belt advancements every 3 months / 14 colors (?)

matrim13

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The kenpo system I have joined (I won't name it because I'm not trying to create a public referendum) has modified the traditional white/yellow/orange/purple/blue/green/brown 3 degrees/black that I grew up with (I'm starting again as an adult) and see in most contemporary kenpo places to one that has 14 colors including black, with ones included like "grey" and "tan" etc.

Suffice to say, it is difficult to get my head around this. Each belt gains a tip after 6 weeks, and upon the second tip you are ready for the next belt test. Tips alternate between self defense (6 per belt) and one kata. So every 12 weeks/3 months you advance to a new belt after learning 6 self defense and 1 kata. Everybody is grouped as Beginner (white-orange), Intermediate (purple-"grey" which is after green), and Advanced (basically brown and up). There are 4 belts in between brown & black, and brown does not have 3 degrees - it is treated like any other color.

I understand that colors are all arbitrary to begin with, and i think that this system was designed this way to 1) encourage kids to continue advancing by placing more "goals" in front of them at regular intervals and 2) get efficiency in training lots of people at scale (you are training 3 groups at once instead of 8 belts at once). I don't mind this, so long as at some point this "journey" through kenpo gets me to the same place that a more traditional curriculum would.

Before I invest too much of myself and my kids into this, what are people's thoughts? At best case, they've simply broken up the traditional kenpo curriculum to be more digestible at more frequent intervals. The basics are taught and upheld, and attention is paid to the things I would expect. I can't shake the feeling, however, that a new black belt in this system is further behind than a traditional black belt - not to mention that this system treats black belts very strangely (you start with no degrees, and advance to a new degree through a series of "ranks" - basically to achieve a 10th degree black belt you would technically have received 26 different physical black belts to get there).

Is this a smart way to mix things up for the reasons already outlined, or problematic? I have my own feelings but I am very interested to hear other people's thoughts. FWIW (and I'm not exactly certain what it it is worth) it's my understanding that Mr Parker was aware of this innovation and didn't object to it before passing on. Again, FWIW .
 

frank raud

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So rather than getting stripes on your belt, you get a new colored belt? If the curriculum remains essentially the same, it just a different way of keeping track of rank.
 

Hot Lunch

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Possibly the least most important issue of your martial arts journey.
This scenario doesn't seem bad. In fact, I'd say it's normal and roughly the say way we do it in Shotokan.

In ISKF, there's only 9 kyu ranks and testing is every three months. But you stay ikkyu for a year before shodan, so you make shodan in roughly the same amount of time.

I remember a discussion on Reddit where someone was mentioning a dojo with almost 30 kyu ranks and you test every month. Not sure how long such a dojo would last. That's way too much of a hassle than a normal person would want to deal with.
 

Buka

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Its a belt. And its not holding your pants up. No need to be concerned.
 
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matrim13

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Thank you all for the quick replies. "JC penny, $3.98, you like?" And I generally agree with it.

I think I struggle with finding where to land on the continuum of "a belt means something" and a thing you buy at JC Penny.

I am aware of the origin of belt colors in modern martial arts and the basic marketing nature of the whole concept. I suppose I just have to unwind the idea I learned as a kid from my studio where it really was meaningful to, for example, be a brown belt. It basically meant you were almost a black belt and there was a level of skill and knowledge that accompanied being granted it. Even being a black belt meant you had a certain level of mastery. Sure, arbitrary in a sense, but it was an objective measure of skill and progress and it translated as such. It was also very hard to scale as a business that way and my instructor was an amazing martial artist - not so much a marketer or businessman.

In the new system I describe, where there's more of a focus on running an actual business (a good thing in my opinion to be clear, this shouldn't have to be a charity) belt color is a lot more unpinned from skill or knowledge and is a lot more arbitrary. So if you already see belt colors as arbitrary or marketing tools to begin with, no big deal.

I am glad that people here don't raise red flags when I describe this type of system, though. And I do tell my own kids they are only competing against themselves when it comes to progress, maybe I just have to apply that to my own thinking better.

Here's another way of asking my question:

How far do you take this philosophy? I guess the bias that is at the root of my thinking is that lowered standards in visible progress (belts) means an overall degradation of the discipline. Is the answer people here have arrived at something similar to "I just worry about my own journey and my own standards - if American Kenpo melts down around me that's not my burden"? Or is that way of thinking flawed?

