As a Senior Karate Instructor, belt test day is always filled with mixed emotions for me. When we test our students, the outcome is never pre-conceived.
On test day my role is not to teach, it is to evaluate. And not just the skills, but also the person. I’m looking for confidence tempered by humility. I want to see resilience as the response to adversity. I’m looking for focus…and discipline…and effort.
And every student is unique.
After almost every test, I have to help a student or two understand that although they performed well and they surpassed their personal best, they are not ready for the next belt.
And it’s hard.
It’s hard on me. It’s hard on the student. And it’s especially hard when the student is a kid. It’s hard on the parent who watched their kid work really, really hard.
But I do it anyway.
What the student is doing now is very important to them and everyone around them– how hard he works, how well she kicks, how they compare to their fellow students. Everyone wants that student to graduate to the next level.
I’m not interested in right now. I’m interested in who that student will be tomorrow… in 10 years. Will he learn to be in control? Will she know how to get back up every time she gets knocked down? Will they be resilient, determined, focused, confident, committed?
And it’s a judgement call. What does it look like for THIS particular student to be confident? How can she show me her resilience? Have they learned the necessary lessons?
The easy answer is to promote them to the next belt. That makes everyone happy.
But the easy answer is seldom the right answer.
So I live my integrity and make the tough call in spite of knowing that there will be tears, there will be hurt, there will be upset students (and upset parents).
I make the call for the person that student will be tomorrow – when that kid is all grown up.
Because I know that it will be their reaction to the pain that will define them. It will be their new understanding of what it means to be resilient that will become a defining moment for their character. It will be their new found strength knowing that the belt is really just a piece of cloth – it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
There’s risk – sometimes the hurt and the anger win out.
But I have to try – my integrity demands it.
My belief in my students demands it.
I AM their Sensei.
Scott Alexander is a published author, a coach to entrepreneurs and senior executives, an accomplished speaker, and a strategy/leadership consultant.