Goju-Shorei Systems

Martial Arts for the 21st Century

When I hear the determined statement, “Failure is not an option”, I reply, “Failure is Always an option”. I believe that is true of most endeavors, except when it comes to many martial arts ranking tests I’ve seen.


I have witnessed a ton of grading tests and with few exceptions they are all pro forma; it didn’t matter how badly the student did, they passed. The student knew it, the instructors knew it, and the audience knew it. This has been true at large schools and small, with many people testing or just one.


The belts have all been ordered with the names embroidered. The new certificates have been produced with the names and dates neatly printed. Refreshments have been laid out in preparation for the festivities to follow the handing out of the new belts.


Do the students benefit from this approach to testing? Does the school or system benefit from this rubber stamp testing? I strongly believe the answer is no.


If the students know that doing the minimum will still earn them their promotion then that is exactly what they will produce, the minimum. What is a belt worth if it is earned in this manner? What does it say about the school or system?


What is the gift of failure for the student? A higher respect for the belt they just earned and the school and instructors that graded them. The concept that not passing a test is not defeat but a call to work harder.


What is the gift of failure for the school/system? I’ve had students quit because they didn’t pass a test. Those are the kind of people who would not represent the school or system well. The sooner you find out the better off you are.


I would like to propose a different format. The testing, real testing with a very real possibility of failure, be conducted with just the students and the testing board in attendance - private, closed door, students seeking promotion only, and instructors. For those who passed, a public ceremony at a later date.


Side Note: I know of no one in the Goju-Shorei Weapons System who did not have to retake at least one test on their path to Black Rank.

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Comment by Tami Schipper on May 3, 2012 at 10:22pm

As I was reading this success is not final, failure is not fatal came to mind but then I see someone beat me to it :) I know I had to do one of my browns over.

Comment by Jake Passas on May 3, 2012 at 7:37pm

I agree, success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage and enthusiasm to continue that really counts.  If you settle for "good enough" but quit knowing you haven't put it all out on the line, what do you get out of that? I believe when faced with a test/challenge you get what you put out and how hard you worked to get there. Handing over any symbol of achievement without actually achieving, not striving for perfection, knowing that a lack of preparation will result in failure is what drives me. "Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure" -Confucius 

Comment by Ray A. Fisher on May 2, 2012 at 4:07pm

I agree 100%  -- I remember the 1st time I had to fail a Goju Shorei Weapons student for a public test, I called Soke and told him how badly I felt about it. He replied, Ray, that is why I granted you the right to promote people...because I knew that you would stand up for the intregity of the system. 

And folks, BTW...I too have been unsuccessful twice in my growth. At the yellow/orange level and then again, in brown...I was given the opportunity to show "my metal. " Due to hard work and perservance, and a lot patience from Soke...I continued forward 

Comment by Jason Gould on May 2, 2012 at 6:51am

Excellent observation. For ranks below Black Belt, I test my students before they "graduate" in a public performance. I pull them aside several times over a period of weeks to evaluate them personally. So, the "test" for them is walking across the stage to get their certificate. They still have to perform, but I tend to be forgiving in the live event. In a sense, no one tests at my dojo without having already passed their examination in advance, but perhaps this is something for me to reconsider.

My black Belt tests are pass/fail exams in front of a board and an audience. We don't release the results of the test until several weeks after the test. No one gets promoted at the test.

Thank you!

Comment by Tom Callos on May 2, 2012 at 5:03am

I have, after more than a decade of very hard work, been passed over for 7th dan. It happened, for sure, 2 weeks ago. Why? In the eyes of the people I expect to acknowledge my efforts and growth, I'm not there. So now, fortunately/unfortunately, I have to practice what I've been preaching for xx number of years. Not getting what you want or think you deserve is the real test --and everyone is "good" when things go their way ---but what's on the inside can really come out when you hit a wall. What's on the inside of me, when thinking clearly? The idea that on the grand scale of things, not getting a level of rank is the floating coconut on an ocean of issues that are, genuinely, important. There are a 1000 lessons in this event --and I'm slowly going over them, thankful and appreciative for the opportunity. 

Comment by Rosie Wilson on May 1, 2012 at 5:40pm

"Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor."Truman Capote

Comment by Dave McNeill on May 1, 2012 at 5:34pm

This article from the New York Times was submitted by a dear friend, Steve Puryear.

What If The Secret To Success Is Failure?

Comment by Troy Wilson on May 1, 2012 at 5:00pm

I could not agree more..  Failure is not the inability to obtain a goal or accomplish a task - Rather failure is simply the inability to overcome the bruised ego and battered pride, failure is the inability, the desire to keep on trying.

Failure is a privilege - we often don't realize it at the time – but, for those that have failed and tried again and again, they will understand this.  We learn far more from our failures than we ever do from our successes, about ourselves, about others, about life.  For those that have failed and walked away, they are the poorer because of this; they will sadly never appreciate the richness of failure.

We should never strive for mediocrity, nor should we ever settle for obtaining it - We should always strive for perfection.  Why?  Because we can never reach it, but if we always strive to obtain it, if it’s always within our line of sight, then it will always lift ourselves higher, always allow us to reach further and we will always be better for the experience.

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