Failing a Grading - Aikido Articles

It doesn't matter whether you are a White Belt or a senior Black Belt – failing a grading is an extremely painful experience. If you are an instructor, seeing your own students fail a grading can be even worse, knowing that you have to inform the parents, (if the candidate is under 18), and then help to pick themselves up emotionally, whilst secretly questioning your own teaching methods and ability.

Trying to turn such a big negative into a positive is immensely difficult at the best of times. But any words of wisdom or comfort can fall on the deaf ears of a child who believes it to be the end of the world, too young to understand that it's a hard way to learn about the setbacks and knocks that we can encounter in everyday life.

I've had a small handful of students who have failed a grading over the past two years. All of them were under 12 years old and obviously, all of them were very upset. The first thing that I try to explain is that there are only two ways of failing a grading:

  • 1) They have experienced "a bad day at the office". This is something that can happen to anyone, and needs to be put down to experience. Some people (including myself) find any type of examination or test an ordeal, and it's natural for the brain to shut down, despite endless training, hard work and a successful mock grading.
  • 2) They may simply not be ready for promotion. In this scenario, I would tell the unsuccessful candidate that this does not reflect the hard work that they had recently put in, or highlight that they are not a bad martial artist, or even that they are not worthy of the belt that they have already earned. It just means that they require a little bit of extra work before they will be ready for the next step.

For most instructors, the first reason is by far the most common, as it is rare for students to be let into the grading without the necessary preparation and experience, and VERY common for nerves to get the better of someone who's under so much pressure.

Another method I have used is to sit all candidates down before a grading and revise the 5 Tenets, with the emphasis on Perseverance and Indomitable Spirit. Everyone is reminded that while we all want to succeed in our grading, (and everything else in life), failure is an unwelcome hazard, which we all encounter at some stage, and it's not the fact that we fail, but the way in which we deal with it.

So you must be thinking by now how wonderful it must be for me to have any unsuccessful candidate rushing back to me the following week, all smiles, with the unfortunate grading a distant memory. Well, I've still had two unsuccessful candidates who were not won over by my "reassuring tones" and dropped out! However, the rest have shown an amazing amount of Perseverance and Indomitable Spirit by dusting themselves down, studying the examiner's comments and getting straight back in to the next grading.

No one has shown more guts and determination than one particular young lad in my class called Alex, aged 12 (pictured). Last year, he was unsuccessful in his attempt for Blue Belt. I've always admired Alex for his spirit and "never say die" attitude, but when he turned up to train at the club where all the examiners trained the week after the grading (not my club, and not a club to which he is familiar!), I cannot think of anyone else who would have done that – including myself!

Then last week, despite all his hard work and a good mock grading, Alex once again experienced another "bad day at the office" and was again unsuccessful in his attempt to be promoted, this time to Red Belt. This was obviously a bitter disappointment and very upsetting, but Alex was still at the following lesson, congratulating the successful candidates and keen to start training again.

For this effort and more, I cannot praise Alex enough. He is a shining example to every student (and instructor!) out there who has experienced the pain of failure, but refuses to just walk away and quit. Master Con Halpin always says that a Black Belt is just a White Belt that never gave up, and from my own experience, it is the students who have struggled the hardest who enjoy their Black Belt the most. I'm not going to say "if", but WHEN Alex reaches his Black Belt, he will enjoy it more than most and deservedly so.

I hope that any student who is unsuccessful in a future grading will remember these points, dust themselves down and really show the examiner at the next grading just how much you've learned and progressed – all the way to the top!

Tony Butcher
(4th Dan Black Belt)
Head Instructor
Ickenham Taekwondo Club

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Aikido is an extremely efficient self defence (also as Self-Defence Women London) system utilising balance-taking and posture-breaking movements to achieve joint locks, pins and throws. It contains elements of Ju Jitsu, Kendo, Judo and other budo.

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