In With Learning, Out With Grade Worry

by Alan Kandel

Sensei Domi in his  book: “Baby Boomer Sensei,” in Chapter 5 “Mind, No Mind, I Don’t Mind” lays out quite well “ranking,” by listing the karate gi (uniform) belt colors and describing what these colors mean. As well, Sensei covers belt-color origin, or in other words, how the colors came to be.

In the organization through which I received my karate-do instruction - the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF), there were only three colors of belts: green, brown and black. Four, if you count a white belt.

The belts provide an outward or physical sign of an intangible: progress. This is also true of grades issued to students in terms of measuring academic progress, that is, in the traditional school setting. As an instructor in the college classroom during the 1990s, I would stress to students not to dwell too much on the grade and instead concentrate more on learning the course material - in this case electronics. I shared this information with students because I wanted them to know that if they understood course content and performed satisfactorily on required tests, quizzes and homework, the respective and representative grades would be there - reflecting the knowledge that was gained as a result of the knowledge learned.

As it relates, I believe in a school setting, when the mind is not so preoccupied with worry over what grade (or grades) at some future point will be assigned, the mind is able to become a better receptor and facilitator of knowledge, the same way a dry sponge receives water when immersed in it. My presumption is in the traditional school setting, worry over grades is not so much a manifestation of trying to earn a good or passing score or grade as it is not wanting to receive a failing one. This is just my sense based on experience.

As for failure and all the fuss over it, what’s that all about?

First of all, failure is not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on how the person views such and under what circumstances failure occurs. Remember, failure is a good teacher in that it teaches us (or should teach us) to not make the same mistakes more than once. In this sense, we learn from failure.

As an example regarding experiencing failure of another type, during my junior college days in the early 1970s, for my major, electronics technology, I was required to take a course in calculus. I failed the course on the first try. Was it time to throw in the towel? Hardly. I took the course again and the second time I earned an A. Okay, so maybe it took me two attempts to grasp the material. The point is, eventually I understood it.

The lesson here is even if a karate-do practitioner can’t master a technique or pass a kyu (color belt) or a dan (black belt) examination the first go around, this doesn’t necessarily mean failure. What it tells or should tell the karateka (student), is that the technique or level of attainment is not yet there. With more training and practice, the likelihood that success will be realized is high.

Making the grade comes when learning takes place. On the other hand, worry over grades should be eighty-sixed, that is, relegated to the junk heap.

Copyright Alan Kandel. May 24, 2012.

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