What if We Eliminated The Belt System in Martial Arts? by Dr. Gary S. Goodman

Discussion in 'MartialTalk Magazine Articles' started by Bob Hubbard, Jan 10, 2008.

  1. Bob Hubbard

    Bob Hubbard Retired

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    What if We Eliminated The Belt System in Martial Arts?
    By Dr. Gary S. Goodman

    A few years ago I delivered a major customer service training program to a large company in the Midwest.

    When the going got rough, as it always seems to do when you're trying to introduce sweeping change to hundreds of workers, one of my contacts at the company, in exasperation, asked:

    "Why can't you just give us a prize and go away?"

    It seems the same service unit I was struggling to fix had the misfortune to have been handed a "Best in Service" award by an industry survey company, the previous year.

    From that point forward, many of the workers were simply ineducable. They thought they knew everything, were already wonderful, and couldn't really advance. Moreover, they didn't want to get any better at what they did for a living.

    At my own expense I flew to New England to interview the president of the company that issued the award to that flawed team. Along with a few of his key associates, we had lunch and at one very relaxed moment I asked him: "What would happen if your company stopped issuing customer service awards?"

    He looked at me to check my sanity and then said, barely suppressing a laugh, "Why we'd go broke."

    I had him, and I knew it.

    Then, I asked: "So, you're really in the PRIZE business even more than the survey research business, right?""

    Knowing he was cornered, he forced a smile and conceded, "I guess we are."

    I offer this elaborate tale to put a question to you, especially if you own or belong to a martial arts dojo.

    Are you in the martial arts training field or in the "belt business?" And what would happen if you decided to eliminate the various belt ranks, which range in most cases from white to black?

    Would you go broke as well?

    I happen to believe the belt system of promotion, while exceedingly popular in the United States and in many countries, is fundamentally flawed and it, too, leads people to aim at the prize instead of the underlying capabilities that the prizes, in this case the belts, signify.

    This isn't sour grapes. After eight arduous and sacrificial years, I was awarded my black belt in kenpo karate.

    But many aspects of the belt-chase were counterproductive, and if I had it to do over again, I doubt I'd join a dojo that uses this system of recognition and advancement. As I pointed out in a recent article:

    "Belts make the trainee impatient and greedy for the next promotion, for acquiring the next color in the martial arts rainbow. Belts spawn competition among peers to become the first to test for the next higher level, causing a certain amount of strife, accusations of favoritism or toadyism, and occasionally injuries as contestants vie for increasingly distinguished and relatively unpopulated rungs on the status ladder.

    "You might find it interesting to note, in the last paragraph I alluded to, arguably six of The Seven Deadly Sins, articulated in the Bible and by various theologians through time, including Pope St. Gregory and Buddha. These are vices that the sages have said mortals are wise to avoid indulging: Pride, Greed, Envy,Wrath/Anger. Lust, Gluttony, and Sloth. It makes you wonder if the Enlightened One would feel comfortable meditating under the bodhi tree with a martial arts sash tied around his waist!"

    Perhaps getting rid of the belt system would leave only those students that genuinely want to learn and teachers that want to teach. Instead of focusing inordinately on symbols of achievement, perhaps we could dedicate ourselves to the real thing.



    Dr. Gary S. Goodman is a top trainer, conference and convention speaker, sales, customer service, and negotiation consultant, and attorney. A frequent expert commentator on radio and TV, he is also the best-selling author of 12 books, more than 1,000 articles and several popular audio and video programs. His seminars are sponsored internationally and he teaches at more than 40 university extension programs, including UC Berkeley and UCLA. Gary's sales, management and consulting experience is combined with impressive academic credentials: A Ph.D. from USC, an MBA from the Peter F. Drucker School of Management, and a J.D. degree from Loyola Law School, his clients include several Fortune 1000 companies.

