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JJF 12-17-2013 02:43 PM

Could a child fail a grading?
I've been running a childs class for a year and a half now. It's great fun and every six months we do a test.

We use colored belts for the kids (but not for our adult class) to boost their spirit a bit. We play a lot of games and do simplified versions of some techniques.

So far I have encouraged all students to grade if they have enough trainings behind them in that semester. I tell them what grade they go for. Basically the curriculum is the same for the first 3-4 grades. I look mainly on the individual students progress more than absolute level. Basically I believe that kids should not be able to fail these gradings. It's a chance to celebrate the time spent on the mat and their personal achievements - not a test where we aim at flunking anybody.

It works out okay. But now I have some of my most senior students (1½ years of training) that have lost focus during training. They have hardly progressed during the last 6 months and they are not really acting as good role models for the others). They are not as such bad kids. They behave okay, they just don't really put any effort into their training and they will seem less competent at this grading than some of those going for a lower grade. Age of cause also plays a role here.

I recently read this:

And I agree with most of what he write. I think it is necessary for these kids to have their grading as something they work at, and I would expect them to grow more serious as they go through the gradings. So what to do.. should I keep them back and not allow them to grade? should I let them know that they need to stop slacking? should I flunk them if they don't do well enough?

Right now I am leaning towards just letting them pass and give them feedback on what they do well and suggest a few pointers as to what they should improve.

Any thoughts?


Demetrio Cereijo 12-17-2013 02:55 PM

Re: Could a child fail a grading?

Jørgen Jakob Friis wrote: (Post 333345)
It works out okay. But now I have some of my most senior students (1½ years of training) that have lost focus during training. They have hardly progressed during the last 6 months and they are not really acting as good role models for the others). They are not as such bad kids. They behave okay, they just don't really put any effort into their training and they will seem less competent at this grading than some of those going for a lower grade. Age of cause also plays a role here.

How old are they?

dreamborn 12-17-2013 02:56 PM

Re: Could a child fail a grading?
Just my 2 cents.

Our sensei only recommends that people test (Dan or Kyu) when they are ready to test. Using this philosophy it is extremely rare for anyone to fail, as they wouldn't be testing unless they are ready. In our dojo putting in the number of days of practice is a necessary but not sufficient criteria to test. Furthermore we don't have colored belts for kids. I have a daughter who started at 10.5 years of age. She just turned 14 and about to test for 3rd kyu. She understands this and has never had a problem with this, in fact I think she is proud to be treated just like the adults.


jonreading 12-17-2013 03:49 PM

Re: Could a child fail a grading?
There is a marketing axiom that states if you price a product, you are also stating the value of the product. From this logic, something that has no price has no value.

I think a real issue we face with ranking is that we work hard to downplay its importance. Then we scratch our heads when fewer students "care" about ranking. Why should they? We set the price very low, we should expect the new generation students value ranking very low.

That said, I advocate:
1. There is importance to ranking and testing is part of the rank process. Develop a spectrum of responsibilities and prestige that accompanies rank. Put a price tag on it and give it a value.
2. Differentiate the pre-requisites of ascending in rank with the test itself. Time on the mat, dues, seminars. All of these things should be required before consideration for rank.
3. Test to discomfort. Candidates should be able to show a positive experience that demonstrates their competency. That competency should be challenged beyond comfort.

#2 is about setting expectations with the candidates. Yes, I believe if someone is slacking, the conversation goes something like, "Gee Billy, you have the mat time and I know that you meet the requirements to test. But, I notice that you're not focusing in class. This is important because if you lose focus on the mat, you could injure someone or be injured yourself. I don't feel comfortable yet testing you for your next belt. So I'll make a deal with you; show me some focus and concentration this month. I want to see improvement in this area. Show me this is important to you and you're willing to step up and we'll talk again about your test opportunity."

I am not a big fan of testing with failure. Failure should only happen if the candidate breaks down (illness, injury, insecurity, incompetence). If there is question about the expectation of performance, I would chalk that up as "not yet ready". I personally most enjoy the tests where the candidate looks good, gets frustrated, recovers and the uke panel looks excited for the candidate. They were the ones who touched the candidate and can feel the "vibe". I do not like the train wreck where everyone simply waits for it to be over.

Janet Rosen 12-17-2013 05:59 PM

Re: Could a child fail a grading?
If they are not ready to do the work to show a good grading, they should not be invited to grade. At any age. But they should be shown ahead of time exactly what it is that is expected before they can advance - specific techniques or how to act with newbies or whatever - to tell a child "set a better example" for instance is meaningless; you would have to spell out what behavior does that.....

