The black belt promotion system YES or NO?

Hyoho

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Over the years I have collected a decent number of black belts, and various degrees in different systems.

Currently I'm training in Muay Thai, where there is no belt system. Despite the fact that I'm proud of a few of the belts I have achieved, overall I am greatly enjoying training in a system that has no belt ranking system. It's liberating!!!

My belts have given me legitimacy over the years, and that's been helpful occasionally, to give me a platform to teach. But overall, I dislike what a belt system brings into the culture of a gym.

I'm not saying it's all bad, but what do you guys think of the belt ranking systems? The politics of belts? It seems everyone is either A. Over promoted or B. Under promoted and ultimately it can be all a major distraction from effective training.

Thoughts?
My thought are related to the country I have done nearly all my training, Japan. A system primarily invented for kids by Kano Jigoro. Lets not for get he was also a sports education minister. A system for more modern arts to give kids a sense of achievement.

If you want to adopt and bastardize it for another art? It's entirely up to you. Dan grades are generally awarded by an association not an art. I took 27 Dan grades in various arts in all over the years. I did stop and it "did" interfere, when I was told it was best to meet certain people before my next test as practice alone was not enough. A not what you know but who you know system. Friends continued to the top being told what to do, stop smoking etc.

In one art I do they have now downranked grades from tenth to eighth dan. In a recent national grading only two people passed eight! Yes, they are downgrading grading.

So we don't wear belts. What is so nice is to walk into a dojo and see a well dressed gentlemen moving and using skills to an unbelievable level and you "know" he is high ranked.
 

Holmejr

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Thats not really objective is the teachers are assessing their own students. Quad erat demonstrandum. Unconscious bias applies in these circumstance and its hard to overcome them. Better to have an unknown panel doing the assessments, then unconscious bias can be ameliorated.
Your probably right.
I had a couple GMs that fought the Japanese and Muslim warriors in the jungles of the Philippines. They all came out of systems where their GM simply said youre ready, and Ive taught you all that I know. Can you close your eyes and picture your unknown panel fighting for their lives in the jungles of the Philippines? I hope so.
 
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isshinryuronin

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Better to have an unknown panel doing the assessments, then unconscious bias can be ameliorated.

I agree about the bias. At the same time, an independent panel cant know much about the students actual overall ability - just how they perform on the test. I dont know of a way to mitigate that - all testing methods have limitations.
I think we have to consider the overall organizational environment. Ideally, the school is small, not part of a highly structured mega organization, not overly commercialized, the instructor has personally taught the student for a while and is very knowledgeable and experienced. In this case, an unknown panel will not evaluate as well as the instructor. Gerry brought up the main point.

If technical ability is the ONLY criteria for advancement, a video can be sent to the promoting authority and impersonally judged. But in TMA, other qualities are expected to be brought to the table that only the direct instructor can judge. A student's discipline, attitude, work ethic, dedication to the school and other students and so forth are part of the package. They are more than data points on a scorecard. There are intangibles that can't be seen by the casual observer.

What rank is being tested for may be a consideration. A higher black belt promotion, say 5th or 6th dan and higher (or for non-rank honorable titles), may call for an examination board, hopefully of the highest level of knowledge and integrity. This is how it was done in the first part of the twentieth century and sometimes even included masters of other styles. This insured the individual receiving high rank was respected and accepted not only by his school, but by the entire MA community. Perhaps this is an anachronism and not practical in today's MA world. Times change.

As for bias, speaking from experience as student and instructor, the personal expert instructor would have pride in his end product and see his students as his reputation amongst his peers. This serves to set a high bar. No one will know the student better. All this, though, is based as I said, on an ideal school and instructor as described at the start. Rare to find, today.

A question should be asked: Why isn't the instructor trusted to promote his students???? Is this a power thing, or a recognition by the powers that be in that organization that their instructors are not up to par? Inevitable in today's MA environment with too many students, schools and too many instructors for effective quality control?