    His web site is: http://www.customersatisfaction.com and he can be reached at: gary@customersatisfaction.com - His blogs include: YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE SUCKS! and ALWAYS COLD CALL! at: http://www.alwayscoldcall.blogspot.com

    Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Dr._Gary_S._Goodman http://EzineArticles.com/?What-if-We-Eliminated-The-Belt-System-in-Martial-Arts?&id=896434
     
  2. MA-Caver

    MA-Caver Sr. Grandmaster

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    I too happen to agree that the belt system is flawed and it is partially flawed by those McDojos that award belts faster than a student can EARN them. I've a friend who after 18+ months of training (hard "daily" training he says) obtained a black belt in Ninjistu. Which Ryu? The one that made him go out and buy a $300.00 all black ninja outfit to complete his uniform requirements. :rolleyes:
    But I don't think eliminating the belt/rank system is a good idea. How does one measure their own progress? How does an instructor know when the student is ready for the next set of techniques? Belt ranks do help mark progress but they should never be the end goal after several months/years of classes.
    I loved the fact when interpreting Ed Parker Jr's seminar that he wore no dan markings (red stripes) on his black belt. It simply stated that he achieved the rank and is qualified to teach whatever it was that he was teaching. Reputation of course does help but for those who are knowledgeable about the system will know the man and the amount/level of training he has achieved in his lifetime... so far.
    I'll both pay heed and ignore a person's belt ranking. Taking note of the color to signify where they are at (personally) in their training and then ignore what rank they are while practicing/training with them or observing them during training/practice/tournaments.
    I've discovered that it's not how much you've learned but what you do with what you've learned so far.
    We need to keep the belt rank system but instructors need to be meticulous in advancing students, ensuring that the student knows/understands everything that they need to know at that particular level before moving on.
    :asian:
     
  3. grydth

    grydth Senior Master

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    Many non Japanese martial arts systems have never used a belt ranking system and have prospered quite well. It is not an essential.
     
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  4. MA-Caver

    MA-Caver Sr. Grandmaster

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    Yes but the Japanese aren't Americans (and vice-versa). We're on a work/reward now basis while the Japanese are a work/reward later.
     
  5. Bigshadow

    Bigshadow Senior Master

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    How about our names being our rank and reputation?
     
  6. grydth

    grydth Senior Master

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    I know - and that difference between Asians and Americans has provided the fruits for many fine discussions here.

    I should have been clearer - what I was getting at was that martial arts originating in countries other than Japan have been successful both at home and in the USA without using a belt ranking system.
     
  7. terryl965

    terryl965 <center><font size="2"><B>Martial Talk Ultimate<BR

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    I would agree one's reputation should be enough.
     
  8. Cruentus

    Cruentus Grandmaster

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    Nice article and analogy...
     
  9. Skip Cooper

    Skip Cooper Purple Belt

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    Great article, thanks for the post.

    I have to agree with the author's analysis. I have had my own thoughts of what would martial arts be like without the belt system.

    I would like to open a school in the future and I have often thought about the prospect of teaching in a more "western" atmosphere. I believe I can teach the same techniques, the same history, and the same philosophy that I have learned. Hapkido is hapkido, with or without the traditional uniform.

    Of course, I will offer rank in the form of a certificate. Ours is a society driven on certification and the documentation to prove it. You can buy a black belt from Century or AWMA online, but if you don't have a certificate from someone who can bestow the rank, what then is the belt worth? However, I am sure one can fake this as well, but as soon as you see them on the training floor, they won't pass the sniff test.

    For me, it is all about the training. Due to my work schedule and family obligations, I have spent the last ten years training in several arts and I am a black belt in none. I am currently closer than ever to obtaining my 1st Dan in Hapkido, but I am in no hurry for it. It will happen when the time is right.
     
  10. tellner

    tellner Senior Master

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    He's absolutely right. Many (most?) schools are in the business of selling belts. The goal is the belt and the status that goes with it. That's not just in the lazy decadent West. Japanese, Koreans and Chinese are at least as status- and rank-hungry as any round-eyed foreign devil. They are everywhere because people expect them to be everywhere. The endless rounds of tests, certificates, belt-specific seminars, stripes, subtly different uniforms and position in line have become ends in themselves. In fact, since they're the only way a lot of people have of telling where they are and how they're doing you could argue that they are the most important part.

