Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On ranking and colored belts

A bit ago I thought of connecting something that reflects how I view ranking and colored belts in most cases, not all, but most. I had high efficiency low flow toilets installed and the old "If it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down." from the 1970's water shortages popped up as I talked to the plumber.

This fits with a few alterations, how I think an instructor should view ranking. Of course, this post makes the assumption that the instructor cares about the student actually learning, not just testing to pay ranking fees, paying dues, and becoming another drone going by rote on the dojo floor.

So, with that in mind,
If it's yellow, let it mellow
If it's brown, smash it down
If it's black, it don't know jack
If it's red, seek professional medical assistance

Guess I should explain this now, since I'm sure some of you reading this are offended by my comparing your fine students to human biological waste materials.

If it's yellow...
A yellow belt is still a new student, what can they really know yet? Not that they don't try, or want to be better, but they still need time to get the basics of how to keep their keikogi in place, figure out how to keep their obi tied, time to figure out which is their left foot and right foot, time to figure out what those funny words mean. In short, time to let things develop. So you keep their environment very specifically confined, you let it age up a bit and keep their exposure to the same basics. Just like the urine in a toilet darkens and develops a character as more is added, when more of the basic skills are added to a student, they start to develop a character and depth as well. What that character is and will be, is an instructors job to define and cultivate.

If its brown...
This is where the "mat-rat" that over eager brown belt, anxious to prove themselves, often makes an instructor want to pull their hair out. Most young brown belts tend to think their feces are not odoriferous. I can recall being one of those. In my case, I was getting revenge on the adults who thought it was fun to beat on that new 12-13 year old kid in class that was me. By the time I was 16-17, lots of people didn't like training with me, mostly because those were the ones who no longer could throw me around so easily to get their jollies. But it made me a pain to deal with for others too.

And as is appropriate, I got smashed. Difference is, I liked it. Bernie Lau, Andy Dale, and Doug Tsuboi, were the ones who had the most good influence on me here and were the reason I liked it. Their pushing was done with encouragement with a good attitude, encouraging me to seek to be better and to push myself to go past what I thought I could do and figure out how things connected. Plus their working with me helped take the edge off me so my practice with others was safer. Unless you tried to trash me, then I would do my damned best to give it right back, regardless of skill or rank of the person.

A couple other seniors at Washington Aiki Kai would push and toss me around, but there was a distinct abusive, demeaning attitude on their part. You can tell the difference between a smug son of a bitch who is abusive and hides it behind a smarmy politeness and someone who pushes you but encourages with sincerely good intentions. Those smug son of bitches were the one's who would then say I had a "bad attitude" and stay away from practicing with me when I toughened up enough to stand up to them. Of course, they would never acknowledge their part in creating that behavior. What is unusual or maybe not, is off the mat they were decent nice people. But on the mat, something would change.

What creates the brown belt issues I typically see and experienced myself are those smug sons of bitches, a lack of instructor oversight, (Made worse when those smug sons of bitches are the instructors.) and the importance placed in most dojo to get a black belt. In most dojo, this push for ranking is a big deal. Too big a deal I think.

Usually, especially in students who are younger, the brown belt is eager to make that transition to black belt. An instructor's job in my opinion is 2 parts for these students. First to prepare the brown belts with a mindset to learn more by thinking on their own, not just wait to be taught. Second is to use their abilities to teach, persuade, push, etc... to prepare a brown belt for the additional responsibilities a black belt is supposed start to consider as part of their rank and responsibilities that go with the rank. Those responsibilities only increase as you get more rank and teach in my opinion.

I was lucky enough to have some good role models to balance out the lousy ones, and this is where good instructors make all the difference.

So, to develop a good candidate for yudansha, this usually takes the form of extra practice, including some harder physical training (smashing again!). Demanding more of the student mentally to challenge their knowledge. Having the student teach basics and lead warm ups while supervised to develop basic teaching skills. Done correctly by the instructor, who really should be a role model, not a smug son of a bitch waddling around in a hakama, the brown belt gets the right idea of what is expected as a yudansha.

If it's black...
Of course, a junior black belt thinks they know it all. Their feces are not odoriferous, but finely scented like a Yankee Candle shop. To a good instructor, they are still a junior student and of course, don't know as much as they believe. Like a yellow belt, a junior yudansha needs to mellow, but the mellowing process is slightly different at each rank if the instructor knows what they are doing.

I consider brown belts and junior black belts to be the same thing really. One is just a bit more aged up if you have done your job as an instructor properly. And this is where your patience as an instructor will be called into use. Brown and junior black belts, quirks and all, are something you tolerate, because if you have done your job as an instructor correctly, they will outgrow the quirks and become responsible for spreading your teachings.

If it's red...
This is more of a joke add on, but it is still valid. Often times, people push too hard to keep training when injured, rather than rest and let things heal. If we take the point of view this is a lifetime study as everyone says it is, taking a week or three off to let a sprain or badly bruised whatever heal isn't a big deal.

Serious injuries, like the ones leaking red stuff on the mats, of course will be more apparent and treated. But sprains and bruises are still injuries, they should be checked over, and allowed to heal before a student gets back on the mat. Likewise, colds and flu, fungal infections, other contagious diseases, need to be out of the dojo until the student is no longer contagious. Part of this is an instructor's job, to check students and see if they should be on the mat, or off the mat, or told to sit out for a bit, or on the way to the ER.

Now, since I don't award colored belts or yudansha ranks, just instructor and senior instructor rankings, some of you are probably going to say "What's the point of this post?"

Well, aside from allowing me to have a laugh at the silliness of what I see in most concerns about rank and colored belts, it is something many of you reading might want to consider as compost for thought about your own efforts teaching and how to view ranking if you are using colored belts.

Rank and colored obi are only as important as you make those things. Not happy with the skill level of your yellow with 2 stripes-green-orange-blue-pink with polka dots-purple-red-brown-black belts? You say they don't measure up well to your peer's students? Whose fault is that, the students or the idiot who gave them the rank?