Now the whole family can learn powerful self defence

Blitz Interview Master Les Hicks

20 January 07

“Black Belt Journey” Part 2
Blitz Magazine Interview with Master Les Hicks
July 2008 edition
Volume 22 No 7

BLITZ. Can your students become instructors on completion of the Black-belt level? (Or can they instruct before reaching Black-belt?)

MASTER HICKS. I began to instruct at Brown Belt level and although very rewarding, instructing is a very personal thing, some want to do it and others don’t. In our organisation just because you are a black belt doesn’t necessarily mean that you can become a Branch Instructor but you should at least be prepared to undergo our “Level 1 Instructor Licencing” in order to enable you to pass on your skills in a safe and effective manner should you ever be required to do so.

Sometimes we see the occasional Senior Coloured Belt student showing a certain “flair” for passing their knowledge on to others so for us it is important to give these people the opportunity to develop their teaching skills while at the same time continue their development as a student. Our “Instructor Licencing Program” is designed with these people in mind and we have found some of our best instructors have actually begun their teaching career before reaching Black Belt Level.

BLITZ. How many other ranks/belts must be earned before reaching black/instructor level, and how many more can be earned afterward?

MASTER HICKS. There are 10 coloured belt levels and 9 Black Belt levels in the art of Shim jang TKD

BLITZ. Where does the syllabus come from? Who designed it?

MASTER HICKS. The Shim Jang syllabus is a direct reflection of what I have learnt and experienced over many years of training and teaching the art of taekwondo. Although not identical and now a lot more professionally taught, our syllabus takes its basic origin from the original military style of taekwondo that was developed by the early masters and taught to the Korean military during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s well before the existence of other modern day organisations.
In those days Taekwondo was developed for military training purposes and was heavily influence by Japanese Karate, back when I first started learning the art it was mainly focused on self defence with little or no tournament fighting influence that is how it was taught to me and that’s how I like to teach it. I have no problem with any other style or form of taekwondo and I think they all have an important place in the modern Taekwondo world but personally I still prefer the system that was originally taught to me and in some way I feel that it gives Shim Jang Taekwondo an attachment to the original roots of the art.


BLITZ. Is your school’s Black-belt grading as difficult/punishing as your own was, or less so? Why?

MASTER HICKS. In many ways yes it is very similar and just as difficult but it is, however, nowhere near as brutal as it was back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Back then the art was still in it’s infancy in this country and, while the art was great, training practices were primitive to say the least, we still train just as hard but these days we also train lot smarter.
We now take a much more professional approach to our teaching and safety is at the helm of our instruction, this doesn’t in any way effect the style or the end result and I am confident that our Black Belt students can hold their own in most situations. Today we are much more skilled in the technical aspects of teaching and training, as a result our members are now benefiting greatly from the cuts and bruises that we copped in those early days of martial art training.

BLITZ. What is the success rate among students who attempt the Black-belt grading?

MASTER HICKS. Failing students doesn’t make an art better or stronger, In fact all Shim Jang Taekwondo 1st Dan applicants are expected pass their grading test. 30 years ago we used to say that “failing was character building” (that’s because we couldn’t teach) nowadays as instructors we take it personally when a student is not successful because ultimately it was our job to prepare them in the first place.

It is quite common for 1st grade members to spend between 6 months and 1 year preparing for their Black Belt grading, our Instructors are well schooled professionals, they fully understand the requirements for the Black Belt Exam and their job as an instructor is to prepare the students for a successful grading, members are NOT permitted to apply for the Black Belt test unless they are well prepared and capable of fulfilling all grading requirements.

Any responsible instructor understands that they doing irreparable damage to both the art and the student by sending ill prepared applicants to a grading test of this magnitude, it is both dangerous and irresponsible to do so and students are not allowed to apply for such an advanced level if they are not fully prepared (we make no exceptions).

Students are only invited to apply for Black Belt if they have the technique and attitude to represent the organisation at this important level, they must, of course, first satisfy the syllabus requirements both technically and physically in class in front of the regions senior instructor before being invited to apply for Black Belt.
We are all human and of course sometimes a member may have a bad day and under perform during their grading in which case they must re-apply at a later date. As an examiner it is my responsibility to uphold the standard throughout the entire organisation, I cannot and will not make exceptions, therefore if for whatever reason a student does not perform to expectation at their grading they must re-apply again sometime in the future.

BLITZ. What do you think a Black-belt grading should aim to achieve and instil in the student?

MASTER HICKS. Success, pride, spirit and a sense of accomplishment.

BLITZ. What does your Black-belt grading involve, who grades the participants and how long does it go for ?

MASTER HICKS. The Black Belt grading is usually held in conjunction with our “kup” or coloured belt grading, A complete grading would usually last for approximately 3-4 hours and the Black Belt grading would usually consume about 1 hour of this time but for me there is no set time (I am there to examine technique, not to punish everybody for attending) if the students perform well the grading usually finishes on time but if I am not satisfied with the standard displayed I will spend extra time with both students and instructors in order to rectify any problems that I may have encountered.

