I recently graded for my light blue belt in Shorinji Kan Jiu-jitsu and I’m happy to report that I passed and am feeling altogether smurfy in my new belt. As I go up the ranks in Shorinji Kan, I’m reminded of how the nature of training and grading preparation changes the higher you get. All too often students get into the higher belt ranks in their style without being fully aware of the shifts in responsibility so it’s important to understand what this entails.
The Shift in Responsibility
When you’re in the citrus coloured belt levels, your instructor more or less takes care of you. You put complete trust in them to make sure you know what you’re supposed to know for your level so that when you’re put up for your next grading, you’re aware of what is expected of you. But when you get up to the upper intermediate and senior level Kyu ranks, the responsibility shifts. Sensei is often more focused on the lower ranks’ development and you start to play a role in their development too, running warm-ups, teaching breakfalls, sometimes even teaching techniques. As a result, you don’t always necessarily get to train some of the higher level techniques that you’re expected to learn at your belt level.
Taking an Active Approach in Your Learning
If you find this happening to you, as a more senior Kyu rank, realize that you should start to take more active measures to ensure your learning. You shouldn’t feel shy to ask your instructor about techniques on your curriculum you haven’t seen yet, so long as you do so appropriately and respectfully. If it’s not practical to work on them during class due to a lack of qualified ukes, lack of space, etc, try to arrange time before or after class to work on them. Your instructor will likely appreciate your enthusiasm to learn and that you’re taking responsibility. Keeping a training journal is also very helpful as writing notes in your own words can help solidify your learning and give you a point of reference if you don’t come back to a technique until a much later date. Beyond this, there are many fine videos online that can help you understand the mechanics of various techniques. You may not be able to learn their intricacies from a video, but at least you can gain some understanding of them so that when you do get to train them in class you’re more familiar and will be able to ask educated questions.
The Importance of Visualization Training
When getting ready for a belt test, you may not have time to work on everything you want to work on in class. This is where visualization training comes in. You can do an unlimited amount of training in your mind’s eye as long as you have the time to think and focus on it. You can do this when taking transit, waiting in lines, during lunch breaks, etc. You don’t even need an uke. You just need to be able to imagine the technique in question. If you can’t conjure it up in your mind’s eye, make it a priority to train the technique physically at the dojo. Visualization training is widely used in sports psychology and research has found that both physical and psychological reactions in certain situations can be improved with visualization. I spent many hours doing visualization training leading up to my light blue belt test and it paid off.
Honing in on Your Weaknesses
Everyone has areas of weakness in their training. It can be easy to push them to the back of your mind because it’s more fun to train things that you’re good at. As you go up the ranks, these weaknesses start to become more pronounced and they’ll likely get targeted on gradings if you don’t do enough to improve on them. Take a good hard look at what your weaknesses are and embrace training those skills. You might start by thinking about what parts of your last grading were the weakest. Once you’ve identified your problem areas, ask yourself why you dislike a technique so much and/or what makes it so tough for you. Ask your Sensei for advice that will help you overcome your difficulties. Sometimes instructors don’t realize what specifically is giving you such a hard time and specific questions can help them identify strategies that will help you improve.
Now to you: In what ways do you take responsibility for your own learning? Please share your thoughts in the comments.