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Graduation….. What’s it all about?

You probably hear

a lot about graduation in classes and maybe you’ve wondered what it’s all about? You should as Graduations in Tang So Do are an important part of the journey that each student makes. Grading is an important way of measuring your attainment within the art, allowing you to progress to the next stage and it symbolises that progress by the awarding of your new belt. Graduations therefore are a great opportunity to show off your newly learned skills to your peers, your seniors and, most importantly, the Masters.


Certainly, for Beginners, Graduations are nothing to fear. It’s always great to be a little nervous (you wouldn’t be human if you weren’t), but there really is nothing to fear. Everything we teach you in class is to prepare you for going to the Graduation, and if you turn up to classes and train as hard as you can, you’ll be able to get through a Graduation without any problems at all.


But what happens at a graduation?

We thought we would look at what happens to the Gups on the day and get some of your fellow students to tell you about their experiences at Graduations and to give you some advice about what to expect when you get down to the ESSA academy in Bolton.


Graduations happen in rank order, and all students on the same belt colour from all of the Family Martial Arts Centres come together and show off their skills to the Masters. When you get to the ESSA Academy, you will all gather in the waiting area, where you can chat with your friends, family and fellow students and usually the Instructors will pop in to see if everyone is excited and looking forward to the Grading. Then at the start of the session, you will make your way down to the hall, where you will see the Masters (and even though they may look a bit scary, they are all very friendly really) sat in the centre ready to cast their eye over your demonstrations. You will then line up and away we go. After the demonstration, you will get a great applause from the spectators, receive your new belt and be awarded your certificate.



9.00am - Tigers

We start the morning off with the Tigers’ Graduation and this one is slightly different to the other gradings, as Tigers of all ranks come and do the Graduation together. The Tiger grading is always a fun and noisy atmosphere, where anything can happen, but allows all the Tigers to get up and show off their kicking and punching, and we even get some special helpers up from their seats to help with the self-defence. Albie said: “I was a little scared of the Masters sat behind the desk, but it wasn’t really that scary to do. I really enjoyed doing my martial arts moves and getting my new belt”.


The Tigers graduation lasts about 45 minutes, and it’s a great opportunity for friends and family to come down and support their little Tiger and give an extra loud cheer and a clap when they get presented with their new belt.




10.00am - White Belts

Straight after Tigers comes the White belts. The White Belt Graduation is always the session where we see the most nervous faces.  Mr Joshua Kelly commented: “It was just like attending a lesson really, just with a lot more people. While I was nervous when I entered the room, not knowing who the Masters were, they seemed really nice, and I felt completely prepared with what I had to do during the Graduation””.


Mr David Tickle went on to say: “I think the nerves are different having to stand in front of the Masters, and there is an anticipation after hearing about it all in class. There is a pressure of being observed and judged and merited for what you are doing. It’s that feeling of being watched and studied, that can be quite intimidating, but its really not”.


For the White Belts it’s an opportunity to get used to a Graduation environment, which can be very different to classes, Ms Dyer who was Graduating for the first time said: “The graduation is quite different to how we’ve done things in class, with not having the towers and the pads, instead having to do all of your moves into just thin air”.


It is also a fantastic chance for family and friends to get their first real look at all the work you’ve been putting in over the previous few weeks. We are not expecting anyone to be experts at this stage and turning up and doing the grading is something to be extremely proud of. Ms Kath Dyer finished off by saying : ““It really is like a big class, and your family, friends and people you know are going to be here, and it’s a fun thing show them, you will thoroughly enjoy it, and it really helps with your confidence”.


11.00am - Yellow Belts

The further into the day we go, the higher up the ranks we go. The next students through the door are the Yellow Belts. This was Victoria’s and Bryce’s second grading with them both going for their Orange Belt. When asked if it was harder than the first time she did a Graduation, Victoria said: “It was a bit harder to do than the classes, but I wasn’t really nervous this time like I was the first time”.


The further into the journey all students go, the more everyone learns and the more confident everyone becomes at demonstrating the techniques to other people. When asked about his second Graduation, Bryce said: “It certainly felt easier than the first time I did a Graduation, I felt the classes helped me to everything i needed to do on the day. The most enjoyable part of Graduation is certainly that satisfaction you get when you have completed the day. I really think Graduations help you to see how you are progressing, and it is great to do it with other people on the same level”.


Even in the few short months between the White Belt and Yellow Belt Graduations, we as Instructors see such a boost in confidence in our Yellow belts, who now know what to expect and can build on what they have already learnt and the experience of already having done a Graduation.


On receiving her Orange Belt, Victoria added that: “Graduations are a good thing to do as it helps you to become stronger person”.


12.00pm – Orange & Blue Belts

Its now noon, and after the Yellow Belt Grading comes the only double rank Graduation of the day, where the Orange and Blue Belts go into the session together as they are the more experienced students of the Beginner classes. This is also the Graduation where the Blue Belts get to demonstrate the new Form (pattern) that they have been learning – Cho Bo Ja Hyung. The students go through all the basic techniques together, demonstrating to the Masters all the kicks, strikes, blocks and self-defences they have been working on in class.