Brian Gillaspie 12-17-2013 06:56 PM

Re: Could a child fail a grading?
I haven't had a kid's program for a while but I don't recall failing a child. Although I remember a couple who went a very long time without testing because I knew they would fail. Some kids will stick around if they have to wait a long time to test but some won't. It may not be the best for marketing but I believe a belt should be earned.

Now adults are a different story. I've seen many not pass tests.

lbb 12-17-2013 08:45 PM

Re: Could a child fail a grading?
I think it all derives from what you want your children's program to accomplish.

philipsmith 12-18-2013 02:41 AM

Re: Could a child fail a grading?
I have been teaching kids for many years and have learnt that actually "failure" isn't an issue for the vast majority. They understand the need to meet the required standard and as said earlier gives it value.

Can be different for the parents though.

jurasketu 12-18-2013 04:39 PM

Re: Could a child fail a grading?
In our dojo, we only allow children to test that we are going to pass. [Our children's program is ages 5 to 12]. The "test" is just an affirmation of age-adjusted demonstrated skills and etiquette that we know the student to have already demonstrated in training. If they are not ready from observation, they are not allowed to test. Some kids take it as a "failure" if they are deemed not ready. We don't believe in humiliating a child by allowing them to FAIL a belt test. This, of course, causes us to cringe and pass or at worst "probationly pass" a child who really should have "failed" sometimes.

This is an edited excerpt of an email I sent to the parents of our after school program...

"Aikido belt testing can be fun, stressful and challenging where students are able to show what they have learned in front of parents, instructors and fellow students. Some students will shine, many will just muddle through and others will surprise. Aikido training and practice is a highly individual process and is not intended to be competitive. Students can gain widely different things from participation in training and so belt testing is simply one measure of progress. The benefits of training include improved coordination, mindfulness, confidence, awareness of others and the ability to work in pairs and groups with others of all abilities and skill. Aikido training and practice is always tailored to the existing abilities and skill of the students present in class regardless of their current ranking. Advanced and basic concepts are taught simultaneously to allow all students to be challenged and improve."

"The test requirements for the ...[lower belts]... are not intended to be particularly difficult and being that these are relatively young children, the testing committee obviously doesn't hold these students to an unreasonable standard of performance. Aikido, however, does require a minimum standard of etiquette (behavior) adjusted for the student's age, personality and temperament. Students who continually have not met the minimum standard of etiquette will not be allowed to test. Please keep in mind that the... [higher belts]... do require a higher standard of technique performance and etiquette and so students that [instructors do not] feel will be able to meet the minimum standards will be required to wait until the next testing period. This is not meant as punishment nor an indication that the student cannot improve. Students are expected to learn at their pace and can achieve rank as they merit. Undeserved ranking is counterproductive to the learning process and environment."

jurasketu 12-18-2013 04:50 PM

Re: Could a child fail a grading?
I personally spend a lot of time on ukemi, getting offline and taisabaki. Most techniques are useless to a child. But getting out of the way, rolling and breaking out of grips is valuable stuff.

Andrew S 12-19-2013 02:12 PM

Re: Could a child fail a grading?
My dojo's kids classes have grades that start (I think) at 14th kyu, and they get to wear coloured belts. They are "kids" up to the time they finish primary school - after that, they can join the adult classes as a white-belted 8th kyu.
I'm not a fan of kids failing, but neither am I a fan of an automatic pass. Setting criteria ("You can't take your next grading until you can do XXX better" or "until you show more YYY") help alleviate some of these issues.

odudog 12-19-2013 05:54 PM

Re: Could a child fail a grading?
It's not aikido, but my son's tae kwon do instructor fails the kids. He is strict on them which I like and doesn't allow crying. "If you want to cry, do that at home, not here". "If you continue to cry, I'll give you push up".

Krystal Locke 12-22-2013 03:14 PM

Re: Could a child fail a grading?
Yes. We just had two kid students fail their tests at the same time because they were not listening to sensei. Both kids relatively high ranking, both pretty skilled. They deserved the crap out of failing.

On the other hand, another guy in that kids class going from yellow belt to orange did one of the best aikido tests I've seen of ANY rank. He had come into aikido last year with poor attention and a lot of self-directed anger. We worried about him and still wonder a bit about his home life, not abuse per se, but some pretty harsh expectations.

