Are You Teaching Your Students to Pass a Test or Survive Violence?

Most martial art systems have some form of ranking in place. Whether it’s belts or levels.

In many traditional martial arts you must perform specific katas in precise ways to earn stripes or belts. Most BJJ groups hand out stripes based on attendance, performance in class, results of competitions etc.. Some BJJ gyms actually have a set curriculum you have to pass to earn belts. Most Krav Maga gyms have a level system that involves a test of specific curriculum.

When I began teaching Krav Maga and grading tests, we had a basic grade scale. A 70 meant it was effective but needed work. 75 meant it was pretty good. 80 meant you were real good. 85 meant you were really really good. And anything 90 or above was like “master level”

We would watch a technique and look for effectiveness as well as the little additional points. Were their hands up? Did they turn into the fight? How was their footwork? Did they have a lot of power? Did they recoil quickly? etc etc etc…

About 2 years into grading, I started to realize that for some techniques, it’s impossible to grade… so I began implementing a “pass/fail” for certain techniques… but continued to give grades for others.

Eventually, that thought began to grow and evolve and little by little I implemented the “pass/fail” approach to more techniques.

It wasn’t until about 3 years ago that I really started to realize that, the concept of applying a “grade” to a self defense system is truly ludicrous. And if all we were focused on was grading the techniques… maybe we were teaching our students to pass a test, instead of really teaching them how to adapt and survive violence.

The reality is, everyone will fight differently, and it’s significantly more important to learn the concepts around surviving violence and what works best for them.

At that time we started to change the way we approached classes, the way we wrote lesson plans and the way we watched our students progress.

We became more focused on teaching them to survive violence and less and less concerned on just being able to show us they can do a specific technique to “our standards.”

We believe that it’s important to fully grasp certain concepts and abilities before moving on to others… so we still test, but the tests aren’t what they used to be.

Our tests are centered around whether the students actually understand how and WHY they might need to use these concepts. It became more about their ability to adapt and to truly understand what they are up to. Their ability to survive an attack, instead of prove proficiency in a technique.

We learned… we grew… Isn’t the first time… won’t be the last.

So if you claim the title of “self defense instructor” I challenge you with this… take a look at what you do, how your classes run, how you perform tests…

Are you teaching your students how to pass a test… or how to actually survive violence?

There’s a big difference… and you may start to realize the technical aspects aren’t as important as you once thought they were.

-aaron