Impressions of Soo Bahk Do Dan Testing

This article is about my impressions of Dan testings, starting with the first one I attended as an observer. As I attend other Dan testings I'll add to this article. It should be interesting to see if and how my views change. I admit that regardless of how cynical I may normally be, I attended my first Dan testing with a bit of idealism, and probably some naiveté. So this may prove to be a rather interesting character study.

My First Dan Testing, 04 May 2005

I've re-written the last section of this article, titled "Thoughts on First Dan Testing". In re-reading it I realized I have violated one of my ground rules. Articles like this one are opinion pieces, which deal with facts and my opinions regarding those facts. Anything relating to my personal feelings belongs in my journal, not here. This is a grey area, but I decided that original section really belonged in my journal. So "Thoughts on First Dan Testing" has been re-written, and my original section is now in my journal under 04 May 2005.

I attended my first Dan testing with the Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation. Nope -- I wasn't testing -- I'm a LONG way from that. I was simply there as an observer.

Master Bannard spoke of the testing months ago, suggesting that everyone who could should attend. I decided then that I'd like to attend, both to get a view of the Dan testing prior to doing it myself, and because Kwan Jang Nim (Grandmaster) H. C. Hwang was going to be there.

Originally the entire family was going. Unfortunately the date of the testing conflicted with Eric & Patrick's soccer tournament, so it was decided that I'd go by myself.

First Some Background

The Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation holds Dan testings twice a year, spring and fall, on a regional level, e.g., each region has its own testings. This is for promoting to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Dan. Those promoting (well, hoping to promote) to 4th Dan and higher must attend the Ko Dan Ja, an eight (8) day testing that is held in January of each year. This is a grueling testing that I'll describe at some later date. I don't believe my understanding of it is currently sufficient to make a stab at it.

In Region 3, the Mid-Atlantic area, the spring Dan testing is held in Myrtle Beach and hosted by Master Brown. In the fall the Dan testing is held in Virginia Beach, hosted by Master Donnelly. This standard has apparently been going on for years, so it provides a good excuse to go to the beach twice per year! :-)

Dan Clinic -- Night Before The Testing

Master Bannard and his children rode with me to Myrtle Beach. I stayed in the Landmark (where my family likes to stay) while Master Bananrd was staying at a Comfort Inn in North Myrtle Beach. The plan was to get me checked in, get him checked in, and then head for Master Brown's dojang where a Dan clinic was to be held by Kwan Jang Nim. [It is my understanding that a Dan clinic is normally held the night before.]

Due to traffic we arrived late in Myrtle Beach, so we went directly to Master Brown's dojang , which is just off NC 501. There was insufficient time to get anyone checked in, so we just went to the dojang.

The Dan clinic is just that -- a clinic for Dan members. While I normally wear my ATA black belt in class, Master Bannard asked me to wear my orange belt at the testing. So we got dressed and a couple of the masters (4th Dan or higher) were a bit perturbed that I was there, as it was invitation only for Dan members. As I had a truck load of Master Bannard's luggage I couldn't really go too far, so I explained this, and then stayed out of the way. That seemed to smooth things over. [Side note -- I agree with their opinion -- this clinic was for Dan members and as a Gup I didn't really belong there, but the circumstances forced it.]

Sean (Master Bannard's son) and I stood off to the side when the class bowed in. Then instead of the normal workout, Kwan Jang Nim held a class regarding the Vision Tour. He presented a background of what Soo Bahk Do is, where it came from, what makes it special. Then he presented a view of the Vision Tour, which is to promote human relations and peace. [Kwan Jang Nim graciously invited Sean and me to sit with the Dan members for the presentation, which I really liked!]

This was all familiar to the Dan members, but was new to me. I found the presentation fascinating. I've gone into it more in my opinion piece on Kwan Jang Nim, so I won't reiterate here.

Following the presentation there was a Dan workout, which Sean and I were not part of. We stood off to the side and I took some pictures. It was interesting -- Kwan Jang Nim did all basics, patiently describing them to Dan members -- I don't know the ranks of all the people there, but there were a number of Masters (4th Dan or higher) and I know Master Bannard is 6th Dan. But Kwan Jang Nim taught the class like they were 8th Gups.

