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What is Provisional Black Belt and Why Does It Exist?

A provisional black belt is a probationary rank. It falls in between the highest colored belt and a full-fledged 1st degree black belt. In other styles of Tae Kwon Do, this rank may be called “poom belt” or “recommended black belt.”

Sempai David
Receiving a black belt is a great honor.

Poom is a junior black belt rank, used in Korea for holders of black belts who are under 15. “Recommended” gets closer to the idea of “candidacy for black belt.”

As for why it exists, it’s very, very complicated, grasshopper.

There’s a lot of tension in today’s martial arts world about what it means to wear a black belt. There are probably as many opinions as there are people. One of the biggest questions is how/if/when we should award black belt to children.

There are arguments in favor of allowing children to receive black belts. They include:

  • If good physical technique and a good attitude is there, why not?
  • Black belts for children are more about working hard for an achievement and less about perfection.
  • It’s important to teach children to finish what they begin, whether or not they continue doing martial arts.
  • Even if the physical technique isn’t perfect, children should be awarded for effort/perseverance.

There are arguments against allowing children to receive black belts. They include:

  • Questions of maturity: their techniques may be great, but a child lacks understanding of their use; the brain’s judgment circuits aren’t complete until the early 20’s.
  • Questions of physical technique: their attitude may be great but an undeveloped body may not truly have the power/skill traditionally expected of black belts.
  • Questions of commitment: can you expect a child to make/understand a long-term commitment to martial arts; does someone who earns a black belt and quits really deserve it?

So, I’m here to explain how this all works for NWSMA students, regardless of your or my views on the matter.

Sempai David and Sempai Jasmine doing Matsuhiga no Sai in the demo.
NWSMA black belts in good front stances.

Everyone, Tae Kwon Do or Karate, adults or children, must go through the provisional rank. Youth under 13 are not allowed to test for 1st degree at our school.

Provisional black belt is basically a waiting period. We expect our black belt candidates to work just as hard and act like 1st degree black belts. The waiting period is designed for them to prove they are worthy of a “real” black belt.

  • The minimum time for this waiting period is a year.
  • There is no maximum. 
  • Their attendance must be consistent, at least twice a week to classes that are suited for their rank.
  • They must show improvement, in technique and in physical conditioning.
  • Provisional black belts who quit must return their belt to the school.
  • Their rank can also be revoked if they stop acting like a black belt.

So, after someone who is under 13 tests for provisional black, their waiting period may naturally end up being longer than for those over 13.

We do this because we want our students to succeed. We won’t put them through a test they aren’t ready for.

Sempai Jasmine doing a combination break.
Black belts breaking boards.

Part of our probationary black belt candidacy period asks the candidate to discover their own opinions about what it means to be a black belt. They write an essay on the topic, and turn it in to the chief instructor.

If you think about martial arts as a journey without an end, then your experiences and growth become more important than the belt you are wearing.

Black belt symbolizes a commitment, not an achievement; a beginning, not an end.

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