A Martial Art can be defined as a system of physical and mental techniques developed for self-defense, or as an offense mechanism and may be unarmed or employ the use of weapons. The origin of Martial Arts is controversial but signs of Martial Arts appear in Egyptian, Greek, African, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and other cultures. Hence, any study of Martial Arts is challenged with deciphering between folklore, fact and fiction.
Hooliganism, Sports and Arts ∞
Hooliganism is the behavior of ruffians that are typified by rowdy, brutal and violent conduct. Sports, though competitive and at times violent, distinguish themselves from hooliganism in that their competitive actives are governed by a set of rules that define the competition in question as well as acceptable behaviour. In addition to having distinct codes of conduct, Martial Arts are distinguished from sports in that they incorporate philosophies, rituals, traditions and intellectual components into their structures. It has been said that martial arts without etiquette are nothing more than street fighting. Its also due to etiquette and self control that Martial Arts practitioners can survive the learning and developmental phases of their training without being hurt or killed.
The Meaning Of Rank ∞
Many Martial Arts have a system of ranks that are used to indicate relative levels of proficiency or authority or both. Most often these ranks are denoted by a series of color and black belts however these systems are highly dependent on the art, the school and the instructor. Some arts don't have any belts, some arts have only white and black, some arts have white, brown, and black and some arts have a broad range.
Instructor Versus Mentor; The Distinguishing Bond ∞
Most specialized activities can only be mastered under the tutorage of a teacher or instructor; Martial Arts are no exception. Perhaps because Martial Arts often involve the learning of skills that are beyond the realm of the average human experience, the Martial Arts student - teacher relationship is a very special one however. Good Martial Arts instructors are plentiful but some distinguish themselves by becoming the embodiment of their chosen art in addition to achieving technical excellence. Such instructors live their art and generally take a particular interest in furthering it by instilling their passion in their apprentices. A student fortunate enough to find such a tutor will benefit greatly from the partnership because a true mentor gives knowledge freely, is motivated by the students well being, as opposed to his own, and does not let his status inhibit or overwhelm the relationship .
Pride Versus Vanity; The Unrelated Cousins ∞
A degree of pride is essential in order to motivate a Martial Arts student to perfect technical performance. Conceit and egotism, the cornerstones of vanity, have no place in Martial Arts and will ultimately undermine any "Martial Artist" that endeavors to build an art upon them.
Promotion Versus Progression ∞
In most traditional Martial Arts, advancement through the ranks is governed by a clearly defined set of perquisites for promotion. Typically, requirements include a minimum time component, a level of technical proficiency and the attainment of the mental attitude appropriate for the rank in question. Hence, the belt ranks are quality control indicators or progression sign posts .
Some instructors rapidly promote students without adherence to the predefined criteria under the guise or belief that promotion is an incentive to continued performance. That approach relegates belt rank promotions to the status of being a reward, or extrinsic motivator, rather than being an indicator of proficiency. Those instructors may believe that such a method is effective, however there is a significant and growing body of scientific evidence to the contrary.
The effectiveness of using an extrinsic or external reward, such as a belt rank promotion, as motivation to ensure short or long-term performance has been widely studied by behaviorists. Numerous, studies have shown that extrinsic rewards do not produce changes that are permanent. Deci (1971) found that subjects who voluntarily performed a task during an experiment were more likely to continue working on the task, after the experiment concluded, than were subjects that been paid to perform the same task. A token economy is a system in which money-like tokens are given for correct behaviors. Kazdin and Bootzin (1972) provided one of the first major reviews of token economies proving them to be ineffective at producing permanent behavior changes. Hence, in the Martial Arts context, offering a belt rank promotion as a "token" will not motivate a student to continue striving beyond receipt of the promotion. Perhaps even more noteworthy is that Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett (1973) demonstrated that rewarding children with extrinsic rewards can actually reduce their innate interest in something. In that study a group of children who all had an intrinsic interest in drawing were divided into two groups, one that was paid to draw and another that was asked to draw without remuneration. Subsequently, it was found that the children that had been paid suffered a diminished interest in drawing after the study was concluded. Again within the Martial Arts context, using a belt rank promotion as a reward for performing Martial Arts techniques could ultimately decrease the practitioner’s initial interest level. Finally, if teachers bribe students with extrinsic rewards to do something, then what is that saying about the activity? It is telling them that the activity must not be very important if one has to be coerced into doing it; the activity must not be exciting on its own. Kohn (1993) (p.785) describes this concept as follows; "extrinsic rewards turn learning from an end into a means". For these reasons, belt rank promotions should be presented in recognition of a student’s progress and accomplishment rather than as an incentive or a reward.
