Belt system are more for the teacher than the student.

JowGaWolf

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For some reason my mind wandered on the purpose of the belts and I said to myself that it would be a great way for teacher to know where the student were in their instructions. A small school of 20 students is easy to keep track of everyone's skill level and how far the student is in their training. But if you had a school that had 30+ students then it may be come more difficult to know where each student is, So how could someone easily know where a student was in their training without having to ask the student directly. A belt system would make this easier, not only would it make it easier, for the instructors and teachers. It would also be of value for guest instructors who wouldn't need to ask each student about their rank or question if the student was truthful about their rank.

The larger the school the more beneficial a belt system would be to schools with one or 2 instructors.

Is there any truth to this in why martial arts belt systems were created?
 

isshinryuronin

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For some reason my mind wandered on the purpose of the belts and I said to myself that it would be a great way for teacher to know where the student were in their instructions. A small school of 20 students is easy to keep track of everyone's skill level and how far the student is in their training. But if you had a school that had 30+ students then it may be come more difficult to know where each student is, So how could someone easily know where a student was in their training without having to ask the student directly. A belt system would make this easier, not only would it make it easier, for the instructors and teachers. It would also be of value for guest instructors who wouldn't need to ask each student about their rank or question if the student was truthful about their rank.

The larger the school the more beneficial a belt system would be to schools with one or 2 instructors.

Is there any truth to this in why martial arts belt systems were created?


1. I think this can be one of the reasons. During the late 1920's and into the 1930's, karate was taught in the Japanese public schools and classes could be100 or more kids. Without good organization it would be chaotic to keep track of them all. The belt system surely helped in this regard, as well as in setting motivational goals for the students.

2. Japanese culture puts a lot of importance on seniority and rank in social and work environments. It's even built into their language. So, it's only natural there was a system to codify one's position in relation to another's in MA as well.

(The above reasons may have also influenced Jigoro Kano to introduce belt colors for judo two or three decades earlier).

3. Judo, having already been firmly established and organized, was the premier MA taught in Japan, karate initially being seen as the "stepchild." To get karate fully accepted it was necessary for it to conform and so it adopted judo's gi and colored belts. Like is common in politics (and there was a considerable amount of that during that time in MA history) one must play along to get along. IMO, this is the main reason karate started having colored belts, though the stage was set by the first two points I listed.

Belt colors and gi's weren't really adopted in Okinawa until after WWII, somewhat reluctantly I suspect, in order to get along with their mainland karate cousins and so gain political-social standing in the MA world.
 

Holmejr

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Interesting take. And it makes sense for schools were students move on in small increments. Yellow belt with 3 stripes kinda thing. That stripe probably costs you a testing fee. $$

The most populated school that I attended was Inosantos Kali Academy. Probably 80-120 students at any one time. No belts or colored shirts. They separated us by phase. No testing.

In my Derobio class it was by shirt color. White, blue and Red for seniors. No testing.
 
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Kung Fu Wang

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In ACSCA, the 2nd degree black belt requirement force a student to compete in tournament. So, before a student gets his teacher certificate (3rd BB), he has to prove he can fight - the integration of kick/punch/lock/throw.
 

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Maybe. But SKA (Shotokan Karate America) only uses white, brown, and black. I understand that aikido only uses white and black. If they don't need multiple colors to keep track of their student's progress, then why does everyone else?
 

