks that you were away? Also, without “sacrificing” classes, how would the typical college student prepare for their test? Practice in their dorm room? Probably not.

1: "aika" says:

I agree that many spend a lot of time preparing for the test instead of training … and it was not used to be that way. In fact, nobody practiced anything special, including self-defense routines as we see today, not in class and not even for black belt testing.

It’s a rather recent occurrence, or so I think, because it was not that way when I started training at LVTKD. If it was at all possible, I’d like it to go back to the “old way” myself … but who knows?

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