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My 9 year old grandson has a brown belt for around 7 months now. Usually he goes to regular class where all the color belts are put into their own groups. He hasn’t practiced some of the earlier katas as the chance doesn’t present itself often the way the classes are. Last night he went to a late class and was the only brown belt so he was separated and worked with a black belt on a kata he hadn’t done in some time. Sensei threatened to demote him because he didn’t remember the kata (he did, but was a little hesitant). This little boy loves karate and takes it seriously and has no behavior issues at all. It broke his heart and when we got to the car he asked, "How did I do, Gramma? I tried my best, but I haven't done that kata in a long time," and told me what sensei said. Is this ok? Am I just being over sensitive? I am not one of those people that thinks my child (grandchild) is perfect, and if he deserved it I would understand. But instead I feel like this was not motivating. He has enough troubles at home and he does do his best every time he goes. Any thoughts?

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    This is very similar to martialarts.stackexchange.com/questions/9677/…, and unfortunately, I think we similarly have an opinion question here. Feb 19 '20 at 20:24
  • I think we need questions like this. A great many martial arts students are children and parents who don't practice themselves may not understand the culture of various styles. This particular question is not worded particularly objectively but there are two objective questions there. "is this normal?" and "is this appropriate?"
    – Huw Evans
    Feb 20 '20 at 12:11
  • @HuwEvans If you identify there are objective questions, you can edit directly to make this apparent.
    – mattm
    Feb 20 '20 at 15:15
  • I am willing to accept that I might be the outlier here. Feb 20 '20 at 19:26
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    A 9 year old brown belt... definitely a McDojo.
    – TheBatman
    Mar 2 '20 at 17:08
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Please see this other question which asks something similar, but with a 3 year old:

Is my 3 year's old reprimand experience in karate today par for the course?

Now as for your 9 year old grandson not remembering kata as a brown belt...

Brown belt in most karate systems is right before black belt or nearly before black belt. This is considered an advanced rank which is getting your grandson ready, especially mentally, for his black belt test.

It is absolutely a requirement in all forms of Karate, Taekwondo, Kung-fu, etc. to remember all forms (kata) learned in the past as well as the current one being worked on. Class time is not enough, as you noted. So the kids need to practice forms at home on their own.

How often and how long they should practice their forms depends on them and their rank. At white belt, they only know one kata. So they can repeat it on their own 10 to 20 times every few days, and that should be sufficient to remember it. At brown belt, they know probably 7 different kata or so. In advanced ranks, it's expected that they refine their kata performance to a much higher level. That requires daily or every other day practice of all kata, for 10 to 20 reps each. This can take up about an hour of time. And it's expected they do this on their own.

That's a tough requirement for kids this age. And it's not usually spelled out for them. Usually kids pick this up on their own after being embarrassed by not remembering a kata in class. The embarrassment is usually pretty good motivation to go home and practice more.

As for threatening to demote him, that usually is a disciplinary action reserved for misbehaving kids. Forgetting kata doesn't qualify. Repeatedly forgetting kata after being told over and over again to practice at home does qualify. I'm not sure if that was the case with your grandson, however.

In most cases, though, demotions are rarely given. It's just a threat meant to motivate. And yes, there are plenty of other / better ways of motivating children.

When a kid forgets a kata, instructors need to impress upon them that it's their responsibility to know all the katas previously learned all the way from white belt on. When testing for a belt promotion, they may be asked to perform earlier kata, and their performance of those kata needs to be at the level for which they are testing.

So as for you and your grandson, my recommendation is to make sure your grandson is handling it constructively. Instead of feeling ashamed, he should become more determined. You need to sit with him and work out a plan to solve the problem. That might mean you find 30 minutes every two days for him to work on it. Help him stick to that schedule. If a fixed schedule isn't possible, get him to work on it whenever time presents itself.

And so long as he's doing that, he'll be fine. He won't be demoted.

Hope that helps.

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  • Thank you. He has not been told to practice at home. And he attends class 3 to 4 times a week.( I was not trying to be not objective.)And he practices with other belt colors when his group is done and from my eyes seems to know them. I hesitate to compare him with the 3 year old question because he is 9 and is not a behavior issue. Quite the opposite. And he is dedicated to class and he loves going. Thank you for your answer. It helps. Feb 20 '20 at 13:42
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The implicit question is: is your grandson's punishment disproportionate to his mistake?

Well, consider that if you're not seeing eye-to-eye with the instructor, one possibility is that your perception of the punishment is higher than the instructor's, another is that your perception of you grandson's mistake is lower than the instructor's.

For starters, let's look at the mistake. In east asian education systems, rote memorization is given MUCH higher importance. What in the west we would think of as something you could just look up in a book, Japanese and Korean schoolchildren would be expected to memorize. So for instance, while we usually memorize the multiplication table up to 12 x 12, they go up to 20 x 20. A common theory is that this stems from the Chinese language not having an alphabet and hence requiring brute force memorization of thousands of characters as part of basic education, even in Japan and Korea.

The point is, in any Asian education system (of which a dojo certainly is one), the expectation of committing a large corpus to memory is not unreasonable. So your kid did the equivalent of forgetting what comes after PQRS.

I get that might be incongruous with western values ("yeah but I can just google it!") but the culture of a dojo is inextricable from the art. And more importantly, learning to adapt oneself to another culture's norms is an extremely valuable skill.

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