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I think there are a lot of purposes. It would be difficult to know for certain why they were used in the first place. Even if I were to do the research and find that the first person to use belts said it was for students to have achievable goals, that may just be the reason he told his students why he has a belt system, and really it was for the purpose you stated. In my experience, belts do a lot of things:
  1. Makes it easy for instructors to know where students are in the curriculum (including main instructors with lots of students, or guest instructors).
  2. Makes it easy for students to see who their role model is. You walk into a class and see some white belts doing a technique one way or acting a certain way, and you see blue belts doing something different, you know it's more likely that the blue belt way is more correct. The general public may not know your school's exact belt order, but they usually know white < color < black, and the belt order is usually posted somewhere.
  3. Gives students a tangible reward for something as intangible as martial arts skill. I think this is especially important in an art like BJJ that doesn't really have a curriculum, and you spend most of your time getting destroyed.
  4. Helps break up the curriculum into smaller chunks. "You're a white belt, you need white belt #1-5 punch defense" is a lot easier than "Today we're working on #67-72". Also helps people spend more time on those chunks.
  5. Helps filter students into somewhat reasonable skill level groups for tournaments. It's not perfect, because belts are more than just about skill, some belts have a wide skill gap (looking at you, BJJ blue belt), and some schools rush or sandbag their students. But overall, it means if you go to a BJJ tournament as a blue belt, you shouldn't be against brand newbies or against people who have been training consistently for a decade. If you go to a TKD tournament as a blue belt, you should expect your opponents to have 1-2 years of experience.
  6. Organizational politics and local posturing. You have things you want the Kukkiwon to do? You're probably more likely to get those accomplished as an 8th degree than as a 6th degree. From the KKW's perspective, it gives them an easy way to filter suggestions and demands. Opening a school? There's a school in my area run by a 4th degree black belt. If I were to open a school as a 3rd degree black belt, he's at an advantage if people look up both of our websites and see he's a higher degree than I am.
There are ways around each of these if you don't have a belt system. You could have "beginner", "intermediate", and "advanced" classes. You also simply introduce the coaches at start of class so folks know who to listen to, and over time they figure out who in class is the right person to be a role model. The tangible reward is nice, but not necessary. I've been learning BJJ without a specific curriculum, so those are also nice, but not necessary. Tournaments can be broken up based on years of experience, or participants can be given something of an ELO rating (which may be a better system than belts). And you can list your bio on your website in different ways.
 

Tony Dismukes

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The original creation of the belt system for martial arts came from Jigaro Kano and it absolutely was so that he could quickly distinguish beginners from advanced students when dealing with large groups of students that he didnt know personally.

Since then, the belt system has been expanded to a number of other purposes, some of which may overlap in the same school.

  • A tool for organizing curriculum (learn techniques a,b,c at green belt, e,f,g at blue belt, etc)
  • A way of creating divisions for competition, so beginners can go to tournaments and not be matched against much more experienced opponents.
  • A credential for instructors
  • A motivational tool, especially for young students who need some sort of concrete goal to aim for every few months.
  • A revenue stream for schools that get to charge for belt tests every few months
  • A way to create a hierarchical pecking order for those who feel the need for that sort of thing
There are probably more, but Id say that covers the majority of cases.
 
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JowGaWolf

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The original creation of the belt system for martial arts came from Jigaro Kano and it absolutely was so that he could quickly distinguish beginners from advanced students when dealing with large groups of students that he didnt know personally.

Since then, the belt system has been expanded to a number of other purposes, some of which may overlap in the same school.

  • A tool for organizing curriculum (learn techniques a,b,c at green belt, e,f,g at blue belt, etc)
  • A way of creating divisions for competition, so beginners can go to tournaments and not be matched against much more experienced opponents.
  • A credential for instructors
  • A motivational tool, especially for young students who need some sort of concrete goal to aim for every few months.
  • A revenue stream for schools that get to charge for belt tests every few months
  • A way to create a hierarchical pecking order for those who feel the need for that sort of thing
There are probably more, but Id say that covers the majority of cases.
Thanks for the info.
 

Hyoho

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For some reason my mind wandered on the purpose of the belts and I said to myself that it would be a great way for teacher to know where the student were in their instructions. A small school of 20 students is easy to keep track of everyone's skill level and how far the student is in their training. But if you had a school that had 30+ students then it may be come more difficult to know where each student is, So how could someone easily know where a student was in their training without having to ask the student directly. A belt system would make this easier, not only would it make it easier, for the instructors and teachers. It would also be of value for guest instructors who wouldn't need to ask each student about their rank or question if the student was truthful about their rank.

The larger the school the more beneficial a belt system would be to schools with one or 2 instructors.

