Today I went to a friend's karate school to watch a rank exam. Here are some of my observations in compare/contrast form.
testing style: them - about thirty people tested, including one black belt (from brown); many people showing forms at the same time; total time about 2 hours; us - black belts test separate dates; less people testing (5-10); kyup exam taking about 3 hours; kata forms usually shown individually.
dojo: us - part of athletic club with no extra participation fees; small test fee to cover incidentals; kendo sister school; them - stand-alone building, business run by main instructor; no test fee (at least for lower belts); other parts include day care and boxing school.
belts: us - white, yellow, green, blue, brown, black; them - white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown, brown w/black stripe (black belt candidate), black, red ("dragon club"). black belt instructors wore blue tops, black bottoms; orange and up wear all black; white and yellow belts wear all white.
bowing: them - left foot comes to right; us - opposite
formality: them - I read a sign instructing students to bow when entering dojo, but I did not see a single person do this; no bowing before or after kata, to flags, or when dismissed; only bowing I remember was before sparring, and to open and close class. us - we bow to the flags when entering and leaving the dojo, when sitting and standing up from side, we bow to the instructor at start and end of class, start and end of kata, when dismissed to the side.
stances: us - low and strong, emphasis from beginning (white belt) on foot and knee direction; them: high, less emphasis on foot position/direction
kiai: them - not emphasized, optional for black belt candidate; us - essential for intensity, power, intimidation; emphasized from beginner level.
breathing: them - emphasized only for black belt candidate; us - introduced at beginning, part of training for blue
intensity: them - not seen until brown; us - required for blue
kicks: them - snappy, not turning base foot, fists up whole time; us - more thrusting, turn base foot, hands down for counterbalance
kata: them - shorter, less intensity in all ranks; overall less emphasis than sparring; no partner kata; us -much time and effort emphasis, longer, more deliberate, intensity required for blue and encouraged from beginning.
sparring: them - full contact at upper levels, padding (head, chest, hands, forearm, shin, feet, mouth guard), small ring; lots of bouncing, little passing; us - limited contact zone all ranks, no padding, must learn to control punches, control space is 3-4x bigger, variety of staring positions (close, regular, far)
sparring stance: them - fists up like boxer's, body forward facing; us - fight stance (body side facing, front knife hand up at chin level, rear fist at center)
self defense: them - no separate warm-up for falls; most forms send opponent's face straight towards ground, using hair, face, neck; less variety of offensive moves to defend from; very little (no?) tumbling; less organized ("first move of x kata"); not well studied among all ranks, even black belt candidate
weapons: them - dual sticks about 3 ft long of bamboo; a few forms with them including defenses and something that looked like a partner kata, but no formal solo kata; us - knife, three forms starting at green; bo starting at brown?; both with defense forms, solo and partner katas.
While the black belt candidate was demonstrating kata, an instructor asked her to re-do it with better breathing and intensity. Without thinking, I clapped (and everyone followed) after her second try because it was so much better. The head instructor glared at me and said NO (clapping, booing, feedback, etc, is encouraged at all times during Myo Sim rank exams). But the sparring matches sounded like an arena.
I summary, I really enjoyed watching this rank exam of another school with my friend (even though I was publicly chastised for offering feedback). It was an eye-opening experience and made me appreciate my school and style. I would like to think that Myo Sim is prettier while being more practical. In a sparring match (with or without gear), most kyup students would be equally matched, but the Myo Sim Black Belts would do better (IMHO). It was helpful to have my friend, an orange belt at the school, there with me to answer my random questions during the test. However, he did not know the country of origin or founder of his style.