Once again, I may have gotten carried away in my response. Times change and things are as they are. We must do our own thing and find satisfaction in that.
 

Gyakuto

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During lockdown, it was suggested by somebody members of our association that video promotions might be the way forward. However it was abandoned when it was pointed out that some members simply dont have access to sufficient space or technology to film an embu for assessment!

Its been pointed out to me by my senior grades that for my next grading I should ensure I conduct myself a with confidence and a dispassionate, noble manner avoiding chatty larking around when in the venue of the grading, from the moment I arrive, lest I am observed by members of the grading panel. So there are clearly non-examination criteria being observed.

I feel the attempt should be made to have the most objective assessment as is practically possible, unsullied by personal bias brought about by personal familiarity, friendship or even thoughts of financial-gain.

In U.K. universities, examination papers are blind-marked (we dont know who has written the script) and then second marked/moderated by a person not associated with teaching the course. Personal and extenuating circumstances are taken into consideration with presentation of evidence and marks adjusted accordingly. I think this is very fair. Something similar could be adopted by martial arts associations.
 

Gerry Seymour

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I believe that belts are helpful only to keep students motivated. As we all know, certain schools/teachers will guarantee a belt as long as you complete the training. To this end, belts do not signify anything. If you are training to be able to defend yourself then you should be more concerned with your fitness, agility and strength than a color around your waist. I have met way too many black belts who would not stand a chance in a real confrontation. If you are training for exercise and the social component of the martial arts then that's great.....just don't try and defend yourself with that.
A few thoughts on this. Firstly, I think many of us (myself included) tend to have a picture of what a black belt should be able to do. That's just our expectation. In some systems, BB isn't meant to indicate any kind of expertise, rather a level of progression in the curriculum (they've received all the basic material). I try to judge more by what the school (read: instructor) says their students are good at. So if they (particularly in a demonstration) say essentially "here's a good example of X", then I'm looking at what they're presenting, expecting it to be good. If it isn't, that's a problem, regardless of the rank of the student.

I also think the belts can (and sometimes do) serve as more than a motivational tool. Where there is some reasonable consistency, they can give information about a student. In my primary art, belts signify progression in the curriculum. Since part of the training is how to protect yourself when receiving a technique (some of the falls and escapes are bad news if not done properly), this tells instructors and training partners which techniques they can use. It's also helpful when a student visits or transfers schools, because there's a reasonable expectation of where they'll be in the curriculum, so they can simply step into classes and usually do reasonably well given the same instruction as locals of the same rank. In a system like BJJ, it tends to indicate how they're likely to fare in free rolling and likely how much of the foundational principles they understand.
 

Gerry Seymour

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Belts do come in handy. You know that cardboard box of stuff you no longer use that you have in the back of your closet?

It would get squished if it wasn't filled with belts, patches and old fighting gloves.
They also serve well if you lose the belt for your bath robe. And they look cool hanging on the chin-up bar.
 

Gerry Seymour

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An objective measure of progress is important and in MA that means a grading panel of people who dont know the candidates.

During the lockdowns, English school teachers were asked to mark their own students university entrance exams (A-Levels). The result was significant grade-inflation and thus less-than-able students being admitted to challenging university courses and not being able to handle them, struggling and even dropping out! The teachers simply had an unconscious bias that favoured their own students. This is why external marking is so important.
Is a panel really objective, though, in MA? There are certainly some things that can be fairly objective (how closely someone follows a form). But even a panel is a bunch of people with their own personal biases. I've never heard two instructors in the same art fully agree on all aspects when speaking freely with each other. It's rarely about the big stuff, but part of that panel - especially testing at higher ranks - is about smaller details and variations.

I've also known instructors who pushed against that bias, so the result was opposite. Within my primary art, I'm one of them. It took much longer to get a given rank from me than it would have with any other instructor I knew. When I was invited to rejoin the association I'd left, if I had let my students test, they'd all have stepped up a rank (not further, because they didn't yet have all the techniques for the next rank up) if tested by the instructor who invited me back. While part of the length between ranks is because I added requirements (more in my curriculum), most of the delay is that I expected and tested for a higher level of proficiency at each rank.
 