Some might be insulted by that, like teaching adults as if they were children. But it makes perfect sense. This clinic was to reinforce the single ideal of the basic techniques. The attendees are responsible for teaching this material, so periodically making sure that everyone is on the same page, doing the techniques the same way, keeps the unity.

In other schools I've experience that lack of unity. With a past school several times I watched the owner correct the chief instructor in front of the class. That type of correction should have taken place LONG before anything was presented in front of the class. To some it makes the instructor look bad, like he doesn't know what he's doing. To me it makes the senior look bad, 'cuz he isn't attending to the techniques his employees are teaching, not making sure they are all on the same page.

Dan Testing

There is always a workout prior to the Dan testing, although this year the workout was replaced by Kwan Jang Nim's presentation of the Vision Tour to the attendees. I missed most of it due to getting lost on the way there (which I'll detail at some point), but since I'd experienced the presentation the night before I didn't miss that much.

At this testing there were six candidates, four 1st Gups testing for Chodan, and two Edans testing for Samdan. (I think I've got that all spelled correctly!). Kwan Jang Nim and six seniors (including Masters Bannard, Brown, and Donnelly) sat at tables on the stage, looking down on the candidates. It was arranged with a single table in the middle with Kwan Jang Nim seated alone and two side tables each seated with three examiners.

A Dan member acted as conductor, calling off commands and responding to requests from the testing panel for repeats. She spoke VERY clearly, which was necessary as all terminology in the testing was in Korean. Anyone who didn't know their commands was HOSED!

Like with the Dan workout the night before, the testing started with basics. The conductor stated the commands for Ha Dan Mahk Kee, Sang Dan Mahk Kee, Choong Dan Kong Kyuk, etc. The first part was pretty easy -- after all it was "basics". <G>

These people have been training for a minimum of 3-1/2 years, so WHY have them demonstrate high blocks???

Same reason that the Dans did high blocks the night before: To ensure that everyone is doing the same techniques the same way! I suspect that some won't get the point here, and I also suspect that any explanation of why will fall upon deaf ears ... or simply pass through one ear and out the other without encountering obstructions. The need for consistency is critical for any art to keep its focus.

Ok, the first part was easy. Then the combinations started. The first few of those were also easy, things like Ha Dan Mahk Kee Tuel Oh Choong Dan Kong Kyuk. (Low Block Reverse Middle Punch). But then they started getting tougher. I was pleased that I understand most of the commands, although the last few blew past me. I got part of it, but couldn't have done all of it! Several of the candidates had difficulties near the end, which I can understand.

This is good! It's my first Dan testing lesson -- when I'm getting ready for my test for Chodan, I need to beg Master Bannard & Ms. Chavous to grill me on any combination that might be on the test. Also, I got a large part of the testing video-taped, so I should be able to get ideas from the video.

Then they did hyung. This was pretty standard, although it reinforced the idea of practicing all hyung until I can do them in my sleep. The testing is NOT the time to worry about remembering how to do hyung! They didn't have to do all the hyung, but had to do the ones current for their rank. I suspect that not knowing older hyung could still be fatal ...

There is an endurance piece -- horse punching. The requirement is to do 120 correct punches in 30 seconds. Each candidate had a counter stand behind them, the conductor called start and called stop. Not everyone did 120 punches. I think the low was 108, and the high was 133. This is something I'll need to work on LONG before my turn! (Lesson #2!)

Next il soo sik and ho sin sool (one steps and self defense) were performed. The candidates paired up and performed randomly selected ones. This was good -- ya gotta know all of 'em, but don't necessarily have to demonstrate them. As with hyung, it's critical to know them all so well that they can be done sleep walking!

First the juniors performed, e.g., they were attacked by the seniors. Then the juniors attacked the seniors. Interestingly enough, the two groups had different lists, they didn't do the same ones of either il soo sik or ho sin sool. That's good, 'cuz it makes it fair to the ones who go first. Again, I'll do well to memorize everything in order!