Is there any truth to this in why martial arts belt systems were created?
Again different in the West to Japan. Minimum Sandan requirement to secure related employment. National level and gradings start at Rokudan. Up to Godan is Prefectural. So it's mostly those that actually work in teaching that carry on through to this level and above. Years ago in the UK the Martial Arts Commision had an instructors course to try and regulate. also for insurance purposes. I needed that to teach in Adult Education.
 

Hyoho

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Again different in the West to Japan. Minimum Sandan requirement to secure related employment. National level and gradings start at Rokudan. Up to Godan is Prefectural. So it's mostly those that actually work in teaching that carry on through to this level and above. The dan grade alone is insufficient. You needs a masters degree in education. Years ago in the UK the Martial Arts Commision had an instructors course to try and regulate. also for insurance purposes. I needed that to teach in Adult Education.
 

Gerry Seymour

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For some reason my mind wandered on the purpose of the belts and I said to myself that it would be a great way for teacher to know where the student were in their instructions. A small school of 20 students is easy to keep track of everyone's skill level and how far the student is in their training. But if you had a school that had 30+ students then it may be come more difficult to know where each student is, So how could someone easily know where a student was in their training without having to ask the student directly. A belt system would make this easier, not only would it make it easier, for the instructors and teachers. It would also be of value for guest instructors who wouldn't need to ask each student about their rank or question if the student was truthful about their rank.

The larger the school the more beneficial a belt system would be to schools with one or 2 instructors.

Is there any truth to this in why martial arts belt systems were created?
I agree with most of this, and will just add that in some systems, rank performs this same function for other students. Where curriculum is tied (even loosely) to rank, seeing another student's rank can tell you a lot. When I worked with a student I didn't know well (or just hadn't been in a class with in a while), their belt color gave me a general idea of what techniques they could handle (some have different falls and escapes, and are more hazardous if the student doesn't know them yet) and what level of intensity I could start at. For someone wearing a purple belt, even at another school, I knew they had a grasp of 40 of the foundational techniques (maybe more) and most of the variations of them. I also knew they'd be ready for fairly high intensity training, though I'd obviously ask about intensity (in case they were injured or such) and start a bit below what I thought was the "right level" for them.

But you are correct that it was much more useful as an instructor. I could organize a class of students I didn't normally work with (filling in for another instructor) by using ranks as a guide. I could ask a student how many techniques they have in their current set, and quickly know about where they were (and, with some instructors, know exactly which techniques they had). Even within my own classes, a quick glance at ranks during warm-ups let me adjust my class plan, see who's a possible partner for the student who needs to start a new technique, etc.
 

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Napoleon allegedly observed that "a soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of ribbon."

This is observation based on centuries of awards and honors for soldiers. Each may claim they care nothing for awards, yet they continue to be awarded, and soldiers give each other respect based on them when familiarity isn't the basis of that respect. I automatically respect a man wearing a Silver Star or a Medal of Honor, or even a Combat Action ribbon.

Karateka will claim they don't care if they ever advance in belts, so long as they are training and learning. Some may be right. But many students will ask what the requirements are for another belt or stripe, and struggle to reach it. We are also goal-setting creatures.

Honors, accolades, and visual signs of recognition are all important to many of us. We like to achieve, but also for others to know we've achieved.

It's also a form of categorization for training as mentioned. I'm reminded of a story told in our dojo about yudansha. We do not wear stripes on the black belt. Once we reach 1st Dan, no more differentiation between Dan ranks. This has led to some interesting interactions at seminars where we're training with other yudansha who wear stripes signifying their Dan rank. They're always thinking they outrank us and therefore have more experience and skill, until they're educated by say a 6th Dan wearing a plain black belt. Kinda funny.

Of course, rank is hard to compare between styles and even schools, as most of us know. I recall attending a seminar where I was a Sho Dan paired up with a Go Dan and he could not comprehend nor apply a technique I was conversant in. It was eye-opening to me. But it simply wasn't a focus of his training. Different schools.
 

isshinryuronin

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We do not wear stripes on the black belt.
Most styles don't seem to, as far as I've seen on videos (American kenpo being an exception). While I mentioned in a prior post that the Japanese are rank conscious in interpersonal dealings, I think this is balanced by their equally strong cultural tendency to not be ostentatious, not stand out or show off.