Gerry Seymour

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I agree that a belt system can have a negative effect for some, for some it is just a symbol, for others its a reward for their effort. In my opinion or belief, one should search for greater joy in their own recognition of achievements, and not others. I think that if someone truly wants to learn MA, then they will strive on because they want to learn all that they can, belt or no belt. I am a 41 year Wing Chun instructor and WC does not use belts, or at least many do not, I find more pride in my students and my achievements, not the belts.
This gets into the psychology of motivation, and I don't think "should" is useful here. People are motivated by what motivates them, not by what we think should. At one point, I was motivated within MA by the recognition that rank provided and the joy of learning new skills. Later I was motivated by the recognition that I got for the students (and instructors) I helped build. Mostly now, I think I'm motivated within my primary art by the recognition I get for the expertise I own (what I can pass along to others). Outside that art, I'm mostly motivated by just the joy of learning new skills (which is why I'm hoping I'll be able to pick up a new art soon).

The belt itself isn't what most folks are proud of. Rather, it's what the belt symbolizes: they did the work and passed the test to get that rank. Sure, there are some folks who just want to be able to say they have a black belt (or whatever rank), but most folks I know rarely even talked about their MA experience outside of MA circles.
 

Gerry Seymour

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I think we have to consider the overall organizational environment. Ideally, the school is small, not part of a highly structured mega organization, not overly commercialized, the instructor has personally taught the student for a while and is very knowledgeable and experienced. In this case, an unknown panel will not evaluate as well as the instructor. Gerry brought up the main point.

If technical ability is the ONLY criteria for advancement, a video can be sent to the promoting authority and impersonally judged. But in TMA, other qualities are expected to be brought to the table that only the direct instructor can judge. A student's discipline, attitude, work ethic, dedication to the school and other students and so forth are part of the package. They are more than data points on a scorecard. There are intangibles that can't be seen by the casual observer.

What rank is being tested for may be a consideration. A higher black belt promotion, say 5th or 6th dan and higher (or for non-rank honorable titles), may call for an examination board, hopefully of the highest level of knowledge and integrity. This is how it was done in the first part of the twentieth century and sometimes even included masters of other styles. This insured the individual receiving high rank was respected and accepted not only by his school, but by the entire MA community. Perhaps this is an anachronism and not practical in today's MA world. Times change.

As for bias, speaking from experience as student and instructor, the personal expert instructor would have pride in his end product and see his students as his reputation amongst his peers. This serves to set a high bar. No one will know the student better. All this, though, is based as I said, on an ideal school and instructor as described at the start. Rare to find, today.

A question should be asked: Why isn't the instructor trusted to promote his students???? Is this a power thing, or a recognition by the powers that be in that organization that their instructors are not up to par? Inevitable in today's MA environment with too many students, schools and too many instructors for effective quality control?

Once again, I may have gotten carried away in my response. Times change and things are as they are. We must do our own thing and find satisfaction in that.
You mentioned a video sent in. To my mind, this isn't a bad idea, where a "panel" is an option (within an association): when an instructor has tested a student, a video of technical material is sent to that panel, and they give feedback. This adds a less-biased opinion on the candidate.
 

Gerry Seymour

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During lockdown, it was suggested by somebody members of our association that video promotions might be the way forward. However it was abandoned when it was pointed out that some members simply dont have access to sufficient space or technology to film an embu for assessment!

Its been pointed out to me by my senior grades that for my next grading I should ensure I conduct myself a with confidence and a dispassionate, noble manner avoiding chatty larking around when in the venue of the grading, from the moment I arrive, lest I am observed by members of the grading panel. So there are clearly non-examination criteria being observed.

