Posts Tagged ‘Belts’

Have you ever heard of Goodhart’s Law? I had not until a few months ago, when I heard it explained on Tim Ferriss’ podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show. The concept made such an impact on me that I made a note of it, something I rarely do.

Coincidentally, a colleague of mine posted the above graphic (from Sketchplanations) on their podcast’s Instagram page, BJJ Mental Models, and I decided to expand on this for my own students.

Goodhart’s law discusses the natural human tendancy to meet the standard being measured. As the graphic demonstrates, if you say you will be measuring (or perhaps paying a bonus on) the number of nails made, the subject will make as many nails as they possibly can with a given amount of material. Conversely, if you are measuring success by the weight of the nails, then it would be easier for the subject to meet the measure by making a few, very large nails. Focused on the measure, the subject has misunderstood that you actually wanted a specific type of nail.

This means that if you do not set clear expectations and standards then people will simply meet what they are being measured on, interpreting that measure as the abstract target for success. In one or both of the examples above, the results are unlikely to have been what the boss wanted.

For martial arts this law can be easy to see.

The people “making oddly sized nails” are called “belt chasers.” That is, a person who is simply seeking belts because they represent progression in the form of a tangible measurement system. Thus the “belt chaser” believes that simply receiving a belt is a measurement of their skill, and therefore they expect that they have achieved an understanding of concept and application by merely demonstrating the techniques required for that belt level.

The truth is, it is not always about the belts but rather an individual’s ability to improve and progress. Some people may take longer than others, especially when there are clear and specific standards in place.

My approach to belts and promotions is that, if a person is simply seeking the next rank but lacks the nuanced skill, I would hold them back; because they have failed to understand what is actually being measured. This often means they have met the minimums, performing the techniques, but have failed to show what is actually expected, conceptual understanding.

This individual may be distaught when they are held back, as they will say “I have met the minumums thus I deserve to be tested/promoted.” They are falling prey to Goodhart’s Law. They are focusing on what’s on paper, a list of techniques at this belt level, what is being measured, rather than what was actually expected of them to learn.

For Krav Maga, the goal is making people capable of defending themselves, and a belt on its own does not do that; you need the skill, the concepts, and the ability to apply both. In the world of Krav Maga, simply being a “belt factory” is far more catastrophic than for other styles, as our focus is specifically self defense and not sport in any way.

This means that if you are a school that would rather promote someone because they are belt chaser, and you want to keep them as a customer, rather than delaying until they are actually where they should be, then you will be doing your students a great disservice; they may not be able to defend themselves as well as they think they can.

So, if you are a belt chaser, stop and think about the fact that you may be failing to understand what is actually being measured. While the tests and belts are literally about measurements and standards, a good Krav Maga school (or any martial arts for that matter), while be looking for far more than just techniques before they consider someone ready for a test or promotion.

Consider this, might your school be assessing other qualities like:

  • Physical Skills improvement
  • Mental Strength
  • Verbal Skills
  • Social Skills
  • Dedication to the school or sport

While these may not seem like things that should be measured when it comes to Krav Maga or martial arts, the real goal is self improvement; physically, mentally, and spiritually.

If you simply seek the belt, then perhaps you are not in fact ready and you are falling into the black hole that is Goodhart’s Law.

UTKM Belts – Our Story & Process Audio

What is a Belt? From the martial arts point of view, a belt is a milestone, a marker of progress (sometimes a weapon!). I couldn’t tell you why belts became common practice for ranking in the martial arts, though I am sure someone out there could tell you. What I can tell you is that belts, or more specifically the Judo system of belts, were chosen early on in Krav Maga to recognize progression. Later, circa 1996, a patch system was added when IKMF, one of the first major Krav Maga offshoots, was formed. IKMF opted to go with the, now famous, patch system, using the ranks Practitioner 1-5, Graduate 1-5, Expert 1-5, and Master.

