Friday, April 15, 2005

Striped or Solid?

My brother just wrote to ask why my boys' belts are striped while my own is solid.

It all has to do with the individual element of martial arts: the goal of performing tasks commensurate with your ability. This is a cool element of Tae Kwon Do (and I think most martial arts). As Andy's Ultimate Tae Kwon Do Information Source says:

There's a lot of differences between an 8-year-old, an 18-year-old, and an 80-year-old black belt. To achieve black belt, you have to perform techniques commensurate with your ability. To say an 8-year-old is too young to achieve black belt is to also say that an 80-year-old 9th degree black belt should be stripped of his belt simply because each may not be able to perform the same feats as an 18-year-old.

There must also be a balance: you can place a 4 year old in a class, but if you expect them to attain black belt traditional-style, then the child will have to wait until they become 16 - a full twelve years, with about 8 of them just waiting to get to black belt.

At Hughes, most children under 16 test for junior belts. They just learn the ITF (International Taekwondo Federation) forms, one set of forms, (as well as sparring, breaking, and Tae Kwon Do etiquette) while adults learn ITF forms and Palgwe forms. That means that at each test, adults usually must do two forms, while children do one.

My guess is that adults are also held to higher expectations in terms of technique as well. It's easier for adults to make the transfer from knowing how to do something to doing it, while this is sometimes hard for kids. They need to look down at their feet to see if they're doing a front stance right, while adults can just be aware that the rear foot needs to be straightened, for example.

Of course, kids surpass us adults in many ways--they can become more flexible faster, they do turns and jumps with spontaneous energy, and they have a life of martial arts ahead of them.

Some kids decide they want to earn a regular black belt after coming up in the junior belt system. One boy did this recently. He had to learn ALL the Palgwe forms for his BB test! He did it.

Although there are rare problems with junior black belts--see the March 30 entry about Johanna at our school--most junior black-belts are a great addition to our school. Going through the belt system teaches a child humility, respect, and self-control, so the higher-ranked children serve as good examples--and even sometimes helpful instructors--to lower ranked people of all ages.

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