Understanding grading examinations

With gradings coming up soon at our dojo, I was talking with Hugh yesterday about expectations for each section of the examination and how I believe examinations are built in Nihon Tai Jitsu. Note that it could be different in other schools as there are no standards in gradings between different arts. Anyway, coming back to the topic, I thought it would be useful to share some of these pointers here. In my opinion, gradings are an opportunity to see where you stand in your progression, they are not necessary but can be useful if approached well.

Kihon – Do you know the fundamentals?

The first part of an exam is usually focusing on Kihon, i.e. the most basic things you need to know: Ukemi, Te Hodoki, Tai Sabaki. No matter the rank you are presenting, a 5th Kyu or a 4th Dan, these will still be there but expectations will of course vary.

What is it about?

You will be asked to perform very simple movements: breakfalls (Ukemi), body movement/going out of the line (Tai Sabaki), releasing the grip of the hand (Te Hodoki). Extremely simple moves.

  • Ukemi will be performed alone in every direction.
  • Tai Sabaki will be first performed alone (4 directions), then with a partner, First without a counter, then with a single atemi. You can choose the attack, but these are usually Tsuki or Mae Geri as a straight axis makes it easier for everyone to see the moves clearly.
  • For Te Hodoki, the jury will propose a couple of grabs, and you will go out of the line and release the grip. No atemi is needed in Nihon Tai Jitsu for this exercise, but it would be acceptable for Nihon Ju Jitsu

What am I looking for?

These are very basic exercises, and as an examiner all I want to see is that you understand the basics. You don’t need to go fast, you don’t need to go strong, you don’t need to impress me. Take your time, be fluid, be present and show me you understand the exercises.


Basic Techniques and Kata – The grammar

The second part of an exam is formal: basic techniques and kata. Techniques will be more advanced than in the previous section but they will also be performed by two partners who know exactly what is going to happen.

What is it about?

You will be asked to present some basic techniques and kata depending on the requirements for your rank, with a partner of your choice.

What am I looking for?

Again speed doesn’t matter, take your time, show what you can do. Tori and Uke both know what is going to happen so knowing there’s no surprise, the result should be clean. These are formal exercises, so more than anywhere else the way you move, bow and announce your kata does matter.

These are forms, so you should know the moves, no question about that. But depending on your level what I want to see there is what is behind the moves. The way you perform your kuzushi will typically say loads about your understanding of the form, more than doing it fast and smashing your partner in the ground with all your strength.


Randori – Managing chaos

At the end of the day we do martial arts, and forms are tools for us to learn skills. Now that you demonstrated these skills, we need to see them in action. That’s where randori kicks in.

What is it about?

You will be asked to do a randori in circle with multiple attackers. The variety of their attacks and the presence or not of weapons will depend on your level.

What am I looking for?

Depending on your level I will expect more or less variety in your defences but that is not the main point. I want to see how you translate the principles you learnt to an unknown situation. How do you deal with unknown attacks and different partners? How do you manage distance when multiple people are involved?

Here I do not necessarily expect something clean. Chaos is part of what we do, that’s fine. What I would expect though is that you don’t freeze. Your partners will propose some situations, your rle is to deal with these situations the best you can


Prepared Randori or Personal Kata – What does Nihon Tai Jitsu mean to you?

The previous parts enabled you to show fundamentals, forms and the way you manage things under pressure. This part enables you to have more fun, be free and present what you really like.

What is it about?

Prepared randori is quite an usual exercise in Nihon Tai Jitsu, whereas personal kata is only asked for higher ranks. In a prepared randori you’ll be asked to present with some moves with a partner, for 1′ to 1’30, showing variety, reversing the roles between Tori and Uke and basically using it to show all the skills you haven’t been able to show in the other exercises.

A personal kata is a bit different as it is more formal but gives you the opportunity to explore a theme with a partner.

What am I looking for?

In a personal randori, I’m looking forward to see your personality. I want to see how you use what you learnt to build a dialogue with your Uke. I’m expecting rythm, good techniques and postures, but also a story. The jury will watch you having fun for 1’30, you want them to have fun with you. Don’t forget the jury is sitting looking at you when they could also have a good time on the mats, make them happy to be there.


Budo spirit

Now that we assessed how you are on the mats, what about we check how much you know about what we do here?

What is it about?

In the form of a written questionnaire or an interview,you will be asked some questions on the school and on Budo/Bujutsu.

What am I looking for?

I’m not looking for the candidates to be an encyclopedia of martial arts, but I’m expecting the basics to be known. Knowing the origins of the school and its lineage is a minimum. Knowing who is on the picture on the wall when you bow to it at every class is obvious too. If a new joiner comes and asks “Who is the old man on the wall?” and you have no clue, how smart will you look?

What we are expecting here is that you have an idea of what we do, so if someone asks you basic questions, you are able to answer.