Funakoshi gave out the first black belts in Japan only in 1924. At that time, Okinawan karateka didn't even have gi's, much less belts. I think dan stripes for those who use them is fairly recent (1950's???) I don't really know, just guessing.

Even though the Okinawans didn't use dan degrees in the 1930's and 40's, they did have a certain classification of black belts called shogo. These are not ranks, though there is correlation with rank as well as seniority: Renshi, kyoshi and hanshi in ascending order. They are more like honorary awards related to teaching achievements. They noted by on a black belt by 1, 2, or 3 thin gold stripes, though some have this honor but forego showing these.

Shogo (and later on senior dans) were bestowed by pan-style governing bodies made up of the island's leading masters of all styles. Goju founder Miyagi was the 1st recipient of kyoshi in 1937 by the 1st such organization, the Butoku Kai. Later on, Master Shimabuku, along with some masters of other styles, were awarded hanshi by the All-Okinawan Karate and Kobudo Assn. (I don't know much about Japanese styles use of shogo).

These days, especially in the US, shogo, like high dan ranks, are sometimes victims of self-promotion or handed out by friendly instructors, unaware/uncaring of the history of their art. I just wear a plain black belt and try to do justice to it for my esteemed sensei's.
 
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JowGaWolf

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This is observation based on centuries of awards and honors for soldiers
Those aren't awards. Those are acknowledgement. I would argue acknowledgement is stronger than a reward. Reward systems are usually something that can be of monetary value, a resource of value,. Acknowledgement is a simple as saying "Thank you. I appreciate your efforts."

Acknowledgements are often of no other value than "The feeling that one is valuable." or the feeling that's "One's existence and characteristics have been acknowledge." No one in this world want to be useless of be of no value. This is so important that many people have killed themselves when they have felt this way for too long. Acknowledgement can come from someone greater or lesser than the person. For example,

I serve my country. I'm acknowledged by that country's leaders who I see as higher than me.
I saved a person. I'm acknowledged by that person and others who aren't in a higher social rank than me. My own personal experience of this was to that I protected a teen from being beaten up by an adult. After I left that country, that same teen came across my wife. She told me that he remembered her from that day. Even though, it wasn't directed at me. The appreciation of what I did was of value and I would be lying if I were to say that I didn't feel a sense of pride for such a small act from me to mean something greater to someone else.

This same type of acknowledgement is also why, I don't feel strong about the belted system from a student's perspective. My question always returns to "Do you want to be acknowledge for your skill, or do you want to be acknowledge for wearing a colored belt." I already know this answer because there are some who only see the belt as color as value and not the skills and effort.
  1. I wear a black belt so that people acknowledge me even though my skills are low.
  2. I wear a black belt as a symbol that my skills and effort have been acknowledge by those who are more skilled than me.
These are the 2 driving forces I see the most in belted systems. Those who lean more to 1 will always place emphasis on the belt. Those who lean more than 2 rarely talk about the belt. But are more than happy to show their skills that have been acknowledge.

Yesterday I helped a customer who wanted to reward me with a bottle of wine, a restaurant gift card, or something of monetary value (meaning something that money had to spent on.) He asked me what I wanted. I kindly said a nice review would be more than enough. He wrote a email directly to my boss, my boss rewarded my effort with a cap. Now I have 3 ugly caps that I'll never wear.

Now the question is. Whose acknowledgement did I want, the customer or my boss? Acknowledge me by speaking of my good deeds or acknowledge me by giving me a cap that I'll never wear. Which one would be of more value? The monetary object or the verbal recognition and acknowledgement?

Some people have all the money in the world and are liked by thousands but they are still unhappy because a specific group or a specific person doesn't acknowledge them.

