Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Pros & Cons for Grading

When grading season arrives, Spring and Fall for Iaido in Canada, you begin to hear talk around the dojo and online from both grading candidates, writing about the stress and excitement, or the organizers, writing about stress and excitement. 

Then the debate begins. Arguments for and against the act of grading, the subjectivity of the judges, or the profiting of the issuing organization are once again brought forth, and results in nobody changing anybody's mind.

Kim Taylor Sensei does a excellent job of listing out the typical Pro and Con arguments that are tossed around every time the subject comes up. I've copied and pasted below.

When I first read the list, I felt myself nodding my head to all the Pros and shaking my head to all the Cons. I like gradings. I liked quizzes, tests, and exams at school. I enjoyed the challenge. I'm part of the system now as a member of the CKF board of directors --- But then, as is my ritual nowadays, having almost completed a Masters in Business Administration (MBA), I flipped my perspective around and tried to see the validity from the other side --- and low-and-behold, it exists.

In fact, Taylor Sensei probably meant to write it in a way such that each argument is just a different side on the same coin. And I agree with that. I would even have swapped some of them in a list, because, as mentioned earlier the very definition of a Pro and Con is subject to the reader's interpretation.

Any choice you make will always have trade-offs, even if it something intangible like comfort/discomfort or like/dislike. As we mature and nature causes our brains to become less flexible to new perspectives, it's important to challenge ourselves to continuously look through other people's PoV. As Martial Artists looking to building a better society, building relationships through understanding and accepting others is the key.

I'll leave you with an anecdote that I've probably posted before:
Two years ago, Hanna and I were having dinner with Hatakenaka Atsumi Sensei (Iaido Kyoshi 8-Dan) and Tsubaki Fumio Sensei (Iaido Kyoshi 7-Dan, Jodo Kyoshi 8-Dan) at an izakaya near Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. We received many lessons over the course of an hour and a half, nothing more so than a statement from H-Sensei, of which I'll paraphrase here: 
"I learned more about being a good Iaidoka from my failures than from my success. I learned more about being a good teacher from my bad teachers than from my good ones."
What's in it for me (Grading IV)
by Kim Taylor (posted on FB 04/01/2015)  
Is anyone still listening? Does anyone care about this stuff? I suspect they do, I just glanced over a blog last night while looking for something else and noticed that the writer was reviewing a seminar. He had some concerns that the teachers had not run everyone through a shiai so that they could give them specific points to work on for their next grading. 
Since those who write tend to be on the more serious side of this stuff, I'm assuming that serious types are serious about grading. 
But I'm a bit bored, so Ill see if I can just list the pros and cons of grading from the point of view of the students. 
1. Self esteem. An unbiased assessment by your teachers is a good way to build a healthy self esteem. Especially if you have a realistic chance of being failed. Even failing a test will increase your self esteem provided you are after the good sort of assessment instead of the "participation ribbons for everyone".
2. Mileposts. Gradings give you the proof you're moving along, that kick in the pants to get out to the dojo and go for the next one will keep you rolling on down the highway.
3. Usefulness. Organizations need rank to keep the system going. Getting a useful rank so that you can sit grading panels is an incentive to grade.
4. Donations. You support the organization by paying for those grades and it's perhaps easier to write a cheque for a rank than it is to write a cheque as charity. I'm sure we can all find charities more worthy than our martial arts buddies.
5. The nail that sticks up. You become one of those if you don't grade, you become confusing if your rank doesn't match your skill level, you get noticed. If you're the rank appropriate to your skill you get to be in the big boy group at the seminar.
6. There's a uniform. Sometimes you get a nice coloured belt or fancy pants to wear. You get to be called Mr. Fancy Pants.
7. It's good for you. Grading is stressful, if you don't stress on your own about passing you can stress about letting your sensei down. This is good stress, over as soon as the grading is over. 
1. It's stressful.
2. There's a uniform and it looks dumb. They call you Mr. Fancy Pants.
3. If you grade you're one of the crowd just chasing paper. If you don't grade you get to come across all New Age and talk about how competition is the problem with the world today and how much you don't care about all this grading nonsense. Forever. As much as you natter on about your gluten intolerance and your cross-training club and hot yoga class where the women just stare at your butt and...
4. It's bloody expensive. I think my last piece of paper cost me $600. Fortunately all I needed was to write an essay and email it. My next grading will probably cost me in excess of $3000 between intercontinental flights, seminar fees, grading fees, certificate fees, registration fees, housing and feeding fees... Who has that kind of cash floating around with two kids in college?
5. Rank is punishment. After you pay all that money to get a grade you might just be expected to fork out even more so that you can go and sit on grading panels and stuff like that. No rank means you don't get asked to volunteer as often, you get to practice and go home.
6. Mileposts for mileage. You start to confuse the two. Unless you're OCD there's no real reason to focus from milepost to milepost, counting them all, catalogueing their characteristics. It's the mileage along the way that you should be enjoying, counting posts can get to be annoying to you and your fellow seatmates on the bus.
7. Self esteem issues. You can get really bummed out about failing a grading and that will just remind you that you're a vain, self-centered, entitled person who craves external validation. And who needs that?
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