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Life after Blackbelt

The Rapid Arnis Blackbelt grading is 3-days of continuous assessment, where candidates demonstrate their technical knowledge, spar in a wide range of armed and unarmed formats, deal with random surprise attacks, and deliver a tutorial to their peers (on a subject chosen by the grading panel). It is perhaps one of the most thorough Blackbelt assessments in the martial arts, and passing it entitles the candidate to set up and teach the Rapid Arnis system. But what lies beyond it?

Immediately post-Blackbelt, practitioners have the option to go for their Senior Instructor assessment (aka. Red belt) the following year. Although there are several Blackbelts who progress directly onto this, there are also several who fail to get it on their first try, or take several years to get around to doing it, or don't go for it at all. As of the latest syllabus revision (Sept 2016), some of the defining qualities that are expected of Senior Instructors are innovation, leadership, and contribution to the system. Therefore the rank of Senior Instructor isn't just a higher grade of Blackbelt - rather it is an active role to develop the system - to review, set, and uphold standards across the board.

Like the Blackbelt grading before it, the Senior Instructor grading is 3 days of continuous assessment, very similar to the Blackbelt grading in terms of the breadth of testing. This time around though, candidates are expected to show further depth of knowledge, going beyond the core syllabus, and must be able to perform under even more mental and physical hardship than before. Tutorial requests from the panel can range from frustratingly vague ("Show us something we haven't seen before") to awkwardly specific ("Show us the common principles between drills x, y, and z and then progress to a more dynamic model that incorporates these principles at the same time as developing additional specifically defined attributes"). Q&A sessions from other seniors trying to pick apart a candidate's tutorial are common, as is making the candidate do back-to-back rounds against an unknown number of opponents, in randomly chosen formats, for unspecified periods of time. In short, it is the candidate vs the room, and everybody (especially the existing Senior Instructors) will be going out of their way to challenge them: It is not for the faint of heart, and candidates should be prepared to have both their mental resilience and mental agility tested.

Once qualified, Senior Instructors take on the responsibility of guiding and vetting future generations of instructors. With each degree they progress, Senior Instructors are expected to develop specialisations and share them with their fellow Rapid Arnis practitioners. These specialisations generally fall into two categories:

  1. An evolution of a proficiency existing within the syllabus.

  2. An import of a proficiency developed from outside the syllabus.

With this in mind, Rapid Arnis is perhaps unusual in the martial arts world, in that it values the progress brought by external sources as much as it values the continued study and development of its own material. It can therefore be said that getting one's Blackbelt in Rapid Arnis is like packing for a round-the-world tour: You've got all your essentials in order and have a few key phrases up your sleeve, but the real journey is yet to come...

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