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”).

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Defining Progress in the Martial Arts

In some martial arts schools, progress is defined with belt ranks. Students learn new things, test, and then receive new belts.┬áIt’s a shiny process. Everyone loves receiving something new. But I’ve asked myself before, and now I’ll ask you:

Do belts equal progress? Which is more important: a pile o’ belts? Or real progress?

Pile o' belts.

Pile o’ belts.

We believe that black belts should be good at martial arts. But at a certain point in everyone’s martial arts career, the rate of technical progress slows. Progress depends greatly on the students’ self-awareness (age/maturity), effort, attendance, and perseverance.

That being said, I realize that it can seem discouraging not to move up in belt rank for a long time. So I’d like to share several other ways I define progress–ones that I think are much more meaningful than a rainbow of belts.

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