How Important Are Gradings?

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Discussions' started by Kevin, Jun 27, 2012.

  1. Kevin

    Kevin Admin Staff Member

    Angie spoke about McDojo's just handing out belts in another post recently. I don't believe that a belt is always a good representation of a person's skill level however by handing belts out easily everything is watered down, which is unfair to students who did earn the right to have a belt.

    In another thread I spoke about a top Karate guy I worked with briefly when I was 20. He had attained the rank of 7th Dan in Karate and was ranked in other arts too but for his school he didn't use gradings. He said he simply walked up to a student and gave them their black belt when they were ready. I have a lot of respect for this kind of thing as I think it's a better way to rank a student within a school. Outside of a school though, how should student be ranked?

    This make be wonder of the benefits of grading systems within martial arts and just how important are they in the grand scale of things?

    How important are they:
    • In motivating students
    • Maintaining the standard of students across a large organisation
    • Generating income for a school or organisation
    I can understand that many people will be motivated by the goal of a new belt as it gives them something to aim for, though if the student fails the grading system could be equally as discouraging.

    Large organisations should be able to monitor their art and maintain control by making all students sit the same grading exams etc, though I've seen a large difference in the quality of students between different schools in the same organisation, so clearly the system isn't perfect.

    I'm not against a grading system per say though I do feel that the way gradings are set up in most organisations there can be a large difference in quality between students who achieve the same rank. I admire the BJJ ranking system because of this. BJJ practitioners are widely known for who they trained under. This makes teachers less fourth coming with just handing belts out easily, so the standard across the board stays high (or a teacher would get a bad name for themselves).

    Students have to be at least 19 years old to get a black belt too and a promotion relies heavily on how you compete against other students in a live situation i.e. if you are a blue belt and start subbing lots of purple belts, you would probably be promoted to purple belt.

    I think it would be interesting to see other arts adopt this. In Taekwondo most gradings are based on your ability to perform patterns, one, two and three step sparring, regular sparring and breaking boards. I've seen students forget their pattern, perform badly in sparring (and even turn away when the other person attacked) and then break no boards. They were then told they had to improve and were still given the belt. There would be a lot less black belts around in Karate and Taekwondo if everyone had to fight in order to get a promotion.

    What's your view on grading systems and its benefits and drawbacks?

    Deborah likes this.
  2. RJ Clark

    RJ Clark Tree Ninja Staff Member

    Modern ranking system began with Judo to make Kodokan commercially viable (by default it motivates students by granting relatively short term goals). Donn F. Draeger has an excellent piece on this which I posted below.

    In essense, there would virtually be no modern martial arts if they weren't made commercially viable. They absolutely would not be as wide spread as they are now. This history of creating rank to generate income unto itself doesn't diminish anyone's accomplishments of rank progression. Ultimately, a martial arts school is a business, and a business needs to make money. I myself am shodan in Judo, JuJutsu (or Jap. JuJitsu - my instructors, rightly or wrongly, often spelled it either way), and Vee Arnis Jitsu (which is a bit ironic since most FMA began ranking for the same reason - to generate income).

    A good rule of thumb is, if you feel it was a challenge to earn your rank and/or your testing pushed you close to your limits then you did EARN it. Our testing had core requirements that had to be covered, but each test was modified to push each individual to his or her limits. And EVERY test ended with the sparring and grappling gauntlet where you fought everyone in class, often multiple opponents, all the way up to Soke. That's how I was tested and it's now how I test others.
    Jinen Kym, Deborah and Mario Paul like this.
  3. john quayle

    john quayle Initiate

    I have just passed my black belt in judo,there are two ways to get your blackbelt you can either fight and get 100 points,
    you get between 7 and ten points per contest you win,so to get 100 points requires skill and dedication,or you can do a technical
    test where you are tested on all of the techniques,as well having to know how each technique works,you also have to demonstrate
    you know how to teach each technique as well. You also have to be at least 17 years old.You also have to understand the Japanese and English translation for each move. So being a black belt in judo takes time,dedication,and knowledge. Unlike some other martial arts i have seen where they just give you one for turning up. A black belt is a state of mind,not just a black piece of cloth.
    Deborah, arron butler, dmach and 2 others like this.
  4. RJ Clark

    RJ Clark Tree Ninja Staff Member

    My black belt test consisted of our schools 40 "core" throws (many which had more than one variation that had to be demo'ed), executed right and left sides, static and dynamic. Then moved on to executing specific ne waza after throws. Then practical/self defense scenarios using Judo techniques to deal with them. Finally finishing with the sparring and grappling gauntlet.
    Deborah and Mario Paul like this.
  5. Kevin

    Kevin Admin Staff Member

    I would disagree that every martial arts school is a business. Many clubs where I'm from only charge enough money to cover the cost of hiring the hall that people are training in. The instructors don't make any money from it.