    People will say "But you need a concrete goal and a way to measure your progress." It's like my older cat; it doesn't wash. If that were true people wouldn't box, wrestle, fence, shoot, do Silat or Eskrima, play Jogo do Pau or Capoeira, compete in MMA or do quasi-combative sports like lacrosse and water polo without belts. Somehow they manage.

    Kano invented the kyu/dan system largely for brand recognition and because there needed to be a way to get a rough idea of skill level when he walked into a dojo - beginner, intermediate, advanced. His success with Judo got other martial arts to adopt it along with the gi.

    It's different than being an A-, B-, C- or D-ranked fencer or tenth in the WBO welterweight standings. Those are based on win-loss records and who a person has gone up against. They're bookkeeping aids to figure out who fights whom.

    It's different than the older system of teaching certificates where a teacher or the seniors of a system would say "Yep. He represents what we do pretty well and is capable of transmitting the system."

    If you are trying to make money in the martial arts business the belts make sense. There are things to sell or collect fees for on a regular basis. It develops loyalty; Students can be inspired to stick around and collect the entire set. There are very few schools that are so differentiated from the herd that they go against expectations and still turn a profit.

    If you are part of a huge organization and do a lot of traveling it makes sense. You can go to a school in another country whose language you don't understand. Walk in in your uniform and everyone will have an idea about what you know and how long you've stuck with it. You'll know how to gauge your sparring, and teachers will know which group to put you with for training.

    Beyond that I don't see much point.
     
  11. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng All weight is underside

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    Very true, but there are a lot of traditinal CMA schools in the US the still do not use a belt system.
     
  12. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng All weight is underside

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    oops for got

    many non-traditinal CMA schools in the US (Sanshou/Sanda) do not use a belt system either
     
  13. Barimacan

    Barimacan White Belt

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    I think the belt system is worthless. I have trained in both in classes with and without belt systems and I think the classes are better without it. You don’t need belts to determine progress. Your instructor should know where you stand and what techniques you are and are not ready for. If the instructor of a class does not know his/her student well enough to determine this then there is something fundamentally wrong. A persons training is never complete. You don’t become invincible when you hit your black belt. You can still benefit from more training. There will always be someone who can teach you more. It’s absurd to think otherwise.
     
  14. bdparsons

    bdparsons Black Belt

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    We would put THOUSANDS of low-paid Chinese workers who make those beautiful single-wrap velcro belts out of a job. Where's your compassion people??

    Bill Parsons
    Triangle Kenpo Institute
     
  15. arnisador

    arnisador Sr. Grandmaster

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    A lot of schools would have great difficulty if they couldn't award belts (or similar). Many people go to college to get a degree rather than an education; many people go to the martial arts to get a black belt rather than a set of skills. This is especially true for kids.

    It's human nature.
     
  16. SageGhost83

    SageGhost83 Brown Belt

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    I don't think that you need a belt system, but I think that it helps to keep your students focused on a goal, especially the casual ones who do martial arts more for the entertainment purposes. Most people will never get to test their skills on the street, so they need some form of reward for sticking with it, I guess. For the deeper, more devoted students, I don't think that they would need a belt system - they push themselves because they love what they do and their reward comes from the training itself. Most of the general public are of the entertainment mold, therefore, I think that large commercial schools need a belt system. I agree that there is too much emphasis on belts, though. A belt doesn't mean anything if you are not proficient in the art. Too many schools promote *just* to keep students around and this is the flipside of the belt system. Too many crappy students running around with black belts these days, they performed the wallet kata to earn their black belts. So, there is good and bad with it. We don't need the belt system, but it will always be here becuase it drags in more students and rakes in the dough for large commercial schools.
     
  17. kailat

    kailat Green Belt

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    I pretty much agree and disagree with belts: It all depends on the goals of the student.

