Should I (or my child) Grade This Time?

The question to grade or not to grade is sometimes easy and sometimes it’s not. As a parent you always want the best for your child, as an organisation we also want the best for our students, but we have to factor that against maintaining our quality and high standards.


In order to keep these two things in mind we need to challenge our students in order for them to perform at their best.


I sometimes do a little test;

  • I throw a super slow punch towards a student’s head, a bit like the old six-million-dollar man TV series, and the result is always the same, they do a super slow block.

  • Then I do a fast punch (I never connect, don’t worry!) and they do a fast block.

What does this show? Well they are reacting to the type of attack, if it is poorly delivered, they feel no threat, so either don’t react at all, or react at the same speed of the attack. However, if it is coming in fast and accurate, they will respond at a much faster rate and higher level of realism.


When we are challenged, we will perform.


Now if a child (or adult for that matter) is taking their first ever grade with us, we are not expecting Bruce Lee reincarnated, we help, we guide, we encourage. I have even been known to suspend the grading momentarily - I have a grading face which shows no happiness or disappointed, called “stony-face” by many! -  but for a moment, I will smile, I speak softly, I say something like;

Now don’t forget, this is your chance to show us how good you are. We are not expecting you to know everything or to do everything perfectly, but we just want you to do your best, is that okay?
Great, so let’s pick up the pace here, good fighting stance, good blocks, good throws, ok?
Right, let’s go, punch….


Fear is the BIG thing at gradings, and more often than not, it is the anticipated fear rather than anything to be really worried about. It is extremely rare that kids or adults actually get hit or even hurt in their first few gradings, indeed it rarely happens in any of our gradings. We also NEVER belittle a student, all criticism is constructive. Whilst the strikes become more accurate and are delivered with more power the higher up the belts the student goes, the receiver is better prepped to deal with it, so still does not get hit or hurt.


And that is exactly how it should be.


You have probably already heard this, but “fear” is often referred to as an acronym;

False Expectation Appearing Real, and the cure, “feel the fear and do it anyway” a great book in fact by Susan Jeffers.
Imagine for a moment, that you had learnt that lesson when you were a child, most of us don’t, but if you had learnt it early, wow, what a gift that would be!


Ultimately, here at Leicester Ju Jitsu whether to grade or not to grade is a joint decision between instructor, student/parent. As coaches we will make a judgement based on;

  • the student

  • their skillset/abilities

  • their training/learning style

  • their confidence 

  • number of sessions attended

The decision is individual.


This means that sometimes we will push a student forward, and sometimes we will hold them back, both can have an impact on the student - pushing them forward may encourage or build them up or it may scare them silly, we usually know that, and have done it on purpose.
Holding them back, may disappoint or reduce their confidence - and again, it’s not done by chance or on a whim -

Can the student cope with disappointment?

Will it build their character?


Whilst we would not hold a student back simply as a character-building exercise, we may decide that they are not really ready to grade, and we want them to perform at their best, so we will hold them back (hoping that they have the strength of character not to quit) so that they can give a 100% in three months.

Equally, a not fully-prepared student may need to have a go at the grading, as we feel they are wavering, and the next grading will give them a chance to sink or swim. If they “swim”, the result is visible, they stand taller (literally), their confidence is boosted, they smile a huge smile, they feel on top of the world, this is a feeling that they will probably remember forever and return to when times are tough – I kid you not.

Should they “sink” i.e. fail the grading, which can certainly happen but is not the norm - in our last grading, 5 failed out of nearly 100 students, - they get the opportunity to re-test for free two weeks later.


To-date, not one student who failed a grading has quit as a result of it. Far from it, they have stepped up and grown as human beings - I am proud of every one of them.


They say you learn more by failure than by success and I believe that is true.


On the flip side, at our last grading, two students who did not grade as they/their parents chose not to, did quit.

This is very sad, as we have created Leicester Ju Jitsu as a positive learning environment, we seek to create happy, fit, confident human beings with low ego, and who are “goals orientated”, as we feel this produces the best adults and people that we personally like to be around.

Winners never quit & quitters never win - Vince Lombardi.


Gradings are a very important part of what we do, it serves the student, the club and the coaches, my favourite definition of success is “an ongoing sense of progress”, gradings provide that, and as there are 4 scheduled each year, there are plenty of opportunities to prove yourself. Have your own schedule and practise every day to make it a reality.


Sensei Rob Phelps 5th Dan

April 2018