Honors, accolades, and visual signs of recognition are all important to many of us. We like to achieve, but also for others to know we've achieved.
I know a Jow Ga practitioner who has dozens of trophies and certificates from other martial arts organizations, he has written a book about Jow Ga and has taught Jow Ga to others, He has been recognized by other Jow Ga teachers overseas. He is still empty inside regardless of his achievements. The cause of this emptiness is because one or 2 groups in the U.S. do not recognize or acknowledge his Jow Ga skill, knowledge or ability. I know this because he speaks of his awards more than anyone I know. He always has his awards on display when he does videos. He's emptiness will not be filled because the more he talks about his trophies the further away he gets from what he truly desires.

For me as a martial artist. No belt color would be of value to me. If we were all color blind then those belts would be useless. I can't acknowledge you with a belt because I don't train in your system, nor do I teach you. I don't keep track of anyone's belt rank in this forum because I don't want to acknowledge the belt. I want to acknowledge the person's skills and effort. Anyone can put on a black belt or give themselves a title and some do. As my acknowlegment to other martial artists, I will not honor your efforts and your skill by not seeing beyond the belt. When I talked about @Tony Dismukes , I didn't mention his belt. But I spoke a lot about his skills.

The reason I'm saying this is because I think we sometimes get confused as to why we like the belts. Now I'm speaking as someone who took karate. As a kid, I was invited to come back to the school that I trained. The teacher told my mom that I was good enought to have a higher belt ranking. As a kid, this puzzled me becasue I had been absent from class for months and as a result had done nothing to earn it. As a child I was taught that I had to earn things and people had to earn things from me and that I should not give things freely. This was the worst thing I could hear from that karate school. To give me something I have not earned was a slap to my face. I still feel the same way today. Even if respect is given to me freely I will still seek to truly earn it. I don't think I'm special and since I'm not special, I know that there are other people who feel the same way. For me I don't want people to acknowledge me for my belt.

People want to be acknowledge for the color of their belt. Yet, there are many we personally admire who we never talk about their belt color. We always talk about their skill or their knowledge. Yet we want others to see the color of the belt? Just a personal question that I think people should ask themselves so that they can identify if it's truly the belt or the skill that they wish people to acknowlege.
 

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Karateka will claim they don't care if they ever advance in belts, so long as they are training and learning. Some may be right. But many students will ask what the requirements are for another belt or stripe, and struggle to reach it. We are also goal-setting creatures.
Oh, I agree. Everybody cares in some capacity, and to some extent. Note, I said "some." As opposed to "the same."

To explain capacity:

All four professional sports leagues in the US have an "America's Team." The Cowboys, the Yankees, the Lakers, and the Blackhawks.

Fans of these teams will often claim "You may be watching to see them lose, but you're still watching them."

I found this conversation on another forum that illustrates this, as it pertains to martial arts:

"I will remain a white belt as long as possible."

"Why?"

"At my age I have nothing to prove and the rest of my life not to prove it. I will try to Improve daily and learn. I wonder how long before they insist I test. It will be a test for them to see how they approach me with it. They did just fine back when there were only black and white belts."
As you can see, despite his claim, he's definitely trying to prove something, and he definitely cares. He even admits that he's trying to get attention from his instructors by doing this.

A person who truly "doesn't care" will simply accept the system without enthusiasm, not go out of their way to flip the middle finger at it.
 

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Most styles don't seem to, as far as I've seen on videos (American kenpo being an exception). While I mentioned in a prior post that the Japanese are rank conscious in interpersonal dealings, I think this is balanced by their equally strong cultural tendency to not be ostentatious, not stand out or show off.

Funakoshi gave out the first black belts in Japan only in 1924. At that time, Okinawan karateka didn't even have gi's, much less belts. I think dan stripes for those who use them is fairly recent (1950's???) I don't really know, just guessing.

Even though the Okinawans didn't use dan degrees in the 1930's and 40's, they did have a certain classification of black belts called shogo. These are not ranks, though there is correlation with rank as well as seniority: Renshi, kyoshi and hanshi in ascending order. They are more like honorary awards related to teaching achievements. They noted by on a black belt by 1, 2, or 3 thin gold stripes, though some have this honor but forego showing these.

