I had an email from someone asking why I focus on testing/ranking/promotion programs, as opposed to general martial arts home study.
His points were:
- There’s a lot of good instructional material out there, and only a small percentage of it involves instructors doing any kind of certification.
- Why is certification so important? Getting a “black belt” is trivial because there are so many poor quality schools you can walk into, study for a year, go through the motions, and walk out with a cardstock piece of paper with a fancy seal. In the end, having a black belt really doesn’t mean much so why focus on it?
These are good questions. There are a few reasons for the criteria I use.
First, programs designed for distance learning are, well, designed for distance learning. I’ve seen lots of martial arts videos that were more demonstrative than instructive. If the instructor makes a video knowing he’s never going to get any questions about the material, then he can proceed more or less as he pleases. That’s not to say that instructors don’t try to make good videos, but a program that is sequenced to teach you a skill step by step is a different design than one that’s made primarily as a demonstration or focus on a particular area.
DL programs must focus on all aspects of the art, from beginning to end. There are number of video series I’ve seen where the instructor hits maybe 75-80% of the art rather than all of it, because he expects you’re using his material mainly as a supplement.
The point of testing/certification is a reality check. I’ve learned a number of physical skills via video or book. For example, I am an amateur woodworker and while I’m not a master craftsman, I’ve managed to create some furniture, a dollhouse, bookshelves, etc. that look as good as what you might buy in stores.
What’s the difference between that and the martial arts? There’s a reality check. If I make a table and my wife says “wow, that’s ugly – I don’t want it” then I’ll know my skills aren’t very good. On the other hand, if I make something and she says “let’s put that in the living room” then I have validation.
Martial arts are a little trickier because ideally you’ll never have the ultimate validation (a real-world fight) and outside of that, it’s subjective. This is true of local instruction as well as DL. Some arts provide limited real-world validation through sparring, etc., and certainly an Olympic gold medalist in Judo is a better judoka than someone whose judo is poor. But many martial arts do not involve sparring. Having an instructor grade your technique is as close to real-world validation as you can get.
So the reason I focus on certification programs has less to do with finding a way to get a fancy piece of paper and more to do with making sure the instructor’s focus is on DL and that students have a way to validate their learning.
Filed in: Martial Arts DL