Grading in the Martial Arts
In any martial art, that has a traditional linage whether that linage is from a Japanese background a Chinese background, or any other eastern background there is a belt system or grade system in place.
Any newcomer to our academy will see a variety of coloured belts on show in our junior classes. In our adult classes we do not wear the belts but the adults still grade along the same system. A new student to our junior program will be handed their own white belt with their suit, the instructor or coach will tie it around their waist, but they may not know the significance of having that belt.
There are many different stories about where the belt system came from. One story is that in the Far East, the GI (martial art uniform) was the traditional dress of that time period and they would wear a belt to hold their suit together. The belt became darker with sweat and dirt as their training progressed which eventually started turning the belt black. Thus a black belt was somebody who had trained longer and had more experience.
Another theory is that the system was developed in the 20th century when the arts were being taught more and more too western students. Because of the western mind it needed a step by step progression so that the student had feedback about how they were progressing. Judo was one of the first arts to fully take on the belt system, used as it is today to help motivate the student to better themselves and to provide targets to aim for to reach the next stage of training and improvement. In modern day martial arts the belt system has become vitally important to the success of the student that is largely due to how it sets its goals and targets for improvement.
Goal setting is important in any walk of life, so you can see why it was a system implemented to use small manageable goals to achieve an overall long term goal. The fact that most martial arts have taken up the belt and grading system and encouraged its development shows that it is a successful and integral part of martial art training.
So we have goal setting as one of the reasons that a belt system is used, but what does a belt and its ranking system truly mean? Some people believe it is status, some people believe it is seniority, some people believe it the symbol of the path of their journey to black belt… whatever you believe, the most important thing is what it means to the individual student.
Some students aspire to become instructors one day and will need qualifications to do so, therefore grading is a necessary step for their career development. But for the majority of students it is the knowledge that they have preserved sometimes for months, sometimes for years and for the elite few, for decades, it is their reward for overcoming the daily small obstacles that stood in their way to reaching a goal they have set themselves, it is the knowledge that they have taken consistent small steps and the grading is a marker in that journey that keeps them on track. As they consistently grade and move up the ranks they keep beating that small negative voice in their own heads, that tells them you can’t do this you are not good enough.
Each grade builds on its next level, the student becoming more knowledgably about their art and themselves, their techniques becoming faster and more powerful, they become fitter and more confident which can lead to the overall reason to grade, you come to know yourself!
You know what you are capable of, what your strengths and weakness is what you stand for and how you interact with other human beings and the world at large. The gradings and the belts reflect back to the student themselves.
But to most people looking in who do not train the martial arts it looks like a piece of clothing that holds your trousers up, our students know better, they understand what it means and how hard they have worked to achieve it. They also understand how it has helped them in their everyday lives.