UTKM Ranking System

So it was that, when forming a Krav Maga school with no direct parent organization, there were 2 choices; the Belt system or the Patch system. UTKM opted for the belt system for the following reasons:

  1. Belts are more recognizable, globally, in the martial arts world, and are easier for people to comprehend without a detailed explanation.
  2. It was Imi’s original choice and we stuck with that tradition.
  3. We felt that the patch system comes across as gimmicky and has far too many levels, which, in our opinion, is a cash cow scheme. Though it was probably created to relate more to the target market of Police and Military members rather than the general populous.
  4. Belts are harder to lose and easier to pass down.
Our belts have now evolved into what you see below:

UTKM Branded Belts

In choosing the final design we thought about Krav Maga, and how it is designed to be practical. Thus, we wanted our belts to have practical purposes beyond indicating a rank and being a symbol of UTKM. Just like our students, we wanted them to be something more. The following are possible uses for the belt (assuming you keep it with you or even wear it outside of class).

  1. A weapon of opportunity – Due to the hard, metal D-rings, the belt can be easily taken off and wielded as a weapon against would-be attackers.
  2. An emergency rescue tool – Because our belts are made of strong webbing (seat-belt material) they could be used to pull someone, hold something, or brace a limb in an emergency situation.
  3. A tourniquet – In a true emergency our belts can easily be used to stop bleeding, assuming, of course, you are familiar with first aid practices.

This is just a short list, as the only limit is the imagination. Like Krav Maga, our belts are meant to be practical and adaptable to the given situation, and, of course, will look stylish in the process with the UTKM branding. Who knows, perhaps our belts will literally save someone’s life someday.

Lastly, at UTKM we pass down our belts when someone earns their next belt. We adopted this from the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), where Sergeants  and Officers, at various points in progress, will pass down their Beret or Pins to the soldiers who they feel are most deserving.

Every time a person earns a belt they write their name in a permanent marker on the back of that new belt. Upon achieving the next belt level they give their old belt back to the school, becoming a “lineage belt.” When the next round of tests comes for a colour for which we have lineage belts, we will give these belts, with their collection of names, to the students who we feel, for whatever reason, exemplify the qualities of UTKM students. The new belt holder adds their name to the lineage belt, and it continues the cycle.   When a belt has 5 signatures/names it is retired, hung up for all to see on our Wall of Belts. (We have yet to create this Wall, as no belt has collected five names, but, when the time comes we will build with Joy!)

So, assuming there is a lineage belt to give away at the conclusion of a test consider these qualities:

  1. Courage & Strength – There have been cases where our students have had to overcome major challenges, be they mental or physical, to pass their test. Students have injured themselves during a test, but fought through to complete it, or were injured prior to testing but pushed through rather than rescheduling.
  2. Spirit & Attitude – Some students are always in class and never have excuses, no matter what is going on in their life. Or they have gone out of their way to bolster their classmates, and promote the school and what it represents.

Do you have what it takes to achieve a UTKM milestone and earn a belt from us? Even better, will you prove to us that you have what it takes to receive a lineage belt? There’s only one way to find out.

So ask yourself, Can you be turned from a lamb into a lion?

Warren Gets his orange Belt Cert

Warren receiving his Certificate of Achievement


Warren Leading Stretches

I recently took my Orange Belt test and I’d like to share the experience.  I knew that there would be a written portion, but other than that, I wasn’t sure exactly how it would be conducted.  I was told that there would be less cardio than was required for the Yellow Belt test but in the end, that didn’t turn out to be the case.  In fact, there was probably more, but more on this later.

In the weeks leading up to the test, Jon took me through the techniques I needed to know, and he kept saying, with his usual grin, “You’ll be fine.  You should pass it no problem.”, so I was under the mistaken impression that perhaps the Orange Belt test was a more theoretical test than the brute force Yellow Belt test that was meant to challenge your resolve and confirm your commitment to the training regimen.  It was also scheduled for “only” an hour, as opposed to the two hours required for the Yellow Belt test.  He did, however, advise me to drink water throughout the day of the test so I’d be fully hydrated.  Sound advice.

