The Top 3 Things That Slow Belt Rank Progress

Exercising & learning to work together!

Exercising & learning to work together!

You all know that here at NWSMA, we don’t hand out belts. Students EARN them, through a combination of hard work, and demonstrations of skill and character. We try to keep our standards high while also accounting for individual personalities and varying ability levels.

So what slows students down? What affects their progress from one rank to the next? Here are my top 3–click “more” for and explanation and ideas on what parents and instructors can do to help!!

  1. Inconsistent Attendance
  2. Self-Motivation & Perseverance Skills
  3. Age-Related Motor Skills

All ages class stands in ready stance, waiting for the next instruction.

All ages class stands in ready stance, waiting for the next instruction.

1. Inconsistent attendance is probably the #1 thing that affects students’ progress through belt ranks. I hate to say it because I know we’re not all in control of our schedules (especially working parents–we get it!!). The plain fact of the matter is, coming to class once a week is just not enough.

Think about this: A student who attends one hour per week will have 52 contact hours with the material in a year–and a whole week to forget things in between classes!

A student who comes 3 hours per week gets 156 contact hours–three times as much practice, repetition, and embedding skill in memory! That makes a HUGE difference in their ability to progress!!!!

Parents can:

  • Set an attendance rule with your kids, for example, “We go to karate 2 days a week.” You could let them choose which days to go, or choose what fits in your schedule.
  • If you miss a class, “make up” by going to an extra class the week before or after.
  • If your schedule changes because of school sports or whatnot, talk to us to see if we can accommodate your student in another class.

Instructors, frankly, there’s not a lot you can control about attendance. One of the best things you can do is make the kids feel important, visible, and cared about each time they come to class.

  • I greet each one individually and let them know I’m glad they’re there.
  • I always try to end class on a fun or positive note.
  • I teach the kids to say, “Maybe next time,” when things don’t go their way. “Maybe I’ll get a stripe next time,” can be all that’s needed to make them excited to return next time.

Consistent, frequent attendance is one of the best ways to get to the next belt rank.

Practicing together

2. Self-motivation and perseverance ARE SKILLS THAT CAN BE TAUGHT, and are a huge deciding factor in progress. A student who is gung-ho, ready to go, and throws themselves at practice engages with the material differently than a student who is reluctant to participate.

For every student, a day will come when their natural abilities are no longer enough to get them through belt ranks. At that time, they will either learn to enjoy working hard because they are helped to see the benefit of hard work–or they will decide they aren’t good enough, are bored, and will want to quit.

Parents, you can:

  • Help your kids employ strategies for self-motivation. “Maybe next time,” is a great one. So is reminding them of how good they feel after class or how much fun they had last time.
  • Tell your kids stories about when you wanted something and had to work for it.
  • Help your kids practice hard work by having them do chores to earn something they really want.
  • If your student really wants to quit, our advice is don’t just give in and let them. Have them set a goal, like “Get to purple belt, and then re-think it.” Stick to it. If they still want to quit, at least they have ended after achieving a goal they set for themselves.

Instructors, you can:

  • Set an example by working as hard as your students. It’s inspiring to watch others work hard, so make it a common atmosphere in the school.
  • Praise students for their hard work, effort, and ability to stick with it. Don’t be afraid to make them re-do a move, and help them focus on a way to improve it.
  • Note when students have made visible improvement after working hard.
  • Have students earn a game at the end of class by working hard and focusing.
  • Prompt students to set goals and remind them of those goals often. Set a daily goal for the class. Set long-term goals together–talk about dreams and visions for the future. Goals can be displayed on the walls, in progress notebooks, or with other visual devices. You can also set goals for them, such as, “I’d like you to someday be a Sempai and help teach class.”

Ultimately, the most powerful motivation comes from within. But we adults have to help the kids find it in themselves. :)

Stretching during announcements.

Stretching during announcements.

3. Age-related motor skills is my number 3  item that affects belt rank progress. We all recognize that different age groups have different levels of motor skills. We see this in handwriting, as well as in athletic ability.

Parents who are coaching their children through the martial arts journey can help by:

  • Encourage your kids to stick with it. Many motor skills take time to develop, and you can help coach their children to stick with it and keep trying.
  • Encourage your kids to practice at home. More contact time with skills is helpful for both memory and athleticism.
  • Encourage your children to participate in other sports, which will also help develop a variety of athletic skills.
  • Watch class and listen to the constructive advice your children are given, so you can repeat that advice later on at home. This will also help you understand the reasons for us being picky about stances & body alignment–it’s usually to prevent acute or repetitive stress injury!

Instructors, if you want to have quality black belts, you have to help your students develop motor skills. A HUGE portion of this is time and repetition. As an instructor, you can:

  • Include a wide variety of physical activities to work different areas of the body. This will help your students avoid imbalances later on.
  • Teach exercises at a gradient. A great example is pushups. Have your kids start with wall pushups, then pushups with the hands on a bench, then from their knees, and then full pushups. By gradually increasing the difficulty, your students will have better alignment and understanding of the exercise.
  • Encourage your students through repetition, and notice/praise when a student makes an improvement. I have a student now whose roundhouse kick is (still) bad–but it is much less bad than when he first learned it and that is why he was able to test up. He will continue to make it better before next test. Recognize what “improvement” means for each individual kid.
  • Set small goals, such as “keep your eyes on your target while roundhouse kicking.” Once that becomes natural, move on to another goal like, “keep your elbows in without flailing while roundhouse kicking.” This will keep you from overwhelming kids.

These are my personal top 3, but feel free to comment and add anything else you think slows students down in their quest for a black belt!

Newest yellow belt!

Newest yellow belt!

About Sensei/YDN Caitlin

Sensei Yudanjanim Caitlin is a 2nd degree black belt, senior instructor, administrative assistant, and student of Tae Kwon Do, Karate, and Arnis at Northwest School of Martial Arts.
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