I feel the attempt should be made to have the most objective assessment as is practically possible, unsullied by personal bias brought about by personal familiarity, friendship or even thoughts of financial-gain.

In U.K. universities, examination papers are blind-marked (we dont know who has written the script) and then second marked/moderated by a person not associated with teaching the course. Personal and extenuating circumstances are taken into consideration with presentation of evidence and marks adjusted accordingly. I think this is very fair. Something similar could be adopted by martial arts associations.
Unfortunately, I see no way to "blind-mark" MA tests. We'll always be able to see the person, and I suspect that (as everywhere else in life it has proven true) each member of the panel will carry some small (or not-small) bias from even the person's physical appearance.

But, again, there's definitely some merit to this less-partial evaluation being part of the testing.
 

Gyakuto

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Is a panel really objective, though, in MA? There are certainly some things that can be fairly objective (how closely someone follows a form). But even a panel is a bunch of people with their own personal biases. I've never heard two instructors in the same art fully agree on all aspects when speaking freely with each other. It's rarely about the big stuff, but part of that panel - especially testing at higher ranks - is about smaller details and variations.

I've also known instructors who pushed against that bias, so the result was opposite. Within my primary art, I'm one of them. It took much longer to get a given rank from me than it would have with any other instructor I knew. When I was invited to rejoin the association I'd left, if I had let my students test, they'd all have stepped up a rank (not further, because they didn't yet have all the techniques for the next rank up) if tested by the instructor who invited me back. While part of the length between ranks is because I added requirements (more in my curriculum), most of the delay is that I expected and tested for a higher level of proficiency at each rank.
No they cannot be totally objective but we can attempt to make them subtend to objectivity. This is why you have a panel made up of multiple people since statistically the biases will tend to reduce out. There are 12 people on a jury within law courts so that biases can be mitigated. The Britains Got Talent has 5 judges. If it was just made up of Simon Cowell, all the winners would be attractive, dancing-dog handlers who can sing musical theatre numbers多and on a second佞宇hat last example doesnt really help my argument吋he best possible MA panel would have an infinite number of blind examiners but of course, their diaries seldom allow for this!

As for belts, in my art we dont have them! There is no outward way of making judgements about a someones ability without seeing their performance!
 

Gyakuto

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Unfortunately, I see no way to "blind-mark" MA tests. We'll always be able to see the person, and I suspect that (as everywhere else in life it has proven true) each member of the panel will carry some small (or not-small) bias from even the person's physical appearance.

But, again, there's definitely some merit to this less-partial evaluation being part of the testing.
Graders could be made to wear a paper bag over their head and white cotton gloves and socks.
 

Ji Yuu

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Over the years I have collected a decent number of black belts, and various degrees in different systems.

Currently I'm training in Muay Thai, where there is no belt system. Despite the fact that I'm proud of a few of the belts I have achieved, overall I am greatly enjoying training in a system that has no belt ranking system. It's liberating!!!

My belts have given me legitimacy over the years, and that's been helpful occasionally, to give me a platform to teach. But overall, I dislike what a belt system brings into the culture of a gym.

I'm not saying it's all bad, but what do you guys think of the belt ranking systems? The politics of belts? It seems everyone is either A. Over promoted or B. Under promoted and ultimately it can be all a major distraction from effective training.

Thoughts?
After 40+ years of martial arts training, I will say this: I do not agree with most westernized belt rank/test systems above 1st dan. This includes Kukkiwan and ITF. The bottom line is most of the dan tests are overpriced. Practitioners who are ready to advance should not be held back from advancement due to lack of funds; advancement should be based on merit. Paying someone to train you is one thing. Paying an extra $500 - $800 for belt exams is wrong in my opinion.

Overall, I like belt ranking systems as long as it is understood that said ranks are worked for and earned and not simply paid for.
 

