What to expect at your first Soo Bahk Do grading

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The closing photo of Dojang X’s first students’ grading with Barry Snell SBN

So, your first Soo Bahk Do grading is drawing near?


As with anything in the ‘unknown’, it can feel a little daunting as the day approaches. After all, martial arts is completely different from many other sports or activities. You’re learning new ways to move your body whilst being taught in another language and in an environment that embraces Eastern philosophy and tradition.

Although the specifics of what’s involved in a grading will differ somewhat depending on location, this quick guide will help to capture the essentials so that you have an idea of what’s in store!

#1 : The grading is a celebration

It can be hard to think about a grading being a celebration – especially because we’re being tested! However, you’ve now trained for a certain period of time – to the point where your instructor feels confident to put you forward for your first belt. And so, the grading event itself is a time to showcase what you’ve learnt with others and obtain the official recognition that you’re ready to progress to the next rank.

#2 : What to bring

A grading has a great significance and so it’s important to make sure that your uniform (do bok) is washed and ironed and ready to go! Remember also to pop your belt in the bag and have your badge sewn if you have one. Besides the uniform, a bottle of water is always a good idea and maybe even a post grading snack – depending on how far you’ve travelled.

#3 : Getting in line

When you joined the martial art, you’d have received your student number. It’s helpful to remember this because we form lines at the grading to be seated and called to demonstrate. These lines are in ascending order – so the most senior (i.e. higher rank) will have the lowest number because they joined at an earlier time. When you know your number, it’s easier to know where in the line that you’ll be sitting.

#4 : The bow

When do I bow? How often should I bow? What if I accidentally offend someone?

These are common questions by the student waiting to take their first grading…but don’t worry!

Everyone knows that you’re a beginner and the Examiner will be helping you along the way. Typically, this is explained by your own instructor at class. On grading day, before the grading actually begins, it will be explained again, with additional guidance and prompts where relevant.

The formality of the bow is very important in Soo Bahk Do. There is significance for this for many reasons:

  • It represents respect to the grading environment and the Examiner
  • It demonstrates collaboration with other practitioners who are grading with you or who partner with you to assist
  • The bow reflects the history and tradition of the martial art origins and the connection between past and present

#5 : Grading format

There may or may not be a group warm up before the grading begins – so it’s helpful to arrive earlier to do a short warm up and stretch. When you’re called up, typically you’ll be asked to perform some basic techniques. It’s fair to say that at white belt, you wouldn’t be expected to know all terminology in Korean and so the Examiner will usually include the English translation. After the basics, you’ll be asked to perform your hyungs (forms) and other syllabus that is required to demonstrate your competency. Enjoy the experience – you’ve already covered the syllabus many times prior to this point.

#6 : Making a mistake

Let’s face it, mistakes can and do happen to everyone. Even the Examiner would have made some mistakes at their gradings every now and then before reaching their level. There’s a huge difference between making a mistake at grading and not knowing your stuff at all. The grading environment can make one feel a little nervous – and sometimes the variation between how instructors say things can throw a testing candidate off. For whatever reason, if you make a mistake, continue to the end and bow after (if a hyung) or try to repeat the technique (if it’s something like wrist grips). Don’t worry, it’s understandable.

#7 : Last but not least…focus on you

Similar to #6, a reason for making a mistake is being aware of what others are doing. Focus on you and what you’ve done so far in your training. Pay attention to the timing and/or instruction called out by the Examiner or other senior members on the floor. To develop as a practitioner, your focus on your training and performance will increase with time, but right now what everyone wants to see is the start of that journey.

And there you have it, some quick-fire tips to help you prepare for your first grading! It goes without saying that you should practice repeatedly beforehand and ask questions to clarify things when unsure.

Enjoy the experience!

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