    1. I think as an adult (the belts should be reduced to either 3 no more than 4 ranks IF ANY AT ALL)

    2. Children that do martial arts be it judo,karate,taekwondo etc... is more for self esteem building, self confidence all the positive things that kids need to build a healthy and positive childhood. BELTS provide a goal that keeps them motivated or in tune with whats going on. Many children belong to martial arts for the "to give them something to do, excercise, and sport aspect. This is a great moral builder and mental awareness builder. There are many children that I've taught over the years that are "acedemically slow" for lack of a better interpretation or who have birth defects and they don't feel they can participate in other school activities. these children need positive reinforcement as well as structure. This is what the belts are I feel provided for. But there should be a limit I agree many Mcdojo is O.O.C. (out of control) on the sspeed of promotion. It took me nearly 6 yrs to reach black belt in my first dojo. that was his program and I've been spoiled that thats how I run my program. BUT I have met parents that think thier children should move up the ranks in 2 yrs. I tell them to go down the road to the YMCA or something our school is not for you then.

    In the adult program: WE have no belts, no uniforms, no traditional settings. Its geared around self defense, tactical training, survival training, awareness, And WEAPONS training. If I get an adult who wants to promote the ol fashioned way I tell them to go down to the YMCA this is not the class for you. WHY I ONLY HAVE about 5 dedicated adults. Which is perfectly fine by me. ( we have a great time when we train.) the graet thing about the adult class is, although I lead the class we all participate (myself included) we ask questions, we go through scenerios, slow and full speed. We don't point spar we FULL CONTACT spar. We leave bumped, bruised, bleeding and on the rare occassion w/ a broken bone (usually its me that has that happen) LOL i had to ask why is it im always the one getting hurt? LOL I realize im the only one with control due to my years of karate sport training....LOL so we do some drills and control techniques to develope these things.

    So in our training belts has no importance....

    TRY IT its a great atmosphere... ( and for the record I DO-NOT take any money from my adults.) We are all there for the same reason, TO LEARN!! And learning should be just that, a learning experience not stressed out by monetary payment...
     
  18. JadeDragon3

    JadeDragon3 Black Belt

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    If you want to make a living teaching m.a.'s (tma's) then one needs to have a belt system. MMA is a totally different story. But with TMA Americans and most of the rest of the world are different than China and Japan who don't always use belts or sashes. Most students in the martial arts world want to see where they are as far as progression. The best way to guage your progression is to have a belt system. By having a belt sytem this gives the student a way of comparison to other students of his belt/sash rank. It gives the student a goal to aim for. It also gives the student a sense of acomplishment and pride when they advance. If a teacher here in the United States did away with the belt system then I think he/she would be out of business in a matter of a few months. Remember, teaching m.a.'s is a business as well as a passion and/or hobby that you do. If your doing/teaching m.a.'s for money then you have to do things (wheather you like it or not) that will make you money so you can live and pay bills.
     
  19. Fiendlover

    Fiendlover Black Belt

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    i agree that belts are worthless unless that student has the skills to go along with it. in my system ive seen a lot of people get higher ranks when they do not deserve it. they're were three students getting ready for there black belt test and when i watced them i said to myself, "that's black belt material?" no...not even close. one time there was a yellow belt u stood in front of a brown belt in line once. the only reason was because she knew the instructor well. i think it would be a great benefit if we didnt have belts to determine our place amongst the other students. it should be based on what potential and skill they hav. then there would be no mistake.
     
  20. JudoJunkie

    JudoJunkie White Belt

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    The colored belt system is an American and European invention. Japanese dojos have three colors, white (beginner), brown (intermediate), and black (advanced).

    Under a Japanese system, you are not considered an instructor until you reach 4th degree. It takes an average of 2-3 years to reach your first black belt, Shodan, in Japan. The term Shodan translates as "first step". Here is the US, it takes longer to reach the rank of Shodan, usually 5-7 years. A Shodan is expected to be able to instruct in the US.

    I don't have a use for the rainbow system that most dojos use but I understand the need for it especially with kids. Black belts are not usually awarded to kids in Judo under the age of 18 years. If a kid starts at the age of 6, some kind of reward/rank helps keep him motivated.

    Judy
    Sandan, USJA, Kodokan
     

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