Shogo (and later on senior dans) were bestowed by pan-style governing bodies made up of the island's leading masters of all styles. Goju founder Miyagi was the 1st recipient of kyoshi in 1937 by the 1st such organization, the Butoku Kai. Later on, Master Shimabuku, along with some masters of other styles, were awarded hanshi by the All-Okinawan Karate and Kobudo Assn. (I don't know much about Japanese styles use of shogo).

These days, especially in the US, shogo, like high dan ranks, are sometimes victims of self-promotion or handed out by friendly instructors, unaware/uncaring of the history of their art. I just wear a plain black belt and try to do justice to it for my esteemed sensei's.
Quite a few Isshinryu dojos around here seem to either permit or authorize or maybe just tolerate the wearing of gold stripes on black belts to show dan level. It's confusing considering that your statements are also true; visiting Okinawan yudansha think a gold stripe means something different.

I also see names embroidered onto belts, sometimes in Kanji. Not sure why. No one at my dojo except my sensei can read Kanji, and he knows my name.

Our sensei is also hanshi. On rare ceremonial activities, he'll wear his red belt, and ask his two 6th Dans to wear their red and white panel belts. Mostly they wear a simple black belt like mine.

Question, how does the Okinawan Rengokai fit into all this?
 

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Quite a few Isshinryu dojos around here seem to either permit or authorize or maybe just tolerate the wearing of gold stripes on black belts to show dan level. It's confusing considering that your statements are also true; visiting Okinawan yudansha think a gold stripe means something different.

Sometimes I do wish martial arts leaders from around the world would just come together an agree on a universal standard. Another poster mentioned something earlier (can't remember if it was in this thread or not) that someone in another style or association tried to "pull rank" on them because the poster had no dan bars, only to find out that the poster was of the higher dan grade. I do find it odd that someone of a high enough dan grade to have multiple bars would be completely unaware of the fact that not every style or association uses dan bars, but it would be nice to not have this confusion.

I also see names embroidered onto belts, sometimes in Kanji. Not sure why. No one at my dojo except my sensei can read Kanji, and he knows my name.

This is purely for aesthetics, and I think we all know that. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
 
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If they're for the instructor, you know what would be equally effective and would save a ton of money? White belts with black tape added to indicate kyu grade.
 

isshinryuronin

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6th Dans to wear their red and white panel belts.
What??!! When I started, this was reserved for 8th degrees (there were only three or four in our system back then). Later, 7th could wear it (my sensei still didn't until he got 8th). I have never heard of 6th dans wearing any red. I must be behind the times. IMO, a very bad trend as it degrades the meaning of the belt and its expectations.
Quite a few Isshinryu dojos around here seem to either permit or authorize or maybe just tolerate the wearing of gold stripes on black belts to show dan level
I have never seen this in our system, even for shogo. But it's kind of flashy so probably good for marketing and stroking egos.
Question, how does the Okinawan Rengokai fit into all this?
A good question. But regardless, most American schools will do what they want for their own interests.
Sometimes I do wish martial arts leaders from around the world would just come together an agree on a universal standard.
This idea was sort of tried by a bunch of countries to foster world peace when they formed the United Nations - How's that been working out?:rolleyes:

This was the norm at one time for karate's highest levels as I noted in my earlier post. Even when I started, when many senior black belts knew of one another, those who claimed high rank could back it up as peer pressure and one's value of their reputation provided some consistency in rank. That's mostly gone now, except for a shrinking group of TMA purists. TKD and shotokan have a fairly organized promotional structure worldwide - not so much for Okinawan styles. IMO, it's all about respecting the art and upholding its traditions and not selling our for less altruistic goals.
 

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This idea was sort of tried by a bunch of countries to foster world peace when they formed the United Nations - How's that been working out?:rolleyes:
I'm sure that was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, as we all know that an agreed upon system of dan bars/no dan bars, red belts, etc is a far simpler matter than world peace.

Even if the argument is that each art or style has their own traditions that they should uphold, then there's also the possibility of an agreed upon secondary system that is only worn when people from different styles are gathered together in the same place. If the agreed upon system is dan bars, then you wear them at the gathering, but you go back to what you normally wear when you get back to the home dojo.
 
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