On Saturday, April 9, four individuals tested for new black belt ranks (one for junior rank black belt, two for adult rank black belt, and one for second degree black belt). The judging panel was led by Grandmaster Crandall, Master Chuff, Master Freleigh, Master Morris, Master Moller, Chief Instructor Stalloch, Senior Instructor Cumings, and many other 5th and 6th degree black belt instructors. The testing lasted nearly five hours.
The testing began with an intensive written examination including information about the style, the school, philosophical concepts of yin and yang, the lineage or "roots" of the school, and more. This segment of the test was "closed book," and the student had to rely on their knowledge alone. The students testing for 2nd Dan had increasingly challenging questions with short answer written responses.
Following the written examination, the physical skills and knowledge of the students were tested. The first degree candidates are required to know 11 traditional katas, including Chulgi 1, Eye of the Eagle, the Palgwes, and others (junior rank candidates do not need to know Old Koryo). 2nd Degree candidates also need to know and additional 5 katas including New Koryo, Chulgi 2, Heian 1, Chip Su, and Guem Gang. Other areas tested included punches, kicks, stances, 36 basic forms, advanced techniques, floor exercises, takedowns, self-defense, defenses against guns and knives, come alongs and control techniques, sparring individual and multiple opponents, bag work, and other areas. All first degree candidates are also required to write a 500 word paper prior to the testing.
Black belt is a prestigious rank, one recognized around the world. In the American Eagle Style, there are ten degrees (levels, sometimes referred to as Dan) of black belt. Only one person may hold the rank of 10th degree black belt, the head of the school who determines its direction and certifies its instructors. The American Martial Arts Institute is under the direction of its founder, Grandmaster Crandall (10th degree). Similarly, only one individual may hold the rank of 9th degree black belt, the style's successor. Every other degree of black belt is earned through years of training and formal testings. In addition there are 8 gyups (belt ranks) that must be earned prior to testing for first degree black belt. All students begin as white belts and test for each rank, maturing in the style as they acquire knowledge, skills, and demonstrate proper martial arts attitude for the style's high standards and traditions.
The American Martial Arts Institute is a traditional school. This means that the style's standards, knowledge, techniques, etiquette, philosophy, and processes are maintained consistently from generation-to-generation. Following this tradition, the rank of first degree black belt cannot be earned prior to a minimum of 5 1/2 years of training, and generally takes 6-8 years or more to earn. The rank of first degree is graded out of a score of 100 possible points, with a minimum of 80 points needed to pass, and the exam is rigorous. Some students take significantly longer, as these are minimum time requirements.
First degree black belt candidates are also required to bring in up to 15 of their martial arts books or DVDs, including resources not produced by the American Martial Arts Institute. The students are expected to have written their name in each of these items, as they are part of their personal library. Grandmaster Crandall, the Master Instructors (and sometimes other members of the judging panel) pose questions to the candidates about their books and what they have learned from them, including questions regarding their current perspective of the martial arts, its history, styles, and other other aspects. This verbal question and answer session is part of the candidate's grade and can also include a written component.
Critical to all students who test for the brown belt and black belt ranks is a demonstration of school involvement and a proper martial arts attitude and accountability. This includes participating in seminars, weapons' competitions, sparring competitions, weapon's classes, ceremonial luncheons, and other events held by the school throughout the year to help students grow into their rank and understanding of their rank. These events are held specifically as part of their training, and the student must choose to become involved in these areas areas as part of their rank's responsibilities.
Grandmaster Crandall is pleased to announce that the following American Eagle Style students have passed their black belt examinations:
1st Degree Black Belt, Junior Rank Status Tyler Huston
1st Degree Black Belt, Adult Rank Status Matthew Strachen, Thomas (TJ) Labayewski
2nd Degree Black Belt David Faulkner
It was an impressive moment of growth for the school and style. These individuals will receive their certificate of rank at the next black belt ceremonial luncheon.