The Pressure Is On.....

I've been brooding on this blog topic for quite a while. Only now have I organized my thoughts enough to express what I've been thinking -- and still I don't think I have everything down that I want to say.

Today's topic is pressure. Specifically, pressure on the martial arts student.

For some reason, when I went to flesh out this post on paper, it came out in second person rather than third person, so don't get thrown off by my transitions.

The lower ranks have it easy when it comes to pressure. Their kind of pressure usually comes in the form of being new / wanting to do well (and not make a fool of themselves). At the beginning levels, you're expected to watch, listen, absorb, and do. There's absolutely no teaching responsibility. You're concentrating on learning and practicing only.

As you leave the white belt stage, teaching those of a lower rank is slowly added to your plate.

But when you reach brown belt, you become an Assistant Instructor. With the rank comes a boatload of responsibility. Teaching is a major component of your training, and you do it a lot. Your instructors may ask you to lead all or part of a class. When the black belts demonstrate something for the group, you are expected to be able to pick up on the mechanical side of what is going on (how things work and why), and be ready to answer questions about these things at the drop of a hat.

You have to not only teach brand new concepts to others, but be able to engage intermediate and advanced belts and help them refine old concepts, helping them to grow as a student.

You are expected to have a fairly developed working knowledge of Self Defense -- able to improvise and adapt to the situation as needed.

Your sparring skills need to be advanced enough so that you're a step above the intermediate ranks. You must have control, being able to adjust your sparring level so that you challenge the lower ranks, but not beat them into a bloody pulp. When you spar higher ranks (red and black belts), you need to at least be able to hold your own, even if you are outclassed.

You must constantly look at your basics and refine them.

You must in many ways be your own teacher.

Questions will be directed to you in the form of "Why?" "How" and "This works/does not work because...?"

More and more is expected of you. There's not even an inch of room to slack.

All in all, it's extremely overwhelming. I know that I wear a brown belt. I know that I earned my brown belt, or else my instructors would not have awarded me the rank. By all means, I am a brown belt. But the thing is, I don't feel like one.

Let me rephrase that. I don't feel like a proper brown belt yet. I'm a good deal uncomfortable with where I'm at, taking into consideration all the standards I just listed.

It's been three, almost four months since I've tested. Within the first couple classes as a brown belt, I could tell that things just got a lot harder. It was that big of a transition. I'm still adjusting, I think.

In class, we're always told to give 110%, just like we would if we're being tested. Attitude and effort are key in this. The reason I say this is because we're always supposed to give that 110% because we as students are constantly being evaluated.

When my instructors call on me to demonstrate a form, a kick, a Self Defense technique, or whatever else they want to see, I better be at the top of my game. I know I am always being evaluated. That's a given. But speaking from experience, now it feels like I'm being watched and evaluated even more closely than before. I stand out from the pack. This is nerve-wracking, and it also puts a lot of pressure on me to do well. Pressure is a good thing for me. It keeps me working hard, but it can be overwhelming at times.

Expectations are at an all time high and will get higher from now on. The pressure is officially on.


Michele said...

I was interested to read your post. There are a few brown belts in our dojo that may feel some of the same pressure. Thank you for sharing.

I did not feel the pressure until Shodan. When I was a brown belt, I did not have to teach and my focus was on preparing for Shodan.

Felicia said...

Ooooo - pressure! I felt it at brown belt, too - like the minute after the belt was tied. Not so much from the teaching end of it, but definitely from the constant evaluation aspect. It did seem like you were expected to grasp concepts, movements and explanations that much quicker - and that feeling steadily increased through 1st kyu.

But like Michele, I also feel it at shodan. Where teaching techniques for part of a class or even a whole class used to mean drills or kata, at shodan, it became theory and detailed bunkai. Even though you know that you know it, it's hard to get over the idea that you might teach it "wrong" somehow...

Great post! Thanks for sharing it - and don't worry, being uncomfortable is par for the course :-) You've risen to the challenge again and again - and this time will be no different...

SueC said...

Wow! sounds like you're under much more pressure than me at brown belt. None of our brown belts are expected to teach. However, if they turn up early for class and the junior class is still running they may get roped in to help with kata or sparring. I actually volunteered to help with teaching in the junior class as I like to do it but it wasn't expected.

I think sensei feels we have enough to learn ourselves without the pressure of teaching on a regular basis. However, once you become shodan.....

Ariel said...

Michele -- You're welcome. I think the reason that I'm having to do a lot of teaching is to prepare me for my black belt. Because a black belt must not only be able to do the physical side of their art, but they must also be a teacher.

Felicia -- It's nice to know that I'm not the only one to 'feel the pressure' at brown belt. Thanks for the encouraging words!

Sue -- A lot of responsibility is given to the brown belts in our class. The focus of really learning how to be a teacher is stressed at the 'Assistant Instructor' level. But I think that all this teaching is good for me. It forces me to look at myself/my technique more closely -- and makes me ask myself, "I'm showing them this, but am I doing this the best way possible?"