The Importance of Testing

Progress through ranks at Master Martial Arts is neither a race nor a mere matter of time in rank; the student is competing only against himself or herself. Testing provides the opportunity for the student to demonstrate, both to Master Um and to fellow classmates, that he or she has attained a specified level of proficiency. Master observes and coaches to be certain that the student is ready before the test is scheduled.

Master Um has the right to modify testing requirements based on the capabilities of the student. For example, he omitted a board break that he judged hazardous to the health of a black belt candidate who was 7 months pregnant(!). Note: He would have preferred that she wait until after the birth of the child, but she was about to move to Germany for several years, and wanted to complete her black belt before moving.

Color Belt Testing

Testing below black belt level is generally held after class, about once a month. Testing students must wear formal uniforms. (School T-shirts are often worn during classes.) Students who are not testing sit in the back of the practice hall to observe, and to cheer the student's successful board break.

Students are first tested on the required vocabulary for their belt level. Next, they must demonstrate the three kicking combinations defined for their belt level. Then they perform a form (poomsa). They may also be tested in non-contact sparring (kyo-ru-gi). Finally, they must break one or two boards in a specified manner.

After a test is passed, Master usually presents the newly-earned belt to the student at the start of the next class, an event greeted with much applause.

Black Belt Testing

Black belt tests at Master Martial Arts are held only every six months, usually late on a Friday afternoon to allow friends and family to attend. Adults and teens generally test separately from young kids, both because there are fewer and less stringent requirements for kids and because they have trouble sitting still for the longer adult tests. In recent years, Master Um has also separated testing for first degree black belt from higher-level black belt tests, to keep each test under an hour.

First degree black belt tests are comprehensive tests of everything learned up to that point: every vocabulary word, kicking combination, and form. The student must prepare a demonstration of self-defense techniques, and write a two-page report on the science of martial arts. The student must also spar with a number of different partners during the test, demonstrating proper form and legal (from a WTF Taekwondo sense) sparring techniques. Finally, the student must perform several board breaks. Whew!

Second and third degree tests are less arduous. They require demonstration of new black belt forms and one or two previous forms, with expected improved precision. They require sparring, self-defense, and advanced board breaks (or, in the case of third degree, breaking multiple stacked tiles).

There has only been one fourth degree test at Master Martial Arts. Fourth degree is Master level, so the test is, like first degree, a comprehensive exam. It requires proficiency in all of the forms from yellow belt through fifth degree black belt; all of the kicking combinations; extensive self-defense; and multiple board breaks. Master may choose to include only a subset of these requirements during the formal test, but the student must demonstrate all to Master's satisfaction before the formal test.

The black belt has one gold stripe near one end for each degree, and has the student's name (in Korean characters) embroidered on it. The belt is made in Korea, so it takes weeks to arrive. The student also receives a certificate, suitable for framing, from the Korea Taekwondo Association.