Re: To Test, or not to Test
I have been in both kinds of test environments, the one where the test requirements and times are extremely clear and the one where it is a complete mystery when you will be asked to test.
I can see the merits of each, but I far prefer the "open" style where there is no hidden criteria for who tests when. If you practice a lot and get the minimum hours, you can generally test.
I think it is important with this system that people can fail the tests, which is not always the case. Interestingly, in the organization I was in that had the "closed" criteria (you will be asked to test someday), nobody ever fails. In the one with the "open" criteria (test when you have the required hours) failure is an ever-present reality.
Also, in the "open" system, Sensei is usually testing his own students, so if they fail he doesn't look bad in front of his own teacher. In the "closed" system, students are tested by a shihan with whom they don't train regularly and who may not know them, so a poor performance reflects poorly on their sensei. I think this contributes to long wait times between tests in that system.
I think that they both serve the same purpose in the end, but I agree that they feel very different. These are only my direct observations -- I'm sure there are all kinds of variations out there.