To grade or not to grade?

I thought I'd write a blog about grading because I recently got an email from a lady who was worried that if she joined the club she'd be pressured into gradings on a regular basis. Apparently at her past club if you didn't take part in gradings you were treated a bit differently and she eventually left because she felt there was to much pressure to participate in them.

It made me think about the recent grading that we ran at FKMDorset for our younger members. It was a great day, I am hugely pro gradings, so I wanted to explain that and address any issues that people may have about how we run things at the club. 

Young or youngish - you will never be forced to grade.

Before I start with the reasons why my personal bias is that grading is good, let's just make it clear. No one, be they a child or an adult training with Focus will ever be put under pressure to grade. End of. I really cannot make it clearer than that. If you don't want to grade, you don't have to. Same for your child if they are members. 


So now I've made that clear, why do I think it's a good idea for everyone to have at least one grading experience? Quite simply because they're not easy. The grading we had at Poole High School in March was 18 children aged 6 - 13 years. It was 2 hours of physical and psychological "testing" for them. It was great for me to see as an instructor how some of them coped under pressure. Not all of them found it difficult, and obviously, my job is not to freak them out, but I've noted who found it a breeze and who struggled a little bit at times. This helps me decide who I need to push a little harder in class and who will need a bit more time. 


Before the grading even began I noticed those children who were focussed, ready, calm. I made a note of those who'd already given me their excuses about why they may or may not be at the top of their game, (leg aches, tired, tummy ache) and I watched for those who were nervous but working to take control of their emotions. This is absolute gold. This tells me way more about them than whether or not they do a perfect release from a choke from the rear. They all know me pretty well and I'm not a particularly serious terrifying old school disciplinarian. It's not my style. However, I did explain if they didn't work hard to do their best I wouldn't automatically give them their patches. Thank goodness we're moving away from the days of participation medals and turning back to giving children and adults the appropriate reward for hard work. Bottom line, what do you value most? Is it the things you work hard for or the stuff that comes for free? I'd wager the former. So they all understood they were there to push themselves and that isn't a comfortable place to be. Seeing who did what and when enables me to be a better instructor for them at a later date. Thankfully we're all different and at FKDorset we embrace and celebrate this.

Adult gradings.

When I first started krav maga I had zero interest in grading. My instructor was cool with that so I just went along to training and had a blast. Then it got to grading season and my buddies who'd signed up at the same time as me went off and got their P1 (first adult level). They came back to class with a smile, a little more puffed up and they had their patches. I'm not going to lie I was a bit miffed. I wanted in on that. So I booked my grading for the following weekend and rocked up on my own and feeling a bit terrified. As it happened I needn't have worried I got my P1 and I realised it was the first time since leaving University that I'd had any type of "testing". It felt good to challenge myself and since then I've enjoyed gradings but I won't lie I also feel nervous about them. For me, that is the best feeling, and that is also where you learn a lot about yourself. This is what I want my members to experience too. 

What do you do in a grading?

In KMG our gradings follow a similar line to this. Warm Up, then the technical testing phase, where you show your striking ability and your technical skill according to your level. Then you would have a determination drill or some sort of pressure testing. For adults 4 on 1 attacker drills for example. After that if relevant sparring. Then finally a fitness test. For the children it differs slightly and obviously sparring wouldn't happen unless they had experience of it. The higher your grade the longer the grading. I'm already thinking of increasing the next one for my kids to 3 hours. My own initial grading was 3-4 hours, my last was 8. In a world of constant distractions just remaining focused for that length of time is a herculean feat! 

Let's get real though.

So that's why I think grading is important, in short, you experience a challenge and you have a simple way to measure progress. However, I'm also aware that gradings don't measure some things that matter when confronting real-life violence. Naturally, this is what is so difficult about teaching self-defence. We can create as much pressure testing and scenario training as we like, but you don't know for sure you'll react until that moment comes. I've trained with people who have never ever graded, they just train for the love of it. Some exude a certain aura and I am pretty confident they will be able to handle themselves. Then I met a black belt who had been brutally attacked and injured because they froze at a critical moment. I do not believe there is any correlation between what grade you are and how much of a badass you are. 

Eyal's humility.

I've had enough grading experiences with Eyal to know what his pre-grading pep talks are about. He's a good man to be around at this time of high energy and nerves because he's probably the most zen human being I've ever met. He's so calm and centred. He will always say "If you pass, good. If you fail, good". Both are feedback for where you were at on this one specific day. Your results are the subjective opinion of the examiner who was testing you. You leave the same person you were, so if you were a good husband and father you still will be. Nothing has changed. You are not your grade. Don't let your ego get out of control. This is what I explained to my mini krav crew last month before we started our grading.  


I also made it very clear though, they should recognise their effort and celebrate. They could have been at home watching some awful garbage on tv and learning nothing. Instead, they chose to push themselves out of their comfort zone and put in some solid effort at getting better at krav maga. To learn about themselves. That deserves some recognition, and that is why it feels so sweet to get your patch.

Excellent humans.

At Focus we don't like to feed to our ego, we strive to remain humble and curious and we want to grow as humans. We aren't building potential experts in krav maga, we want excellent humans. So why not come along to one of our classes? You already know you don't have to grade if you don't want to! 


The calm before the storm. Huge thanks to Darren and Kayleigh for ensuring everyone left safe and sound. With 18 little people training you need all hands on deck! 

The calm before the storm. Huge thanks to Darren and Kayleigh for ensuring everyone left safe and sound. With 18 little people training you need all hands on deck!