I get a lot of grief from “traditional” instructors for testing so often in my Dojo. I offer rank advancement testing every two months, like clockwork.
A lot of my colleagues thought it was near heresy. Just a couple of years earlier, I would have agreed. Heck, I used to join them in boasting about how “in my day, training way back when, in Japan” we didn’t have lower rank tests at all; students just trained and trained, until one day they were told to get ready for a big test. We felt that was traditional and “hard-core” not knowing what was coming, etc. Really, we just didn’t know better.
You can imagine, then, that my idea of giving a test every two months seemed pretty extreme. My curriculum is designed around this constant testing schedule. Students know what is expected of them, and can plan on their testing dates long in advance. Not only do I offer testing every two months, but I make them public. Making them public adds to the stress of social evaluation. The incredible value this creates is described in another blog post you can read here (link will open in a new tab).
Really, even that it isn’t often enough.
You need more tests
Testing often (including quizzes) works for better improvement of both memory and physical skills. According to an article by Dr. Roediger, a psychologist in the Memory Lab at Washington University, “students in classes with a regimen of regular low- or no-stakes quizzing carry their learning forward … like compounded interest.” These constant tests lead to a “testing effect” or “retrieval practice effect” that helps students learn faster. You do want to learn faster, right?
Students in classes with a regimen of regular low- or no-stakes quizzing carry their learning forward … like compounded interest …
But the study of classical Japanese Budo isn’t a particularly academic affair. While there is ample reason to have mastery of both the didactic and physical skill learning, most people that I have met come to study martial arts for the physicality; the cultural and language and historical learning is appreciated, but not often the main reason for joining a Dojo.
Luckily, there are studies that show how well physical skills are learned and retained with this very same approach of constant low-impact quizzes, and tests. Both parts of your training have importance beyond the obvious, though.
Academic Value of Budo
The academic study of classical Budo is a unique endeavor, with bonuses for the serious student. There may be personal satisfaction that comes from historical knowledge, but there is even modern application benefit (yes, even for self-defense) that comes from studying the academic aspects of training.
Here’s a common phrase: “I study martial arts.” You’ve certainly heard it, and you’ve probably said it. I know that I use that phrase. Dedicated and serious teachers and trainers are usually quick to point out, “I teach, but I’m also still a student.”
Really? The words “study” and “student” are pretty darn specific, and they’re not typically used in athletic endeavors: you won’t likely hear similar phrases in sports like, “I study hockey” or “I’m a football student.” And that’s fine.
Budo has a significant history, and it’s worthy of your actual study. Knowing what areas and what eras defined the origins and development will give you insight into the movements, weapons, armor styles, and make you a better “student” of your chosen martial arts. This is even more important if you teach, or have the desire to teach in the future.
If you really want to master the study of Budo, then make it into a true study, and learn about the nuances and history. If you’re training with me, I’ll make it easier by giving you assignments and (no surprise if you’ve read this far) I’ll quiz and test you on that knowledge as you follow the path of improvement.
That’s all fine, but does all that historical knowledge really help in self defense? I’m going to argue that this is an easy “Yes” answer.
Knowledge of Law
Have you ever heard of “analysis paralysis” or similar phrases? Usually people talk about how it can take someone so long to make a decision that they don’t act in time. In self-defense contexts, that can be extremely dangerous. And I’ve seen that happen fairly often in the context of knowing the law as it applies to self defense.
If you are faced with the decision of whether or not to act, especially pre-emptively, then you can cut down on your analysis time significantly by having a strong working knowledge of relevant law. If you already know clearly that someone is violating a law, and you also know very clearly what your limitations are, you can move more confidently, without second-guessing yourself and falling into the analysis paralysis problem.
This is an easy one to test, also. There are fairly few laws relevant to this topic, so know them. And I mean really know them. If you’re a security guard, or training for protecting yourself or others you might also want to consider knowing about laws related to “citizens arrest” as well. Can you make an arrest for a misdemeanor where you live? Are there any details to that?
While professional attorneys argue over minute details, you can certainly know the basics with minimal study. And once again, this is an easy one to test or quiz on a regular basis. The laws are already written, and if you can devote minimal time to study, you can probably recite the most important passages, and never hesitate to act when you know you’re well within the law.
Body Language & MicroExpressions
You already know that there are clues and cues in body language. Certain gestures, postures, and even micro-expressions can be clearly noted, known, and deciphered. This kind of detail is accepted in witness testimony in court, and could really save your life before, during, and after an instance requiring you to act in self-defense.
But how do you know you have this knowledge to an acceptable level of proficiency? Yep: you have to test it.
In class, this is automatically incorporated into our Budo, because it is built on emotional effects on movement and expression. But to really know it, you can (and arguably should) take it further. The clearest option is the Dangerous Demeanor Detection course. You can use this online course to study, test, and gain certification for your defined skill level.
Tested and certified confidence is an enormous advantage, compared to telling witnesses (or a judge) that “maybe you kinda might have seen something that sorta looked a little suspicious.” Learn these skills, and test them. They’ll be ready when you need them if you prepare.
Response Beats Action AND Reaction
The deciding factor will be whether or not all this testing and knowledge and skill development will really help when you need it. Clearly, it worked for enough people for long enough that these training methods were recorded for continued use; you wouldn’t be training if it didn’t work for them. So the case for physical training and testing of skills seems pretty well accepted.
Consider the case for book knowledge:
You must have noticed that when stress and emotions are running high, people react and make poor decisions. We’ve all heard that “action beats reaction,” and that’s even more true when the reaction is based on emotions and stress. There is a third choice though: Response.
Response is about knowing the facts and details so well that you don’t feel as much stress and emotional pressure to react. You can give your brain the chance to Respond, on purpose, without the cloud of emotion taking over so immediately.
You can go through a mental checklist very quickly, taking stock of what body language cues you see, how much distance there is, what lawful actions may be taken, and Respond … all before the aggressor even begins his actions.
That’s how a logical, well studied Response can be fastest of all. But, using a mental checklist for your logical mind to sculpt a clear Response is only available if you already have the knowledge needed. If you haven’t kept up with that knowledge, it’ll just be one more point of stress (like it is for most people who don’t study enough), and the emotions will start to take over, and you could get stuck Reacting instead. More detailed background on this can be found in the post about the neurology of stress.
Putting it all together
Testing and quizzing improves your knowledge AND skills. This is called the “retrieval practice effect” and can be useful in your study of classical Budo, and in your self-protection training. If you’re a teacher, then you owe it to your students to consider this powerful method of improving the training for your students. If you’re a student: embrace the idea, and start testing yourself in class, and in your own practice.
If I’ve brought up some difficult or challenging points of view, discuss them here and let’s all learn, study, and Test our knowledge.