Martial Arts Belt Testing, What’s the Purpose?

The best challenges are the ones we have a choice in. By choosing to undertake difficulty, we make ourselves stronger. –Sensei/YDN Caitlin

Pile o' belts.

Pile o’ belts.

Today, I was reading about the history of using colored belts when I came across another great quote. “Achievement of rank should be considered as a side-effect of karate training and not a goal.” (You can read the essay here if you’re interested, but it is a fairly dry [no offense to its author] historical essay full of facts, names, and dates).

Anyhoo, I agree that your training shouldn’t only be focused on achieving belt rank. That’s shortsighted, and misses the point of martial arts.

But I *do* think that testing is an important ritual in martial arts. Let me explain… (click “more”).

I’m going to divide the purpose of belt testing into two main sections. Reasons for an instructor to give belt tests, and reasons for the student to take belt tests.

Why Your Instructors Like Tests

  • Putting students through a controlled trial allows us to measure their capabilities.
  • When looking at results, especially with a group of testers, lets us know where our teaching is strong and where it is weak.
  • Tests are a good motivator. Even good students work harder when a test is approaching.
  • It lets us look at your skills together, all at once. We get a better picture of you as a martial artist. We can give more focused feedback that will help you get better.
Nice ready stances!

Nice ready stances!

Instructors at NWSMA approach colored belt tests as more of a check-up. Where are you in your training? What do you need to work on? What do we need to work on? How can we become better together?

Why Students (Should) Like Tests

  • It’s an opportunity to show your passion for what you do.
  • It’s an opportunity to bring together different parts of your training and show us the level of your skills.
  • It’s an opportunity to get good feedback: what areas need work, and what look good.
  • Deliberately choosing to undergo the stress of a test will help you react in stressful situations in the future.

If you’re nervous before a test, it means you want to do well. And that’s great!

We’ll never force anyone to test. (Well, except Sempai David). If your instructor has invited you to test, it’s more than likely because they think you will succeed. Trust their judgment.

Sempai David

Sempai David receiving his 1st degree in Shito-ryu Karate.

Testing is an honor, a privilege, and an opportunity to reflect. It’s less about gaining, more about discovering.

Really, it’s just another bump in the road on your martial arts journey.

Go forth.

Be tested.

Succeed.

Keep training.

After all, the test is not the point of the journey. YOU are.

About Sensei/YDN Caitlin

Sensei Yudanjanim Caitlin is a 2nd degree black belt, senior instructor, administrative assistant, and student of Tae Kwon Do, Karate, and Arnis at Northwest School of Martial Arts.
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