Martial Arts ... Tradition ... and Change.

Recently, the national testing for ICAF (International Combat Arts Federation) was held here in Sioux Falls. The judging panel was able to watch a group of excellent martial arts students and instructors test for higher ranks of Black Belts. While watching this I couldn’t help but compare how much our testing’s and the martial arts we practice had changed over the years.
My own personal experience is a very traditional one. As I came up through the ranks testing requirements consisted of doing a form, 1 step sparring for lower ranks, free sparring, and board breaking for higher ranks. While this might not seem like much for a student to prepare, each student needed to have their requirements prepared to a high level and there was very little room for error. A student, or Black Belt, could do very well doing their form and sparring, but if they failed to break their boards it’s likely they would fail their testing. Having judged many testing’s over the years I can tell you that these types of testing’s only give a limited glimpse of the capabilities of a martial arts student. If you compare those requirements to the requirements that we saw at our last national testing such as the addition of self defense, throws, cane self defense, and grappling, we now get a clearer image of the total capability of each person testing. Having an “off” day, for example, in board breaking and breaking on a second or third try will have a far less negative affect on a testing than before because there is now more for the judges to evaluate. Yes, there is far more for everyone to learn and prepare, but I have never heard a student complain that there is too much for them to work on. On the contrary, my students like the additional challenges and are quick to learn their testing requirements.
As martial arts students, Black Belts, and instructors it is very easy to fall into a comfort zone and resist change in our curriculum because we’ve always done things in a certain way. Drastic change was thought to be bad and not traditional. What we have to keep in mind is that growth can only come through change and if we don’t grow as martial artists then we grow stagnant in our technique and attitude. This was my experience for a while and it showed in my lack of motivation in myself and my students. Once I made the determination to change and add to my curriculum I found that my enthusiasm for teaching increased and likewise the enthusiasm of my students did too. I found that I was retaining more students and I was adding new students so my class size increased. In short, this became a “win win” scenario for me and my school. No one can argue with success.
Making changes is often a leap of faith, but a necessary one if we are to continue to grow and develop. The traditions of our martial arts are the heart and soul of what we do and we can never lose sight of them, but we must be open to new things and we must be willing to seek growth for ourselves and for our students. This is best reflected in the motto coined for ICAF “Modern Martial Art, Traditional Values” by Master Pepin. We must never lose sight of where we come from, but we must seek new and better ways for ourselves and our students. We’ve come far and for those that are hesitant to join us on the path I invite you to do so. Change is good and it is in the nature of all things. You won’t regret it!