Sorry to come in new with these types of thoughts I know have been hashed out plenty of times in the decades already, appreciate everybody's POV and willingness to discuss.
 

Hot Lunch

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Thank you all for the quick replies. "JC penny, $3.98, you like?" And I generally agree with it.

I think I struggle with finding where to land on the continuum of "a belt means something" and a thing you buy at JC Penny.
Ultimately, you're the one who is going to decide what it means to you. No one else gets to decide that for you. Don't let anyone shame you into or out of looking at belts a certain way.
 

MadMartigan

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My only concerns regarding that many belts and the frequency of testing would be:

- Are the tests mandary on that schedule? If everyone tests, and moves up at that interval, does anyone fail (or is the 3 months just the amount of time between advancements regardless of skill)?

- Is there a testing fee for each 3 month test you go through? If there is a $30-$50 charge each time someone tests, adding extra belts just feels like an easy cash grab. (I'm also not against someone being able to make a living running a school, as long as they are not goughing).

You are right that we are all just working on our own progress. As a student, I don't think you need to worry right now about the overall future of your art... but that changes when/if you approach the point of teaching the art to others.
 
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matrim13

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Great points.

My only concerns regarding that many belts and the frequency of testing would be:

- Are the tests mandary on that schedule? If everyone tests, and moves up at that interval, does anyone fail (or is the 3 months just the amount of time between advancements regardless of skill)?

Not mandatory. Kind of a given that they will be taken however. I'm going to do the first advanced exam soon and am curious to see if the expectations are raised correspondingly. I've been told that the more advanced the belt colors become, the more people who test are upheld to a standard of failing or not. And I have seen some of that play out, which thrilled me tbh. But a purple belt can basically not trip over themself and pass (or even trip over themself and still pass, especially if a kid) but a more advanced belt has to have basic competency. Black can and does have fail potential but of course the idea to prove yourself ahead of time before the actual exam.

That being said, not all black belts are impressive, mostly younger ones. I just have to get over that mentally.

- Is there a testing fee for each 3 month test you go through? If there is a $30-$50 charge each time someone tests, adding extra belts just feels like an easy cash grab. (I'm also not against someone being able to make a living running a school, as long as they are not goughing).

There is, and I think that I am okay with the justification that belt exams are extra time on the schedule that also require paid instructors to be there, etc. And again - I don't begrudge anybody for making a living off of this at the same time.

You are right that we are all just working on our own progress. As a student, I don't think you need to worry right now about the overall future of your art... but that changes when/if you approach the point of teaching the art to others.

Great perspective. Put another way, I can't control the fate of American Kenpo regardless of what I think about this, but I can control my contribution to it. I suppose I wouldn't want to contribute to a place that, had opinion swung differently, was not teaching well or correctly. But I know for a fact, upon reflection, that given enough time here I will be exactly where I want to be in the martial arts. And that really is the answer that matters!
 

HighKick

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The kenpo system I have joined (I won't name it because I'm not trying to create a public referendum) has modified the traditional white/yellow/orange/purple/blue/green/brown 3 degrees/black that I grew up with (I'm starting again as an adult) and see in most contemporary kenpo places to one that has 14 colors including black, with ones included like "grey" and "tan" etc.

Suffice to say, it is difficult to get my head around this. Each belt gains a tip after 6 weeks, and upon the second tip you are ready for the next belt test. Tips alternate between self defense (6 per belt) and one kata. So every 12 weeks/3 months you advance to a new belt after learning 6 self defense and 1 kata. Everybody is grouped as Beginner (white-orange), Intermediate (purple-"grey" which is after green), and Advanced (basically brown and up). There are 4 belts in between brown & black, and brown does not have 3 degrees - it is treated like any other color.

I understand that colors are all arbitrary to begin with, and i think that this system was designed this way to 1) encourage kids to continue advancing by placing more "goals" in front of them at regular intervals and 2) get efficiency in training lots of people at scale (you are training 3 groups at once instead of 8 belts at once). I don't mind this, so long as at some point this "journey" through kenpo gets me to the same place that a more traditional curriculum would.

Before I invest too much of myself and my kids into this, what are people's thoughts? At best case, they've simply broken up the traditional kenpo curriculum to be more digestible at more frequent intervals. The basics are taught and upheld, and attention is paid to the things I would expect. I can't shake the feeling, however, that a new black belt in this system is further behind than a traditional black belt - not to mention that this system treats black belts very strangely (you start with no degrees, and advance to a new degree through a series of "ranks" - basically to achieve a 10th degree black belt you would technically have received 26 different physical black belts to get there).

