It seems I keep coming back to this topic...
Last month I attended the Wilder Seminar. It was great. By now, in our region, it seems like we get mostly the same 10 to 15 people at the seminars, so to me it seems almost like a family by this point. Which is really cool! It's a much better experience then when I attended my first seminar almost two years ago as a white belt, which I posted about previously. (You can that blog post if you are interested) I didn't mention in my review that there was a white belt there! He was new! I remember when he showed up thinking "Hey! Cool! Another white belt! Welcome to the family of those of us who know!" I made sure to go introduce myself. I was really just excited and thought it was great to see someone who is just starting their martial arts journey get to start it out on the right foot without having to wade through all the bull shit (excuse my language) that is out there.
After the seminar was over there was a discussion about seminars and rank. It was mentioned that perhaps lower ranking belts shouldn't be allowed to attend seminars, because the instructor isn't able to cover more advanced material with non-black belts present.
I wasn't really sure how I felt about this. I chewed on it for a while. Nick and I discussed it at length on our drive home in which I discovered I was actually kind of upset about the remark. I decided I am in disagreement with this opinion, and here is why:
The Black Belt ranking is completely arbitrary. I say this because there are some schools who will give you a black belt in two years and some schools in which it takes up to ten years to earn a black belt. Students may be going to classes the same amount of days a week and same amount of time in each school, but the time it takes to get to black belt is still different. Different schools and different instructors have different criteria for ranking and demand different levels of competency to progress. So... you might have someone walk in who is a black belt who has been doing martial arts for two or three years. And you may have someone show up who is a green belt (or whatever mid rank color your system uses) who has been doing martial arts for five to seven years. There is no way you can ask the student who has been practicing for seven years to sit out while someone who has only been practicing for two years can participate because they are a black belt and it is therefore assumed that they have more knowledge, control, experience, and are more able to handle the difficult or advanced material.
In addition these attendees usually come from all across the style spectrum. At these seminars we have people from different two schools of Shotokan Karate, people from Goju Ryu Karate, people from Aikijutsu, people from TaeKwonDo backgrounds, and people with Judo backgrounds; sometimes people with backgrounds in more than one of the above. Someone from TaeKwonDo isn't going to know the same kata as someone from an Aikijutsu background, who isn't going to know any of the kata from a karate background. Even though the line between all martial arts can be blurred to the point of indistinction, not everyone is walking into the seminar with the same knowledge, EVEN if they are ALL black belts.
Now, I'll be fair and play the devil's advocate here. When I helped Nick design his rank sheets we arranged the requirements in such a way that the more dangerous and more difficult techniques were required and primarily taught to the upper ranking students. I can understand that it would be frustrating to have a white belt present and to have to try to cover the basics or things that they haven't yet learned in order to explain more in depth material, or being hesitant to work with them on more advanced techniques because you don't want them to hurt you. I DO understand and acknowledge those concerns.
However, who is to say a black belt FOR CERTAIN understands everything they are assumed to know? Maybe it's even more dangerous to NOT have any lower ranking belts present, because it is just assumed everyone in the room will know what is going on and no one wants to ask for clarification or help fear of looking stupid? I still have a tendency, because I feel that the black belt rank is arbitrary, to try to stick pretty close to working with Nick at seminars because there is a part of me that still doesn't totally trust the other black belts in the room not to hurt me either. Maybe that's pretty snide of me, but you have no way of knowing anything for certain when working with people you only see once or twice a year at a seminar. No offense seminar peoples, I love you all, but I still have trouble over coming my hang ups.
What to do, what to do? I feel that, If you really want to work on or cover techniques that are so advanced that any rank lower than a black belt should not be working on it, and you don't want to bother with explaining basics, or dealing with people who haven't studied the same style as you, then you need make a seminar that is SPECIFICALLY designed for people who practice Style X who have obtained at least rank Z or studied for Y number of years. It is not open to the general public. I'm perfectly OK with this. Awesome! More power to you! I don't really think it's being elitist even. It's just an advanced level seminar for people who practice a specific style. Cool. I fully acknowledge I am not qualified to attend your seminar and do not feel discriminated against in the slightest. (Although it might end of fostering an elitist attitude if people aren't careful, and I'm sure someone out there would be petty enough to throw a fit about not being allowed into a seminar they are not qualified to attend, but oh well.)
I do think that the Wilder and the the Abernethy type seminars are more of a general education type of seminar. Here is some REALLY cool stuff you can do with Martial Arts, we want you to take it home and incorporate it into your school and your style however you see fit. I think it's GREAT to have lower ranking students at these seminars because even if they can't utilize or haven't learned everything yet, they are getting some of the pieces to the puzzle that they can think about and plug in as they progress in their training. They are there because they are interested and they want to learn. Cool!
Let's foster that and encourage them. Try to remember what it felt like to be that rank. Did the upper belts you knew look down their nose at you? Could you pick up on the fact that they were irritated that you were there watching and learning? Were they mad that you asked questions because you couldn't understand something? Or were they excited to help you on your journey? Did they welcome questions? Did they get excited when they showed you something knew? Did they celebrate with you when you understood or grasped something for the first time or had a 'light-bulb moment'? Even if you had the former type of instructors or sempai, wouldn't you have rather had the latter?
Just some food for thought.