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Martial Arts Ranks – Black Belt is Just the Beginning

Elvis Elvis

Martial arts ranks are no different than ranks in any other thing. Whether it is the stripes on a soldier’s uniform or a belt in a karate class, rank is merely a representation of skill or experience level given by a higher authority.

To many people who are not in martial artist, a common misconception is that a rank of black belt is the highest level you can achieve. However, most martial artists who have earned a black belt will say that a rank of black belt is a representation that a person has mastered the basic techniques of a particular martial art. Depending on what martial art is studied, how many “basics” there are, and how fast a person can understand and execute those techniques, it can take anywhere from two to ten years to achieve a black belt.

Martial arts ranks between different styles are pretty similar. They usually have several ranks that are beginner ranks, several ranks that are advanced ranks, and several ranks that our expert ranks. Typically a holder of a particular rank is designated by a certain color belt or sash. The use of belts is most often found in Japanese, Korean and Okinawan martial arts. Other martial arts such as Kung Fu and Silat use sashes to denote rank. The use of colors to show rank is a more modern system. Traditionally a student of a martial art would be given a belt or sash that was all white. As the student progressed and time went by the belt or sash would become dirtier and dirtier.

Thus the belt or sash that was once white would become black. This traditional way of doing things showed that someone with a black belt had many, many years of experience in martial arts. Some martial arts grandmasters today still wear black belts that they got years and years ago. These belts are often tattered and worn, but they show a person who has a long history in the martial arts.

Martial Arts Ranks   Black Belt is Just the Beginning

Today, when you join a martial arts class, you are most likely be given a white belt or sash when you start. As you increase your knowledge and advance through testing you’ll be given a new color with each passing grade. Typically the belts start with white and become darker the more training you receive and the further you advance. A set of techniques and a certain level of proficiency in those techniques are required for each belt level.

Some schools or styles don’t use martial arts rank designations at all. Instead they focus more on the development of the student. This can be good in that it causes the students to concentrate on learning the techniques in the martial arts instead of working solely to attain a belt level. On the contrary, not having a belt system can cause some students to lose interest in a martial art because there are no definitive levels of techniques. A parallel would be taking a road trip and not having any street signs that tell you how close you are to your destination. This would drive some people crazy. However, using the same analogy, a martial arts school that doesn’t give designation of rank would say that the road trip is about the journey, not about the destination. In other words, a martial artist shouldn’t concern himself or herself about the rankings in the martial art they study.