Is this a smart way to mix things up for the reasons already outlined, or problematic? I have my own feelings but I am very interested to hear other people's thoughts. FWIW (and I'm not exactly certain what it it is worth) it's my understanding that Mr Parker was aware of this innovation and didn't object to it before passing on. Again, FWIW .
Do they force you to test on that schedule? If you don't feel ready, don't test.
 
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matrim13

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Do they force you to test on that schedule? If you don't feel ready, don't test.

No, it's kind of a given in the lower/color belts though. I don't think I've ever seen anybody in the lower belts not test and I don't think I've seen anybody in the lower belts ever fail a test even when objectively they should. I have seen more advanced belts be told they aren't ready yet after trying to qualify for testing.
 

Tony Dismukes

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A fair number of commercial martial arts schools (especially in certain arts) are set up with a business model of using frequent belt tests as part of their revenue stream. So they can say, for example, that the monthly dues are $100/month, but the actual expense is $100/month + a $30 belt fee every 3 months, making an average cost of $110/month. (There can also be other hidden fees, but that's another topic.)

I'm not a fan of this business model, but it doesn't necessarily indicate a bad school. What you need to consider is
  1. Is this a good school for your needs and goals?
  2. Calculate the total average monthly cost including belt tests and any other supplemental fees and check whether that matches your budget
  3. Decide whether the time devoted to testing every 3 months is a disruption from regular training to the extent that it changes your judgement concerning point #1.
 
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matrim13

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Yeah. Generally speaking I don't object to the "hidden" fee aspect of things here, our instructor is a sole proprietor and I want him to thrive and be able to continue running things comfortably. I did have a moment in the beginning of "oh, ok, so the actual cost is really..." but that's fine.

I think the frequent testing could be a net negative for some people, especially kids, when they are allowed to advance without having basic technique down. That's also part of my issue. I think over and over "no kid should have a green belt who can't do a cat stance" or the flip side, a brand new white belt would jump into a kata that has spinning rear kicks or something just because that's the current cycle for beginners is not ideal. But it affords instruction at scale and if you allow the early belts to just be rough to look at and stop worrying about it, people progress and improve as they continue at the same rate I imagine anywhere else does.

Once I stop thinking "being a green belt should mean XYZ" a lot of my trepidation vanishes. No, a green belt at my place today is not nearly as capable as a green belt from the place when I was a kid and they mean different things. A better measure is how two people of equal capacity would measure up after an equal amount of time and instruction, regardless of belt color. And when I think about it that way, things seem good.

If this place today is able to make more money and handle more kids at scale than the one when I was a kid, well, the guy who ran the place when I was a kid lived in a small loft above the studio, and that's not a circumstance to require on anybody who wants to run a karate studio imo.
 

HighKick

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Yeah. Generally speaking I don't object to the "hidden" fee aspect of things here, our instructor is a sole proprietor and I want him to thrive and be able to continue running things comfortably. I did have a moment in the beginning of "oh, ok, so the actual cost is really..." but that's fine.

I think the frequent testing could be a net negative for some people, especially kids, when they are allowed to advance without having basic technique down. That's also part of my issue. I think over and over "no kid should have a green belt who can't do a cat stance" or the flip side, a brand new white belt would jump into a kata that has spinning rear kicks or something just because that's the current cycle for beginners is not ideal. But it affords instruction at scale and if you allow the early belts to just be rough to look at and stop worrying about it, people progress and improve as they continue at the same rate I imagine anywhere else does.

Once I stop thinking "being a green belt should mean XYZ" a lot of my trepidation vanishes. No, a green belt at my place today is not nearly as capable as a green belt from the place when I was a kid and they mean different things. A better measure is how two people of equal capacity would measure up after an equal amount of time and instruction, regardless of belt color. And when I think about it that way, things seem good.

If this place today is able to make more money and handle more kids at scale than the one when I was a kid, well, the guy who ran the place when I was a kid lived in a small loft above the studio, and that's not a circumstance to require on anybody who wants to run a karate studio imo.
That is a cogent, and rather generous observation. Hopefully, there are enough schools left for all flavors of practitioners. Those who want to be in a 'mainstream' more modern and less demanding approach (which sounds like what you describe), to the more traditional and hardcore. The reality is there are ways to be profitable in both, but the business model is going to be different. The former may be shiner and more convenient for the kids (which comes at a higher unit cost) and the latter may be a bit more spartan, darker and less convenient. It is quite common for the latter model school owner to have a different job as their primary job, and the dojo/dojang is their passion. I hold a Ton of respect for the latter group.
 
