Not promoting is not a failure.

Posted Sun Nov 04, 2007, 08:23 AM by Tracy

Following my (first) black belt test, I wrote this article for the Mo Duk Pai website . I’ve gotten good response from other students. I’m planning to also write an article for the PAWMA newsletter. After I get my black belt essay finished.

One fine Saturday in October 2007, five brown-black sashes lined up to test for their black belts, perhaps one of the largest groups to test for black belt together. Along with the people testing for brown-black, we were, on average, probably the oldest group of testers in Mo Duk Pai history. We jokingly referred to ourselves as “Team Geritol.”

At the end of the day, only three people were promoted to the rank of first degree black belt; two of us went home, still wearing our brown-black sashes.

Was I disappointed? Yes. I trained long and hard for this test and it meant a lot to me. Was I surprised that I didn’t promote? No. I recognize that I did not demonstrate that I was up to the level of a black belt. As I said when asked about my martial code, my first duty is to be honest to myself.

Does this mean I failed? Not at all. Not promoting is not a failure. Rather, it’s an opportunity for growth that you just don’t get otherwise. In fact, not passing the black belt test may very well turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to my martial training.

Like a stress test on a steel girder, a black belt test pinpoints strengths and weaknesses. My own test showed with crystal clarity those areas in which I excelled and those that aren’t yet up to the standards of a Mo Duk Pai black belt. For myself, I know that I didn’t achieve my personal goal of staying calm and in control of myself throughout the test. At the same time, I do have to keep in mind that I did do parts of the test very well.

Not being promoted is a humbling experience. It has made me philosophical about my training, and a little more reflective as I confront the truths about myself that were revealed that day. It showed how much work I have in front of me to reach the level of black belt.

It’s important to remember that the standard for black belt in Mo Duk Pai is very high. Our tests are more rigorous and demanding than most other systems. Not everyone passes the black belt test on their first attempt.

My next step will be to take what I’ve learned from the test and work with my sifu, focusing on those areas where I need to improve. I will be testing again, despite any previous declarations that I wouldn’t.

To quote Vince Lombardi: “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”


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About Mo Duk Pai

Mo Duk Pai kung fu is a modern American eclectic system of martial arts, combining hard- and soft-style techniques Mo Duk Pai, which translates to “Martial Ethical Way”, was founded by Professor Frederick D. King. For more information, to see photos or inquire about training, visit the Mo Duk Pai web site, which I also maintain. I have been training since 1996 and currently hold the rank of brown-black sash.


Sifu (pr. see-foo [Cantonese] or shur-foo [Mandarin]) is a Chinese term for Teacher. It also carries the connotation of Father (teacher-father), referring to a tradition of teaching martial arts within the family, as well as being a title of respect. In America the title sifu is given to both men and women. In Mo Duk Pai the title is awarded to 2nd degree black belts at their teacher’s discretion.


Qigong (pr. chee-gung) is the practice of Chinese exercises incorporating movement and posture, breathing and visualization. Qigong exercises focus on maintaining health by energizing and balancing one’s qi, or energy.