To ensure quality control it is our policy for all members to be graded by an independent examiner, this gives us a consistent technical standard throughout the organisation and ensures that there is never any bias. All Australian Shim Jang TKD gradings are conducted by myself or one of the WSTA's officially appointed examiners who have undergone countless hours of instruction to enable their appointment. Because of the consistency we have developed throughout the organisation a member can move from the Gold Coast to Perth and comfortably fit in at class, the move should in no way interfere with their preparation and allows them to continue their growth within the art, consistency is a key factor in success.

BLITZ. How do you think your Black-belt level & grading compares to other schools’?

MASTER HICKS. It is difficult to compare when the art of taekwondo is so diverse, some do sport, some do self defence, some mix it up and If I was to follow everyone else around watching what they do I would be just that (a follower)

To be honest I am not really concerned with what other people are doing and it would be unprofessional of me to make comparisons, I much prefer to put all my efforts into ensuring that the World Shim Jang Taekwondo Academy remains an art for its members, their happiness and success is my only focus.

BLITZ. What level of achievement does the Black-belt/instructor level (or equivalent) represent? Does instructor- student contact and further learning slow down thereafter?

MASTER HICKS. Reaching Black Belt level in our art really is a great achievement but becoming a successful and accomplished instructor is an achievement on a much higher level, it is job that requires great patience and dedication, a job that not everyone can do.
With regard to student – instructor contact; our students are always welcome to train at any of our centres and with any of our instructors both before and after “Black Belt”, all regions have regular senior training sessions in which the local instructors are all involved. Black Belt students are expected to frequent these training sessions in order to continue their study of the art. The instructor student relationship is a very important aspect of this art, just recently we had an instructor fly to Newcastle from Perth (where he had relocated over a year ago) just to attend the Black Belt grading of one of his past students, this type of commitment is what makes our instructors unique and it makes me very proud to be involved with such dedicate, caring and committed people.

BLITZ. How many students (of those who join) make it to Black-belt, and how long does/should it take them ?

MASTER HICKS. Years ago it was about 1 in 20 but as we leave the past behind and head toward the future we are seeing many changes and this is one of them, the introduction of our Instructor Licencing Program and the subsequent improvement in our teaching professionalism has seen our standards rise and the art grow rapidly. Now we have large numbers of students in each region to train with and share experiences, this encourages our members to help and support each other and has resulted in a marked improvement in the number of students reaching Black Belt level over the past few years.

A dedicated student who trains regularly and takes as much as they can from each lesson would normally expect to reach Black Belt level after around 3 years of training but like anything else worthwhile you only get back what you put in, this is an art that anyone can learn so success ultimately depends on effort and just because you have been training for 3 years doesn’t necessarily mean that you can apply for Black Belt promotion.

BLITZ. What should a Black-belt mean to the student?

MASTER HICKS. The Black Belt should mean the start of a new beginning, a willingness to help others learn and the satisfaction of having a sound knowledge of the art of Shim Jang Taekwondo.
The Black Belt student can now feel satisfied that they are developing strong self defence capabilities, they should, by now, feel healthier, happier and fitter than they did when they first began their journey in the martial arts.

BLITZ. Is Black-belt as important a milestone as it is generally seen to be?

MASTER HICKS. Of course, we all need to succeed and have the confidence to tackle the challenges that we are confronted with during everyday life and I believe that (to a martial artist) achieving the Black belt is a key ingredient for a safer, happier and healthier life.

BLITZ. Are injuries common in the grading?

MASTER HICKS. If a student is well prepared by a competent instructor and an experienced examiner with commonsense is overseeing the event there should be no injuries.
Having said that, Shim Jang Taekwondo is a martial art (not a dance routine) and as with any physical activity of this kind we do recognise that occasionally someone may pull a muscle or sprain an ankle, we understand that accidents can and sometimes do happen but thanks to the risk management training that our instructors undertake and the risk management procedures that we have in place we are at all times aware of the possibility of an accident happening and of course we do all we can to avoid it, as a result we rarely see any injuries.

BLITZ. Do the grading requirements focus more on the physical – and if so, are you looking mainly for an indication of effective self-defence skills or proof of the spiritual & disciplinary outcomes of the students’ training?

MASTER HICKS. At grading we take all things into consideration, Shim Jang TKD is an art of self defence so a sound knowledge of self defence and strong basics are, of course, essentially requisite but attitude is also a big one and as the examiner I am constantly monitoring the applicants attitude. Without the correct attitude a student will struggle to understand the true essence of the martial arts, they will become a danger to themselves and others and will therefore not be permitted to represent this art.
This is why we developed the “W.S.T.A Instructor Licencing Program”. It is imperative that our instructors are skilled at running disciplined and well structured classes, if a student displays a bad attitude and continually fails to comply with the directions given by the instructor they are usually shown the door well before Brown Belt level and because of our willingness to do this we tend not to produce Black Belts with bad attitude.
Our junior members must be able to trust and learn from their seniors and should never under any circumstances be intimidated by a higher level student, we have no room for over inflated ego’s within this organisation so correct attitude is a very important requisite when applying for Black Belt level.