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matrim13

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I tell ya what, our owner is there every weekday from 3-9 or so. I can't fathom that and a regular job. His gi is his work uniform.

Thanks all for the perspective, I hadn't realized how ingrained belts were in my head from when I was a kid!
 

_Simon_

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Great question, and some nice self-reflections @matrim13!

I had similar conundrums and ponderings (not in terms of belts system, but what different styles mean and ranking/progressing means).

I came from almost a decade in Kyokushinkai karate, and moved on to find my new style Goju ryu/Kensha. Many things were still so engrained in me, like if my gi wasn't absolutely drenched, I hadn't really been training; that gradings should be a survival course; training super hard every single time all the time was the only way to train etc etc etc.

It was a shock upon realising that there are different ways of not only training, but of evaluating rank. Rank is very much on a club level, and sort of on a style level. I had to give up the constant comparison with my old style. My old style emphasised a certain aspect (hardness, spirit, fighting, conditioning, perseverance), and my new style is more about learning the art (different qualities of movement, relationship of softness + hardness, fluidity, nuance, kata and bunkai). We still train hard, but it's different, it's not everything.

I know a brown belt in my old style would most likely be better at sparring than in my current one. I'm okay with that. It took a little while before I stopped that silly comparing. To me all styles exist on a spectrum, and they each have a certain emphasis. So instead of labelling styles or clubs as good/bad, it felt so much healthier to foster this mindset. It allowed me to have such a deep appreciation for so many styles. They just all sit somewhere different along that spectrum of martial arts. Of course, you still have to look at quality.

I think because I compartmentalised things too much and have always been too rigid putting everything inside boxes, I would do so and then evaluate things side by side. This fine to do to some degree, but it takes away what you could potentially learn and become. No system is perfect for everyone, I've done alot of the "harder" stuff, so I knew it was time for me to learn from the other end of the spectrum. I've learned a great deal from my previous training, and have instilled alot of it, I haven't lost it one bit. So I now I can move forward and continue to evolve as a martial artist in a new direction, whilst still retaining what I've learned.

And from time to time I've asked myself 3 important questions when it comes to training in my current club:

1) Am I still learning? Evolving? Developing as a martial artist?

2) Do I look forward to going, and enjoy the training?

3) Do I like and respect my instructor and my club mates?

The answer is consistently yes. I can see some pitfalls with how we train, and sometimes the standard I feel should be higher. But it's just different to what I'm used to. Rank just means something different here, it's not better or worse. It just represents something different, and progress is very much seen on an individual level, rather than a perfect, objective robotic replication of skill.

Unsure if this helps.. but you're asking the right questions. Best of luck, and most of all enjoy the process :)
 
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matrim13

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And from time to time I've asked myself 3 important questions when it comes to training in my current club:

1) Am I still learning? Evolving? Developing as a martial artist?

2) Do I look forward to going, and enjoy the training?

3) Do I like and respect my instructor and my club mates?

This is exactly the list of questions I too have arrived at, and the answers are a yes without any real thought. Like you said, it's difficult to approach this without bringing in biases from past experiences, media, whatever. I've been reading a lot of books that have also helped re-center my expectations, which have been very useful.

Thanks everybody for the great input. I'm going to be bouncing more questions I've developed over the course of my journey, it's great to get feedback like this!
 

HighKick

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I tell ya what, our owner is there every weekday from 3-9 or so. I can't fathom that and a regular job. His gi is his work uniform.

Thanks all for the perspective, I hadn't realized how ingrained belts were in my head from when I was a kid!
I had a similar schedule for 28-years, plus a 40-hour/week job, plus life, family, other business ventures, etc... I am nothing special and would say more to the average of the masses out there.
If a person chooses to operate as your instructor does that is fine and well. But the realities are going to be reflected in how they are forced to live and their lifestyle. No harm, no foul either way.
 

Kung Fu Wang

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A: How many forms does your style have?
B: My style has 3 forms.
A: How long can you keep your students with only 3 forms? My style has 30 forms. I can keep my students 10 times longer than you can.
B: ... QAQ
 
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