Regardless if you’re just starting out on your martial arts journey or are somewhere already along the path, the grading experience can be daunting. Nerves are natural both on the day and even for the build-up to the day. It is keeping nerves in check that is important. Throughout my martial arts journey I cannot honestly recall a grading when I did not have nerves – even the gradings where I assisted rather than actually tested. Yes, you read that right! However, I believe there are certain things you could do to help reduce your nerves or boost your performance when feeling nervous during your grading. This work largely happens away from the mat. In this article, I share with you my top five tips to help you prepare for your next martial arts grading, which are all things that I do personally.
Now, let’s get on with it so you can start working on it!
1. Be fully aware of your syllabus content and keep practising it until you don’t need to actively think about it
Sounds obvious, right? After all, you’re grading to demonstrate your skills to the syllabus in order to progress to the next rank in your martial arts journey. The question is: do you still need to think about it? If you do, then personally, I’d say you’re not ready to test yet…especially if you’re after a deeper meaning for your martial arts journey beyond a new rank, or to properly learn self-defence. Practise to internalise. Nerves on grading day can contribute towards being forgetful, there’s no doubt about that. However, from experience, I find that this is more likely to happen if you still need to think about what to do than automatically know what to do.
2. Revisit past content in order to move forward
Just like a school exam, what you learn from previous exams are carried forward and applied to the test you’re sitting right now. Martial arts gradings are no different. Whilst you may have internalised the syllabus at the time of rank promotion, keep revisiting past content. This is beneficial for three reasons: 1. To refresh your mind so you won’t forget content over time; 2. To understand how to apply what you’ve previously learnt to what you’re learning now; and, 3. To understand how to enhance your current skills as you grow as a practitioner.
From experience assisting many gradings, I’d say this is where a good portion of practitioners fall short. Remember, you may be asked to demonstrate competency on content you’ve learnt before. After all, that’s what your rank symbolises.
3. Invest in your foundations
Break your learning down. Seriously. The syllabus content is, at the end of the day, a compilation of foundation movements: blocks, punches, kicks, and stances. For Soo Bahk Do in particular, there are also hip motions to be aware of. How can you do a movement effectively in a form, hyung, or kata if you don’t understand it in isolation? True, it’s an on-going learning process – so break it down, understand, and apply to your new syllabus requirements whilst enhancing your past content.
4. Learn the terminology
Learning a new language doesn’t come easy to everyone. However, the sooner you start to learn the basic terminology, the better. As you increase in rank, for Soo Bahk Do at least, you’ll become more reliant on your understanding of Korean for gradings. You’d be disappointed if you’ve really practised your syllabus and past content, to then perform the wrong thing because you didn’t understand what was asked. Make an effort to obtain a copy of the basic terminology as soon as possible, if you don’t already. If on the day you can’t recall the terminology, raise your hand and ask for clarification. It is better to admit that you don’t understand something than to try and improvise by copying others.
And last but not least…
5. Train efficiently and take rest days
I cannot stress the importance of this. I’ve seen practitioners on two sides of the spectrum here. At one end, some train for an hour or two a few times a week, and as gradings approach they start to really hammer in half days and full days…literally every day. At the other end, some just attend classes and either hope for the best on the day or think that this is sufficient to pass.
Now, I’m not a qualified fitness professional, but fitness professionals have told me that training is only efficient for the body for a maximum of 90 minutes in any one session. After this time, your performance will drop considerably. Personally, I’d rather train efficiently within this window where my body can perform at its best and maximise the time to push my limits to enhance my skills, rather than trying to plough through a day with little more result but tell myself otherwise. Time is a finite resource and there are other things to get done. Of course, you could train more than once a day though, even by following the maximum 90-minute guideline. The important thing here is rest to allow your muscles enough time to recuperate, which brings me to the next point…
Rest. Rest between training sessions in each day, and take a rest day (or two) each week. When your muscles have time to fully recover, you can push yourself harder at training. Over time, this will best improve your performance compared to someone who constantly trains with stiff and tired muscles.
Want to explore this area more?
Check out The martial arts grading experience: interview with Master Gillian Dean, a practitioner and examiner in the UK Soo Bahk Do Federation!