Monday, June 27, 2016

Rank Hath No Privilege

It's testing time lately.

Not only for myself - I'm preparing to test for my next rank in Kobudo in a few weeks - but also in my teacher's Arnis school as well as our own.


I've been thinking about rank progression and testing as a result.

I wrote about different ways that students can be promoted a while ago (here).  As my teacher says, though, rank is earned in class, not at rank tests.  The only way to "fail" to be promoted is to give up and quit.

I agree with this whole-heartedly, but I know other arts, systems and schools see things differently.

At our school, general rank testing is done in a relatively informal way, during a normal class session.  For people below black belt rank level, it's just the normal instructors on the "board".  We don't cover every single bit of material that the student is expected to know for his or her next rank (although the student doesn't know which topics we'll go over on the test).

The big exception is generally for the first black belt rank.  In my case, Mr. Chick and I were secretly tested and surprise promoted.  For our Brown Belts moving up to Black under my teacher some time next year, they know when their test is, and we are working to have a pretty formal test with some very high-ranking Arnis players sitting on the board.

So the Black Belt test is a little more special,  As far as I can tell, that's pretty normal in most martial arts that have any kind of testing process.

I believe, though, that many of us in the martial arts world put way, way more emphasis on rank testing than we do in my branch of my art.

Part of this is because I think rank is more of a BIG IMPORTANT THING in other arts and styles than ours.  While of course we have rank (and arguments over it, and who's more legit than whom, and so on), given that our art is propagated mostly by seminars and camps versus formal progression in martial arts schools, we aren't as conscious of rank.


Keep telling yourself that, buddy.

Rank - or lack thereof - doesn't prevent you from being invited to learn some pretty advanced material when a teacher comes through town.   Nobody will insist that you're too low a rank to try to learn it - in fact, you'll be encouraged to try to learn it the best you can.

Additionally, it is not uncommon at many seminars I've attended for the only people to be wearing any indicator of rank at all are the people teaching the seminar.  The rest of us were all "equal" in the room, regardless of what rank we hold.

It's really cool when a very experienced, highly ranked person pairs up with you in a seminar.  You end up learning extra, just by having this person work with you.  I love it when that happens to me!

We also don't have any tradition - again, just in my branch of the art and what I've been exposed to - that confers any special ritual of deference to higher ranked people.  There is no special spot to enter the mat.  No special dressing room.  No exclusive rights that other students don't generally have.  Our lower level students defer to our experience in practice, but that's about it.  They are encouraged to ask questions and even challenge something that doesn't seem to make sense to them on occasion.

As Dayang Isa (Female 1st Black), I may have a lot more responsibility but definitely not any special privileges!

Except the privilege to be a complete dork sometimes.  Which is good for me.

That why, I think, that tests are a relatively laid-back affair for us.  Rank literally does't mean anything more than a measure of progress for a student, so it's really not something that dominates our thinking the way that it seems to dominate other martial arts schools, styles and systems.

As a relatively egalitarian person, that suits me very well.

So tell me about how rank has privileges, if any, in your style, if any.  What extra responsibilities do higher ranking people have? Let us know in the comments!

Edit:  My friend John Borter on Facebook shared this, and it totally sums up what I think about rank and privilege: