Thoughts on time variance to earn black belt

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Talk' started by skribs, Feb 11, 2020.

  1. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    BLUF: It is a disservice to your students to have a longer expected time to reach black belt than other schools of the same art, style, lineage, or federation.

    One thing I've been thinking about recently is how different schools within the same lineage might have different timings for when belts are earned. For example, my TKD school it's usually 4-5 years to earn black belt. Some schools are 1 or 2 years, other schools want to prove that their black belts earned it by making them take 8-10 years.

    To be clear, I'm not talking about the time it takes different arts or styles to get black belt. What's on my mind is school transfers. I don't care that my school gets a black belt in 4-5 years and a BJJ fighter gets theirs in 10-15 years. Because if I transfer to a BJJ school, even as a 3rd Dan in TKD, I'd transfer in as a white belt. And if a BJJ black belt transferred to our TKD school, they would come in as a white belt. The arts are so different that it wouldn't make sense to even try and retain your rank. But if I go to another TKD school, you bet I want to be treated as a 3rd degree black belt.

    I said in my BLUF that I think it's a disservice to artificially inflate the time it takes to get black belt. To be clear, I don't think belt factories are good, nor do I think people should be rushed through. However, there are 3 big reasons I think it is a disservice if your progression is longer than others:
    1. The belts themselves are meaningless. At the lower levels, they serve to mark a place in the curriculum where students should be growing. At higher levels, it largely becomes political, where the higher your belt the more autonomy and authority you can have.
    2. If someone transfers into your school as a black belt and has 1-2 years of experience, and they're in a class with your black belts that all have 4-5 years of experience, they're going to be in way over their head.
    3. If one of your students transfers to another school as a green belt, they may have the equivalent skills of one of their black belts, but they will lack the standing. In some cases it might be a formality, but in other cases it could mean that they are held back on becoming an instructor, or down the road on opening their own school.
    I realize there are arguments that could be made against each of these points. I'm not sure I even stand 100% by them. It's just thoughts that have crossed my mind, and I thought I'd share to get perspective from others.
     
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  2. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    I applaud any time high standards are upheld. Sometimes that means things take longer. Even within the same organization. Within an individual school, even within a larger organization, I feel that the standards are established by the instructor, and if an instructor decides he wants higher standards, then he ought to do so.

    So what if a green belt is equal or better than the black belts at another school? The green belt got better training. The black belts might want to take a hard look at what is going on in their school. The green belt might realize he does not want to transfer into that school. I think it’s a poor argument to say that the green belt should have been held to a lower standard so that he would better fit in if he might, someday, maybe, need to transfer to another school.

    In my opinion, rank takes as long as it takes for the student to reach the standards upheld by the instructor. For some students, that is longer than others. For some schools that hold a higher standard, then it will be longer for most or all students. I cannot see any sense in feeling like all schools, even within a system or an organization, have to be held at the same standard, especially if that standard is not especially high.
     
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  3. Yokozuna514

    Yokozuna514 Brown Belt

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    It's an interesting question you put forth but I look at if from a different perspective. Regardless of the time it takes for you to earn your black belt, I would be most concerned about going to another school and looking out of place with all the other equivalent ranks. If it turns out that my knowledge is lacking or if my fitness was not as it should be or if the quality of the techniques I demonstrated are not up to par with the new school, that is a perhaps the biggest concern as I've spent a good deal of my time training somewhere where the quality is not up to par. Some people do not mind that kind of comparison and I think that says a lot of themselves as well.

    In regards to the amount of time it takes for someone to reach their BB, I would hope that they felt it was appropriate and that the school they were attending met the standard of what that style espouses to represent. If the standard is low chances are the quality of the BB will be low as well but perhaps those people only care about talking the talk and not necessarily walking the walk. You can't fake real time on the the tatami, what you know will always come out when you step on the floor.
     
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  4. jobo

    jobo Grandmaster

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    we get lots of students comming to uni, that come to us to contiue the training and the differance in abilities to belts is amazing to see.

    this matters little, they are allowed to keep what ever rank they arived with, even if they are high ranked and completly useless, which is a disapointing high %

    as all the belt does is keep their gi tucked up, they soon find their level with the existing students and as there is only the blackbelt sylabus everyone is learning the same stuff, just at different levels of acheivement

    its sometimes amusing when you get them strutting in full of their own self importance and pushing their luck with a lowly belt like me and i knock them over. you can see the look of bewilderment on their face as they are sat on their bum, they usually dont come back
     
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  5. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    There was one girl that came to my school a long time ago. It was such a disservice that she came in as a black belt. The only kick she seemed to know was roundhouse kick, and she wasn't even very good at that. We had to teach her most of the stuff that people learn in our intermediate belts (let alone the advanced stuff before black belt).

    I felt so bad for her. If she wasn't a black belt, she would have been put into the proper class for her abilities. She wouldn't have struggled so much, and it would have been a hell of a lot less embarrassing for her.

    Maybe this is the other side of my point - that going faster than you should is also a disservice. (And I think much easier for people to agree with). I just know I've seen the effects of different times to get their belts.
     
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  6. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    I think that schools will often allow a transfer to wear the rank they had earned in their previous school, if their training was in the same system. If their is some discrepancy with their skills, they just hold at that level until they reach the bar.

    I think in the case you describe here, she ought to have at least been given the option to put on a white belt. Maybe it should not have been optional. Call a spade a spade.
     
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  7. Danny T

    Danny T Senior Master

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    Who sets the standard for any particular training facility/group? The federation or the individual owner of the school? I set the standards for my students and usually my standards are higher and takes longer to attain by most than the organizations we are affiliated with.

    Just what does it mean to "be treated as a 3rd black belt"??
    I work very hard to treat everyone the same as you have listed in #1 above "the belts themselves are meaningless"
     
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  8. isshinryuronin

    isshinryuronin Blue Belt

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    This is a sad state of affairs I have lamented for decades. It's not a new problem, but probably getting worse. Karate has never been unified like judo or kendo, with a more or less central authority (in Japan, with quasi government connections. May have happened if not for WW II.) There are many styles, and in the West, little or no central authority within each individual style. Thus, each dojo's sensei is the sole determiner of belt qualifications. Expectations have largely degraded over the years due to:

    Commercialization. Lessening of peer pressure amongst other sensei due to the sheer numbers nowadays - it's not a close knit black belt community anymore. Time separation from the ideals held by the previous masters - and maybe a corresponding loss of respect of the old karate. A feeling of entitlement by some sensei that allows them to do what they want, regardless of the previous point. And a general dumbing down of our society, where high school graduates barely read or know how to critically think - expectations have lowered overall.

    Unfortunately, the cat is out of the bag, and there is probably no way to put it back. There are too many factions within each style (they can't even keep their forms similar to each other.) No way will they get together and agree to unite under one banner at this point. This leads to the problems Skribs brought up. But those are internal problems within the karate world.
    Perhaps more important is the effect on the perceptions of the general public. With so many poor quality black belt "experts" running around, the public loses its respect for the ranks. If a 7 year old can get a black belt, how special can karate be? Can the public have faith that karate is really a worthwhile endeavor? This hurts the art in the long run.

    Sometimes, the sensei is aware of these things, but doesn't care that much. Sometimes, he is so far removed from the original concept, he is unaware of the situation, unaware of staying true to the style's originators, unaware of the effects of his teaching.

    I see no practical solution. Each individual school must be taken on its own merits. What is low proficiency in one school may be considered great in another. For a transfer from another school, if his green belt skill is inferior to the new school's green, he may get discouraged, or conversely, be motivated to get better. If his skill is superior to similar belts in the new school, he may lose respect for it, or have his ego inflated. Fortunately, there are dojos and sensei who truly respect the art and its legacy, and strive to remain true to it, holding high expectations.

    In the end, all we have is being true to one's self.
     
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  9. Buka

    Buka Grandmaster

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    @skribs, you start some nice threads.

    I just had a humorous thought. What if we did it backwards? What if when you joined a school you immediately wore a black belt on your crisp new beginners gi?. And every time you passed a grading test you went to brown belt etcetera, etcetera, until eventually you were promoted to white belt.

    We could still have some pomp and circumstance at the white belt promotion, drinks even. And then watch that nifty new white belt get filthy dirty over the next ten years.

    I wish I had thought of that years ago. Just to tick of my fellow Karate schools.
     
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  10. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    If it's a colored belt we do that. Black belts are registered with the organization and we can't really argue it.
     
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  11. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    ouch!
     
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  12. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    That would give new meaning to these quotes:
    • Black Belt is when the real learning starts
    • The school is handing out black belts like candy
     
  13. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    It's a blessing and a curse. For example, if I go to a new school and say "I'm a 3rd degree black belt", they can't say "naw, we wanna start you over at white belt."
     
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  14. wab25

    wab25 Black Belt

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    I am all for setting standards for your ranks that are consistent. If you are a blue belt, you can do and receive this set of techniques, and over here is the set that you are working on. Now, however long it takes for a student to do and receive... thats how long it takes to get that belt.

    A lot of that comes from the fact that I come from a throwing art. The biggest requirement in the kyu ranks is, what falls can you take and how well can you take them? When people come to my class and want to wear their rank from somewhere else, I say thats fine... but you will be thrown according to your rank. Then we throw the blue belts around a bit. (white, blue, green, brown...) If they keep their rank on... they get thrown at that level. If they want to go put on a white belt, then we teach them how to fall... starting from where they are. This is a great way to learn about your new student. Some insist on starting at white, before they see anything. Some see the blue belts get thrown, and decide they should start at the beginning. Some suck it up, and try to take the higher falls. These we usually never see back again, sometimes they complain about how rough we were... but, they wore the rank... Sometimes, we get someone who really can take the higher falls. So we train them at a higher level, and "do the paperwork" for the national organization.
    For us it means we can throw you high, hard and fast... and we don't give you any support on your fall, you are on your own there. You are a 3rd degree black belt... you can take any fall, anywhere, any time. It also means when I attack you, I am hitting you for real and kicking you for real. You had better know how to deal with it.
     
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  15. JR 137

    JR 137 Grandmaster

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    We’ve got a great quality control system in our organization - black belts are all tested by the same person: Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura. Black belts after a certain rank are allowed to promote their students to black belt, but it’s not done often. And I don’t think they promote past 3rd dan. Internationally is a bit different, and those are done by branch chiefs.

    Nakamura travels a bit to various dojos, and will typically hold a black belt test while he’s there. He’ll also test people at gatherings/clinics/etc.

    This holds teachers very accountable. Students’ performance is highly reflective on the teacher. If a teacher has people who’ve got no business being tested, he’ll have a conversation. Students who are over qualified, same thing. Either way, there’s some explaining to do. If it’s justifiable, so be it. If not, it’s not pretty.

    My teacher is conservative when it comes to sending people to test. In his 30+ years, he hasn’t had a student fail. And yes, people routinely fail the test, so it’s not like it’s a participation award.
     
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  16. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    Autonomy and authority.
     
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  17. Martial D

    Martial D Senior Master

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    Belts are useless as an indicator of what someone can actually do. Most of the 'black belts' I know could barely touch their toes...or see them.
     
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  18. Danny T

    Danny T Senior Master

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    So when you go into another TKD school you go with a sense of self governing, authoritative, and independent with your actions?
    I would be humble and gracious and never with a sense of autonomy and authority.
    Am I miss understanding something?
     
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  19. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    So did this girl stick it out and get up to par? If so did it really matter? Especially if everyone saw what it took for her to get there.
     
  20. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    That is what we do. I am never going to take a belt from someone who earned it, or even if the just thought they did. I always meet with new/old students and try to get a feel for where they are. I am straight up honest and tell them what I think is ahead and give them my recommendation. Some start back at white and possibly jump test if they are rapidly getting up to speed. Some just keep their belt for how ever long it takes to get there.123
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2020
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