Testing period begins.

The written portion comprised of 20 multiple-choice questions and you needed to get 80% to pass.  Quick math told me that I could get 4 wrong and still pass, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Most of the questions were no-brainers but there were a couple of questions that made me go “Hmmm…”, or to ask for clarification.  In any questions that had poor grammar, Jon said that Borhan wrote them.  In the end, I was satisfied with my answers and handed the paper in.  Next.

Then came the technique portion of the test.  Another small surprise, Jon started to ask me to do techniques that were required for the Yellow Belt.  It made sense, of course, but I hadn’t specifically reviewed them.  As he asked me to do this or that, the hours of training kicked in and it didn’t give me any problems, although I had to ask for clarification now and then to confirm exactly what it was he wanted me to do.  All the while my body is going through the motions and like it or not, you start to get tired.  Also, there were many, many punching combinations.  It was relentless.  Straight punches, crosses, hooks, elbows, uppercuts, kicks…it all gets tested, and in all kinds of combinations.  Meanwhile, my body continued to tire.  After it appeared that I knew what I was doing in the techniques for both the Yellow Belt and Orange Belt, it was time to apply them in an unknown situation.

I’m then asked to close my eyes and (no cheating now) wait for an attack that can come from anywhere.  Front, back, left side, right side…who knows where it’s coming from.  And there may be a knife mixed in with the attack, or there may not.  A choke here, a head-lock there…who knows?  But you need to respond accordingly, not panic, and finish off the move properly.  Now, it’s one thing to see an attack coming, but it’s quite another to lose one of your prime senses and still do the right thing.  Once you close your eyes the adrenaline starts pumping, your heart rate increases, and your fright factor goes up.  Where is he coming from and what type of attack will it be?  Will I know what to do?  Will I freeze?  Suddenly the attacks start, one after the other.  Open your eyes, defend, counter, finish it, then close your eyes again and wait for the next one.  Your body takes over, your instincts kick in, and suddenly you know exactly what to do and how to do it.  As with most things in life, the anticipation of something coming is often more psychologically impactful than the event itself.  It’s the waiting that gets to you.  Then multiple attacker scenarios were tested.  Believe me, when you have three people wanting to beat up on you and swinging punches wherever they can land them, you get very tired very quickly avoiding them and counter-attacking.  It’s truly exhausting and intense.  In the end, I managed to stave off enough attacks to satisfy Jon, and I was very fatigued by this time by both the adrenaline rush and the actual physical activity.  Was that it?  Could I go home now?  Please?

At this point Jon says I can take a breather, rest up, and take a water break.  After the break I was starting to feel normal again, but already the sweat wouldn’t stop streaming down my face. Whatever water I was putting into my body was just as quickly going out again.  Little did I know that what I had just completed was a warm-up to the main test, although it was an important milestone.  If I hadn’t executed the techniques correctly up to this point, I wouldn’t have been allowed to continue and it would have been the end of the test.

It was time to see how I could do under threatening conditions with real-time attacks.  I was placed in the center of a group of other students all decked out in protective head-gear and other protection.  Each of them was assigned a number which represented a specific type of attack with which they were to come at me when called upon.  I stood in the middle, scanning all around and waiting for the first attack.  I was surrounded and felt like I was in a movie, where the camera would start to scan in a circle to show all the threats that were going to come hard and fast.  Borhan started calling out numbers and the attacks began.  After I finished one attack then the next one came.  Then the next.  Then the next.  Someone choked me from behind, someone put me in a headlock.  That knife is coming at me fast, but I time it right and counterpunch right away.  I grab the arm holding the knife and secure it while laying some knees to the body, before I take him down.  What’s the next threat?  Where’s it coming from?  Somebody grabs me from behind.  He’s strong.  I can’t break free as easily as I thought so I start hitting him in the groin (yes, he was wearing a cup!).  The grip loosens and I’m able to come back under the arm and hold it tight while I apply some knees.  On and on it goes until finally, Borhan stops the attacks.  I’m spent, breathing hard, and feeling pretty much done while sweating profusely.  Jon said I did well and survived because I didn’t get fatally stabbed.  Thinking back to the knife attacks it didn’t even enter my mind that they were rubber knives.  In my mind they were a threat.  Fortunately my muscle memory kicked in and I was able to defend myself with the proper technique instead of freezing.  As exhausted as I was, I was then told to get my head protection on because the final test was coming up.