He got called up, knee walked to the right spot, bowed to shomen, sensei panel, and to the class. Nobody had to tell him any of that, unlike every other kid I've seen test. Stood up, did exactly what was asked of him, even if he didn't do it perfectly. He did it, finished following directions, and at one point asked if he could try again to do a better roll. He did his few techniques with his partner without asking for or even needing guidance. He felt bad for looking at sensei when he asked sensei to repeat something he didn't hear, and he said that he was only looking at sensei to hear him better. He answered the quiz questions while sitting very neatly and very attentively in seiza. He beamed confidence and capability, and he seemed actually happy being tested.
Even though I am not involved in that class, I watched the tests closely, since I knew that sensei has been trying to get more aikido out of the kids. This guy's test gave me a little tear, and as he was leaving the dojo, I shook his hand, bowed to him, and told him that he did a really great job. Josh totally deserves his new orange belt. Looking forward to watching his next test.

But yeah, folks, kid or not, can fail a test in our dojo. Makes the passing sweeter.

Eva Antonia 12-23-2013 08:11 AM

Re: Could a child fail a grading?

our dojo stopped child classes this year; we were not very good at it, then fusioned with another dojo that has already its own child classes.

Anyway, the grading system was fine, I think. Children were invited to test more or less once per year, and if they did not perform well, they didn't get a new belt, but a coloured stripe of the next colour to be sewn on their actual belt. So they partly graded and were better ranked than before, albeit not as well as aspired.

Children are less patient and need more frequently to be tested to have the impression that they advance. My daughters are doing aikido since 4 years (with 1 year of interruption) and still are 5th kyu (now in another dojo). They don't really mind, but this is an exception, I think. Most children would leave for another sport if they seemingly don't advance.

I don't think children react so differently from adults. If a child fails a rank test, it is devastated. If an adult fails, he is, too. If the child or adult isn't invited to test for years, that's devastating, too. Rank doesn't matter as such, but the feeling not to advance and to remain incompetent, does.

I wish a merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, and a happy New Year to everyone!


Adam Huss 12-23-2013 10:44 PM

Re: Could a child fail a grading?
This is a GREAT and difficult topic. There can be a ton of drama when it comes to promotions in the kids classes, as far as parents and dojo atmosphere are concerned. If a kid is showing lack of effort, enthusiasm, or proficiency it can send a wrong message to the rest of the kids its okay to slack off. Especially if you have kids classes getting black belts.

Of course, 'kids' is a wide variable. In our youngest classes, we are just trying to teach manners and discipline…and base evaluation off that, and effort. Promotions are often talked about with parents as the little kids have to be doing their homework and behaving at school. So any kind of lack of promotion is talked about with parents. A good rule of thumb is to delay awarding of rank. This teaches kids (and adults) to push aside their feelings toward their testing effort, patience, and allows for any deficiencies the kids have to be corrected over the next week (the last part obviously being handled in private).

JJF 01-13-2014 06:20 AM

Re: Could a child fail a grading?
Thank you all for great advice and comments. It gave me a lot to think about. Also one of my senior students who is helping teach the childrens class came up with some ideas that I and the co-founder of our dojo have been discussing.

In the end it boils down to the fact that we don't really want to fail children. So we have decided to be more selective when it comes to asking them to grade. We are putting this together as we go, since it is our first childrens program in the dojo, and the rules will have to change with the obstacles as we meet them.

So. From now on:
We start them out with 12th kyu after half a year.
For the first three grades (one pr. semester) all who meet the criteria of having enough mat time will be asked to grade
They will most likely pass

Purpose: to give them the first experience of success to celebrate that they have achieved something. If nothing else - then just that they have been sticking with it.

After the first two or three gradings. We will require that they put some serious effort into the technical part of their training. They will be at least 11 years old and should be able to understand that nothing comes from nothing.
Still the grading will be based on an individual evaluation so that those with less talent will get their grade based on time spent, dedication and individual improvement.
We will have them do one or two evaluation gradings during the semester where they can prepare a short portion of what they would like to show at their next grading, and they will receive feedback as to what we would expect them to do better. If the technical level (and seriousness) is just not up to par - the we will not ask them to grade. They will probably ask why not and then we will have to repeat what we told them at the evaluations.
This I think I will carry on until they reach a level where they are aspiring to go to the adult classes. We are thinking this should be from around 14, but I'm not sure yet.
At that point we will have to start judging them on their technical level to some extend. The same way we would the adult students. Still taking individual things like talent and personal situations into account, but with a somewhat higher expectation.

Hope this will do the trick. We might loose some along the way - or they may learn something important about them selves. Time will show.

Thank's again for all the input. It has been invaluable.


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