Ms Armstrong said: “I felt really confident coming into this Graduation, and while it is obviously quite difficult to do all the moves we have learnt in one quick session and making sure you get everything right, there was nothing that we did today that we hadn’t been taught in class. I really enjoy the Graduations as its really nice to come together and join in with other venues and start to see you are part of a much bigger family than we are at Prestwich. It gives me confidence to see people of all levels of ability are there, and for me my hand work is better than my leg work but vice-versa for others around you, and it just goes to show that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and Graduation helps you to focus on the weaknesses and know what you’ve got to work on in the future”.


James & Dennis added: “The Graduations have been really useful for us, as they have helped us get ready for our next belt. This Graduation has been really good, as we have loved getting to do all the self defences we have learnt so far in front of everyone”.  James & Dennis’ Dad said, “We have really seen a big change in them, and the Graduations really help bring out the confidence in them, which is great to see”.


After everyone has done their basics, there’s a chance for the orange belts to sit down and watch the Blue Belts demonstrate their form. Going through this process was Mia who said: “I really enjoyed getting to show Cho Bo Ja Hyung for the first time, and while I was a bit nervous before going in, when I walked in the room, it wasn’t that bad. It was nice to show the first pattern we have been learning” 


For those students that Graduated from Blue to Green Belt today, it’s the advanced class next time they train and a chance to build on the hard work they have already completed over the past several months.


1.00pm – Green Belts

Following the Orange and Blue Belts comes the first advanced team to graduate with the Green Belts arriving at the ESSA Academy. The advanced Graduations are usually more complex than those of the junior Gups, as they have to not only show the basic techniques and self-defence that they have learnt, but they also need to demonstrate their ‘Hyung’ (Form or pattern), which this time was Pyung Ahn Cho Dan Hyung and show how they handle themselves sparring with an opponent.


While the Green Belt graduation is more complex, its again important to say that you will not be asked to do anything that you have not learnt at some point along your Tang Soo Do journey - if you train hard in class, your confidence will only go from strength to strength. Alicia completed her last Green Belt Graduation before moving to Red Belt and said: “I thoroughly enjoyed getting to demonstrate my forms that we have been practicing in class. I particularly enjoyed demonstrating the three Basic Forms and getting to move backwards and forwards. While I was a little nervous beforehand, I felt comfortable once we got going, as there are loads of people doing it with you”.


When asked what advice she would give to those doing their first advanced Graduation Alicia said:“Even though you are nervous on the day, try as hard as you can, don’t concentrate on the Masters watching you, just concentrate on what you are doing and try to get it right, and you won’t even notice what’s going on around you”


2:00pm – Red Belts

Finally, the last of the Gup Gradings takes place with the Red Belts all coming together to demonstrate their knowledge of the Art. You are a Red Belt for at least 18 months and you progress within that rank throughout that time. It is at this level that we look at the details and refinements of all the kicks, stances, and hand techniques, along with all the self-defences and Forms that you have learnt up to that point. Like the Green Belts, they are asked to demonstrate the current Form they have been working on, and the 1st Gups are also asked to demonstrate the previous Form as well. The Red Belts will again demonstrate sparring to the Masters.


Current Red Belts the McAtkin Family and Mrs Thorpe, who have all been through many Graduations now, summed up their thoughts on the more advanced Gradings of the day.


Mrs McAtkin said “Even though I’m a senior Red Belt, I still get nervous, and the first time I had to stand up with the others and do Bassai for the first time I was like, Oh my word!!, because there was only a small number of us and everyone is watching. But it’s really fine, as you are with people who are all doing the same thing, and you kind of know the Masters have all been there and done the same thing you have just done” 


Mrs Thorpe added: “We felt we had learned everything we needed to in class for today, but a successful Graduation also comes down to how much effort and practice you put in both in class, and practicing at home”.


When asked if he still got nervous, Mr McAtkin told us: “It’s a different type of nervousness as a Red Belt to when we were a junior rank, as you know what is coming, you understand the format, and what is coming up, it’s easy to get into it a bit more”, and when asked what he would say to someone who has never done a Graduation before and to try to relax them, Mr McAtkin told us: “Graduations are 100% a great thing to do, as it is nice to see progression, and is a good measure of where you are”, with Frankie McAtkin adding: “every Graduation is one more step to Black Belt”.


So, as you can see from what your fellow students have said, Graduation is a fun and challenging experience, that is very much a part of your Tang Soo Do journey, and while as Instructors we may make it sound scary and something difficult, there really is nothing to be scared about! If you train hard and come to class, we will get you prepared for each Graduation without any problems.

We’ll leave it to Red Belt Frankie to sum up her thoughts on the whole Graduation day experience for those who have never been before: “Calm down, it’s going to be alright”!”


3:00pm - Black Belts

The day isn't finished there. The last group of the day is the Black Belts. To be a Black Belt, you have spent a minimum of 3-4 years training, so you will have been 25+ Graduations. The process is much the same for them, so you can see that the higher you go, the more detailed the demonstrations will be, but the process remains the same all the way through.




[Kyo Sa Nim Mr Ogden]

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