Instructors and students alike, we are all in this together.
For most of the time since RVTKD was founded in 1997, we conducted evaluations in the same way. About a week after each rank test, we’d assemble the school, bow in, and ask students to form a line along the back wall of the dojang. One at a time, the instructor primarily responsible for training each student would call them forward, delivering the good news (or, occasionally, the bad) in low tones only audible to the student being evaluated. The privacy of this one-on-one experience had the virtue of permitting instructors to speak candidly without the potential for embarrassing anyone in front of their peers.
A year or so ago, we changed to the current format: we still call students to the front of the room, but everyone stands in normal ranks (as when training), and the instructors speak loudly so all can hear what is being said to each student. This alteration was the result of a recommendation from our school’s Master, Sean Owen, who visited from Colorado to supervise the judging panel on a Dan-level test. The following is a list of benefits of giving evaluations this way instead of the old way, derived both from my conversation with Mr. Owen and from my own observations:
- one-on-one reviews only give students understanding of their own progress, challenges, and priorities. public evaluations give students a much broader perspective. because they hear a wide range of reactions, students may see that their struggles aren’t unique, identify training partners with similar goals in a particular area, learn how others have overcome similar situations, and hear other information that may prove useful in a multitude of ways. although comparing/ranking oneself to other students isn’t usually useful, having a larger context for the past few months (or years) of training may be.
- when everyone hears the results of everyone else’s test, it clarifies the standards and values of the school as a whole. these may concern attendance and enthusiasm during class, proper execution of techniques, finding the right balance between heaviness and lightness or articulation and connection, safety and respect in sparring, fearlessness and intention when striking intimidating targets, or any of the other themes that come up again and again.
- it encourages honesty and accountability on the part of both the student and the teacher. it may be uncomfortable on both sides—it’s no more fun to deliver bad news than it is to hear it, and some students may not enjoy being in the spotlight even when being praised—but it’s good for both sides to practice perceiving and accepting reality clearly. this is an important goal of martial arts training that’s useful both inside and outside the dojang. instructors and students alike, we are all in this together. it’s one of the reasons there is so much bowing during class: we have mutual respect and take care of one another. the unity an open review process creates helps us feel less self-conscious when sharing the truth about test performance. of course, this assumes that instructors practice compassion during reviews and avoid sarcasm or excessive praise, either of which undermine credibility and damage trust.
It may not feel comfortable to be evaluated in front of one’s peers, but martial Ways aren’t about comfort. By standing in front of a group of trusted comrades, who are following the same Way as you and will be reviewed in the same way themselves, you can develop skills of great value: fearlessness, responsibility, clarity of mind, and honest self-assessment and acceptance.
Questions to Consider
- For those who have trained in our school for years and had both kinds of reviews, which do you prefer?
- What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks of each method?
- If your job requires you to evaluate employees or give them performance reviews, are there any relevant practices from your organization?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below.