Gerry Seymour

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After 40+ years of martial arts training, I will say this: I do not agree with most westernized belt rank/test systems above 1st dan. This includes Kukkiwan and ITF. The bottom line is most of the dan tests are overpriced. Practitioners who are ready to advance should not be held back from advancement due to lack of funds; advancement should be based on merit. Paying someone to train you is one thing. Paying an extra $500 - $800 for belt exams is wrong in my opinion.

Overall, I like belt ranking systems as long as it is understood that said ranks are worked for and earned and not simply paid for.
I agree this can become a problem. I'm okay with a reasonable testing fee. What's reasonable to me? Compensation for the time of the examiner(s) and any necessary space/materials. But nothing exorbitant. If 10 examiners are testing 20 people in space borrowed from a participating school, here's a possible breakdown:

Travel expenses - this is highly variable, and should be a significant consideration in who is asked to the panel
Time payment (perhaps $25-40/hr.) for the time working - maybe $600?
Some small compensation to the school hosting the event wouldn't be too odd - maybe $100.

So we're looking at $70/testee, plus their share of travel expenses. Depending on how that's handled, that could be another $30 each, or another $300+ each.

So it's possible some of the high testing fees folks have seen weren't so out of line. If half of those examiners flew $400 flights (pretty cheap) and had to stay in $100 hotels (again, not expensive) for 2 days, you're looking at $150 + 70 per testee. If all of them flew in at $500 and had to stay 2 nights at $200 hotels (not expensive in some areas), you're looking at $350 + 70 per testee. And those costs are just the testers' time for a 4-hour test. I could imagines some situations where $500-800 per person would actually be in line with the costs/compensation I've mentioned here, as well as situations where $300 per person might be way out of line.

I don't know how long any of these typically last, nor how large the panels usually are, so I've just spit out some hypothetical numbers. There are certainly some expenses I didn't include (meals, materials, any other staff helping, etc.), while a smaller panel (or smaller ratio of examiners) would lower the total.
 

Gyakuto

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After 40+ years of martial arts training, I will say this: I do not agree with most westernized belt rank/test systems above 1st dan. This includes Kukkiwan and ITF. The bottom line is most of the dan tests are overpriced. Practitioners who are ready to advance should not be held back from advancement due to lack of funds; advancement should be based on merit. Paying someone to train you is one thing. Paying an extra $500 - $800 for belt exams is wrong in my opinion.

Overall, I like belt ranking systems as long as it is understood that said ranks are worked for and earned and not simply paid for.
Welcome to capitalism! 5th Dan (Iaido/Kendo) grading cost me $76.76 in Europe (77). I think thats acceptable for a Japanese 8th Dan grading delegation.
 

skribs

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I was always denied promotion. From the begining- i hated belts i found them to have only one real purpose which a good teacher would replace- other then safety for tech - its a ego and politics game which to me has destroyed the essence of martial art created a system of politics and glory - no glory in war or death so i think they also do not take it seriously and result shows - pro fighters rarely last long without perm injury so self defense will be a issue and law consequence change the game - i agree with you.
I think I know why you were denied promotion.
 

Gyakuto

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I wonder if the Dan-i/belt system is moreJapanese? They seem to have a liking for rankings (I once visited the 3rd top samurai garden in Kanazawa ) and systematic organisation etc. This appears to contrary to Chinese systems which are less systematic圩rom an outsiders perspective, I hasten to add.
 

skribs

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I wonder if the Dan-i/belt system is moreJapanese? They seem to have a liking for rankings (I once visited the 3rd top samurai garden in Kanazawa ) and systematic organisation etc. This appears to contrary to Chinese systems which are less systematic圩rom an outsiders perspective, I hasten to add.
A lot of the Korean arts borrow heavily from Japanese arts (as does BJJ), so that could be the case.
 

Hyoho

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Welcome to capitalism! 5th Dan (Iaido/Kendo) grading cost me $76.76 in Europe (77). I think thats acceptable for a Japanese 8th Dan grading delegation.
Going to take national level kendo grades (above godan) one has a to travel. So a trip to Osaka or Tokyo can set you back above $700
 
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