Then sparring. For the Chodan candidates, it was typical 1-on-1 sparring. I think they did two 1 minute rounds. For the Edans, it was different -- they did 2-on-1, first a 30 second sparring match, then two 3 second sparring matches. It was VERY interesting to watch.

The 2-on-1 matches are really an exercise in keeping one attacker between you and the second attacker, something I have experience with. Glad to know that I understand that part of it, even if it will be years before I have to demonstrate at a Dan testing.

Last were breaks. The Edans did their breaks in one of their hyung, while the Chodan candidates had to do E Dan Dwi Chagi (Jump Back Kick). That was also interesting to watch. Everyone broke within 3 tries, but I don't recall anyone breaking on the first try. Under the stress of testing this supposedly easy break is tough!

Finally was Q&A. In my previous schools there was Q&A, but it was pretty simple. The Q&A at the February Gup testing under Master Bannard was the longest Q&A period I've experienced.

Until today. This Q&A lasted a LONG time, at least 20 minutes (I didn't have my watch on, so I'm not positive of the time). Each of the side tables had a group of candidates, with the left table (my perspective) grilling the four Chodan candidates and the right table grilling the two Samdan candidates.

I couldn't hear what they were saying but I'm guessing there were no "Yes and No" questions -- everything was essay questions. Master Bannard asked the senior Gups essay questions at the February testing, and I'm positive the Dan candidates got it in spades.

Interestingly enough, when the Q&A was done Master Donnelly (at the right hand table) asked to speak with the Chodan candidates. He grilled them a good 10 minutes before he was done.

Then the masters sat together and discussed their notes on each candidate. To my understanding there is no specific, supposedly objective scoring system, e.g., get scored on everything, add it up, and if the minimum value is reached you pass. Nor do I believe there is horse-trading of any sort. It appears to be all merit based, and those who pass do so because they fulfill the spirit of the requirements for their rank.

I've already been told that the candidates are judged relative to any physical impairments. One of the Samdan candidates had knee surgery in the past 6 months so that was taken into account, and at another testing the advanced age of a candidate was taken into consideration.

Overall the system ensures that the Dan members of the Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation are up to snuff and perform according to the single standard of the group, at least as much as any system can.

Closing Thoughts on First Dan Testing

My Dan testing with the ATA was surprisingly anti-climatic. The majority of the test consisted of doing all nine colored belt forms. Since I had started prepping for the test nearly a year ahead of time, that part was simple. Granted, it was simple because I was prepared (as opposed to those who spent the three months prior to their Dan test frantically relearning all the old forms they hadn't practiced in years).

But as I have mentioned in my journal, my Dan test was the easiest test I've ever had. I knew all the material down cold, the only nervous spot was the breaks (jump front kick, rearward elbow) but they were among the easier ones for me.

Another thing that made it stress-free was that I was up in front of Mr. Wegmann and the Black belts who had been training me for 2-1/2 years. There were no strangers there to make me nervous. The one mid-term I did at the Allen's Tiger Tournament in front of Grandmaster Lee was nerve wracking. Guess I'm strange, but I miss that. :-O

While I was relieved to have a stress-free Dan testing, in retrospect it was disappointing 'cuz it was stress-free. There is definitely something about winning a hard fight that makes the success all that much sweeter.

The one thing I really like about the Soo Bahk Do testing system is that no school owner can pass his own Dan members. All Dan candidates MUST be passed by a group of instructors from across the region. This helps enforce standards and keep the quality up. Everyone wearing the Midnight Blue has passed the muster with a widely ranging group of testers.

MY SBD Dan testing will NOT be stress-free. I *will* be in front of masters from across the region, possibly Kwan Jang Nim himself. I will have to know my Korean commands, and I will demonstrate my memory of a WIDE variety of things, not just a few forms. But that will make the success all that much sweeter.

Thanks to watching this Dan testing I have learned some valuable lessons, giving me some goals to work towards now. Watching other Dan testings will undoubtedly provide me with more lessons, as I'll pick up on other things the next time.

Copyright 1999-2008 Bryan Fazekas