Apart from the arguments above, relating to motivation, there may be other detriments to accelerated or undeserved promotion. Children, in particular, who are promoted too quickly are robbed of the special sense of accomplishment that comes from achieving a hard sought after goal. Furthermore, it may delude them into a false impression of their actual skill level making them dangerous to themselves as well as others. Moreover, and again for children in particular, holding a rank beyond ones means or experience level can be physically and psychologically detrimental in the event that the student is pitted against peers such as in an open competition. The trauma of being overwhelmed by lack of experience, as a result of frivolous promotion, is preventable and reprehensible when it is allowed to occur. Finally, many Martial Arts are very demanding physically and undue stresses may be inflicted due to accelerated promotions. Whereas some instructors may use accelerated promotions under the unfortunate misconception that they are motivating a student, some may be less noble and may be doing so for their own monetary or egotistical benefit. In some cases testing fees or senior belt rank numbers become incentives to an instructor for issuing promotions. This is a reprehensible breach of the ethics of most any true Martial Art and it cannot be condoned or rationalized by any credible means.
In addition to the tenents, protocols, principles and philosophies of their respective art, Martial Arts instructors have many compelling reasons to be methodical and cautious when developing or applying belt rank promotion strategies. If the Martial Arts community and its practitioners are to be well served, its instructors must ensure that promotions will only be granted when the necessary progression has occurred. Anything less is naïve, irresponsible or mercenary.
The Value Of Struggle ∞
On May 29, 1953 Mr. Edmund Hillary and a Nepalese Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, became the first two humans to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the highest point on earth. To this day, their achievement is regarded as one of man's notable accomplishments. However, would their effort be held in the same esteem if they had been flown to the summit by helicopter? It is the scale of their struggle that made their accomplishment notable.
Likewise in Martial Arts, it is the scale of the struggle that makes a promotion noteworthy. If a promotion is granted without a corresponding effort or accomplishment, then it is meaningless.
A Black Belt; Easy To Wear But Challenging To Be ∞
To most junior Martial Artists, the Black Belt is the coveted goal. Ironically, most people who attain the rank will attest to the fact that the Black Belt is more of a beginning than a destination. The Black Belt rank is merely a recognition that the practitioner has persevered sufficiently as to become proficient at the basics or foundation of the art in question. It is through the Black Belt rank that the learning truly begins, as it is the rank that gives the practitioner the opportunity to explore the more esoteric aspect of the art now that technical fundamentals have been acquired. In any case, the rank in itself is meaningless if the practitioner does not become an embodiment of its intent. In most Martial Arts the Black Belt rank indicates a dogged determination however it should not be a symbol of fear but rather one that serves to enthuse, motivate and inspire. Having a Black Belt is fairly easy as compared to the humbling challenge of being a Black Belt.
- Deci, Edward (1971). The effect of externally mediated rewards on intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 18, 105-115.
- Kazdin, A. E., & Bootzin, R.R. (1972). The token economy: An evaluative review. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 5, 343-372.
Kohn, A. (1993). Punished By Rewards. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Lepper, M. R., Greene, D., & Nisbett, R. E. (1973). Undermining children's intrinsic interest with extrinsic rewards: A test of the "over justification" hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 129-137.