Arrgh.  Time to fight.  The sparring partners appeared to be arranged in a certain order.  I was to spar with the better fighter first, then go on down the line to easier fights.  At this point I had no idea how many people I had to spar, nor did I know how long the rounds would be (I found out later they were 2 minutes), all I knew is that because I was already greatly fatigued, I nearly used up the last of my reserve in the first round.  I finished the round and had a short break before the second round with the next fresh person.  It turns out that I was given only a 30 second rest between each round and in that time, I would throw off my head-gear, spit out my mouth guard, and suck in as much air as I could before I had to go at it again.  I had to think, “Keep it at 30%.  These are your training partners, not real threats.”  I knew that intellectually, but emotionally at that moment they felt like real threats.  I fought the second round, the third, then finally the fourth, which I thought was the end.  To be honest, I don’t even remember how I did in the second round.  I remember the person I fought, but nothing about the round itself, so I’ll have to ask Borhan what happened in that one.  After what I thought was the last round, they said I had one more (!) to do, and that was to go back with the first fighter who was able to rest up for the last 10 minutes while I was sparring with the others.  At that point I wasn’t thinking anymore, I was purely exhausted, and all I could do was let my body take over.  Punch, kick, cover up, keep your hands up, don’t give up.  Don’t give up.  Breathe, breathe, calm down, get your head straight.  Don’t over-think anything, just react.  As I’m in the middle of my own personal Hell, I hear Borhan’s voice in the background shouting, “Go! Go!  You love this s**t!  Do it!!  You LOVE this s**t!!”.  As much as I was disagreeing with that statement at the time, it was oddly motivating.  It’s coming down to the last 30 seconds so everyone starts shouting, everyone starts cheering, I’m doing whatever I can to stay on my feet and continue to fight back…and then….it’s finally over.  I’m vaguely aware of people congratulating me, of saying things like “Well done!” and “Way to go!”, but it doesn’t really register as I take off my head-gear and nearly collapse.  Jon asks how I am, and I reply “I’m too old for this.”.

And that was the Orange Belt test.

It took a while for the accomplishment to sink in, but after some time I started to feel proud of myself.  Not because I thought I did the techniques well, or that I sparred well, because I probably didn’t, but because I didn’t give up, I didn’t ask for a longer rest than what I was given, and I did everything that was asked of me.  No quarter was given, and none was asked.  Also, I had initially thought that a more conditioned person would have done better than me.  Perhaps in the beginning they wouldn’t have fatigued as quickly, however it became very apparent that no matter how conditioned you are, you’ll be beat down until you’re finally tired, and then that’s when you’ll need to perform.  And at that point you’ll really find out what you’re made of.  The other thing is that you really have to know your techniques, or rather, your body needs to know them.  I can honestly say that I was not thinking about what attack was coming, analyzing it, then pulling the counter-attack out of memory and applying it.  If I did that my response time would have been too slow.  My body just responded as it should have.  I do believe that one needs to put in the hours necessary to train their body to respond on its own, and to firm up the muscle memory.  There are no ways of getting around it.  You need to put in the time.

Finally, in most other martial arts getting an Orange Belt is no big deal.  It’s still very low on the totem pole and you have a long way to before you can really protect yourself.  However, in Krav Maga achieving an Orange Belt definitely means you can do some serious damage on the street if it came down to it.  It’ll be another year before I’ll have enough hours to test for my Green Belt, but I’m in no rush.  It’ll take me that long to recover from the Orange Belt test!

By: Warren Chow