Raising the Standards for the Rank of Black Belt
I have been looking deeply at the martial arts world, at the process of earning a black belt, and about what it means to be a black belt. For the last 5 years I have been involved in a project called The Ultimate Black Belt Test (UBBT) -and to date, more than 100 black belts have participated in the 13 month training program.
While the UBBT is still a work in progress (as there are many ideas yet to be tested), the project has been a catalyst for an evolution in my thinking about what a black belt is (or could represent). As a result of the UBBT -and my overall experience as an athlete, teacher, school owner, and industry consultant, I would like to suggest the following:
No Black Belts for People Under the Age of 18
I don’t see any real reason to issue the rank of black belt to people under the age of 18. We should have a junior black belt program, but reserve the rank of full black belt for adults only. Despite the fact that I have awarded hundreds of children the rank of black belt, the general decline of standards and quality of the rank have caused me to change my mind.
No More 2.5 or 3 year Black Belts
We are not doing ourselves any favors by issuing black belts to people who have not genuinely developed their skills through years of practice. We cheapen the rank and lower the standards by allowing people to wear black belts too early in their training. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) shames us (the karate/taekwondo word) in that it generally takes 5 to 8 years to earn a black belt in BJJ -and let me tell you, a black belt in BJJ is one highly skilled martial artist. I have met far too many black belts who couldn’t punch their way out of a wet paper bag, and it is simply unacceptable.
What’s the hurry? Are we afraid people will drop out if their egos aren’t appeased?
5 to 8 Years to Black Belt
I don’t think we should be awarding the rank of black belt to anyone who hasn’t put in 5 to 8 years of steady and consistent hardcore practice. Let brown or red belt be the pinnacle of achievement for the average practitioner -and reserve black belt for the most disciplined students.
No More Black Belt Courses
Let’s find another way to sell our lessons. Let’s call it something that completely separates the rank of black belt from anything a student buys.
We do not give people law degrees because they paid for the course. We don’t let teachers teach in public schools because they paid for a course. We don’t let pilots fly aircraft just because they’ve put in their time. We don’t let doctors practice medicine because they joined The “Doctor’s Program.” We shouldn’t let martial arts students become black belts unless they have put in an Olympic effort and put in enough time to really represent the rank with genuine, time-tested skill.
We’re killing the authenticity of the black belt, the value of it, by giving them out like so much candy at Halloween. It’s time for reform.