    It sounds like your grading system is good i.e. hard sparring, difficult techniques to perform etc. Many schools offer gradings a few times a year and the tests aren't that difficult.

    How long do students usually wait between gradings? (i.e. from white belt to black belt).
  6. RJ Clark

    RJ Clark Tree Ninja Staff Member

    I don't mean to cast a disparaging light on schools needing to make money. But even with good-hearted, magnanimous instructors/clubs like yours they have to cover expenses.
  7. Kevin

    Kevin Admin Staff Member

    Definitely. I don't believe instructors should be out of pocket for helping others.

    With regards to making money through schools, how important do you think gradings are to the school financially?
  8. RJ Clark

    RJ Clark Tree Ninja Staff Member

    Grading typically is very important financially. Just to use one of the schools I came up in as an example. Color grade promotion essentially cost about the same as one month of student fees/dues (close enough to not split hairs on it), with dan ranking starting at roughly double that. Without it the school might have covered basic expenses like rent, insurance, and electric, but wouldn't be able to purchase new gear like heavy bags, gloves, etc. So again, it's not a bad thing that schools make money on grading/ranking.
  9. Ian White

    Ian White Samurai

    My Gradings were held every 3 months had 10 sections Starting at Basics (Strike.Kick Block stances) then combinations, of the students own creation. 1 on 1 Set sparring and freestyle ,2 Kata 1 for the grade attempted and 1 other from the syllabus. Self defence against 1 person 2 people as they approached Black Belt. Last section Free sparring against 3 different opponents. 60% was the passmark. 2Kyu to 1st Kyu was 6 months as was 1st Kyu to 1st Dan,
    but if the s core was 55-60% they received a provisional pass which meant they had to pass next time or it was automatic failure.
    For black Belt they went before a panel of 4-5 senior Black Belts and were assessed by them . I eventually was part of the grading panel. The 1 rule the head of our association did invoke was that you could not mark your students.
    This system worked for me for 15years and produced my roll call of Black Belts.
    my charges were enough to cover the cost of the venue for 4-5 hrs and the certificates supplied by my Association. Any remaining was put to use buying and repalcing training equipment

    All those years and I never made vast amounts of money. I was not in it for the money.
    arron butler and RJ Clark like this.
  10. shotogaz

    shotogaz Disciple

    I believe gradings are important Soley to maintain a standard of ability throughout a style or organisation! Ideally for me a green belt in my club should have the same ability and knowledge of a green belt in any other club. I also think students should not be graded by their own sensei, But instead by a senior instructor to them, especially for black belt! This is common practise I believe in a well structured traditional karate org. And to do this correctly I think a syllabus is needed. But this is only my opinion and possibly because its how I was graded! I always thought it a bit dubious for sensei's to hand out belts to their own students at their discretion, although, dependng on the art and the instructors I now guess it could be acceptable.
  11. Schubertdog

    Schubertdog Shodan

    I have spoken on this in another thread. The coloured belt grading system gives us stupid Westerners specific challenges and targets to allow us to monitor our progress and more importantly to us, show others how far we have come. It fuels our vanity and bragging rights.
    It can also be easily abused, as our chief instructor says, when asked by new students how long it will take to get a black belt, "I don't give these away in lucky bags *points at belt* you will have to work hard for it and just may get one in 6 - 7 years, if you don't want to put in the effort go to ****** club you will get one in 3 years, it will cost you about £1000 but it is worthless and my green belts will kick your ass" Most stay, I did and took Shodan after 8 years, it probably cost more than the other club but I do feel it was earned not just paid for.
    Used appropriately it is a useful system though, as most of the students who walk through the door are children it makes for teaching them a simpler process. By focussing their tutelage on the specific requirements to achieve the next belt you can be more pedantic about the finer detail, trying to get perfect foot placement, body position, hip rotation, balance ratio etc.....
    We have a system of scoring at our grading sessions and students demonstrate to a panel of 3 or 4 of us Shodan and Nidan who rate each student on each category of their syllabus the scores are then averaged to get the "true" score, this is presented to the chief instructor for final approval to determine if the student has passed or failed the grade. This is his way of ensuring we maintain the standard. From 5th Kyu up students also have to demonstrate an ability to spar freely for their grading against any grade of opponent. Very few fail as they are not deemed eligible to grade without first having been seen performing to a suitable standard during training sessions. Sometimes it appears that everyone passes their grade regardless, not true. One 13yr old girl recently failed green belt (by miles) there was simply no effort or technique, her mother kicked off big style, we never saw either of them again, whatever!
    The youngest age a black belt was awarded was 17, she was a worthy candidate having started at age 8 and trained hard. We don't impose a lower limit to grade to Shodan but we don't accept students under 6 years old to start so it would not be possible under our rules to achieve black belt until at least 12 but they would be classed as junior black belt until they were 16.
    Under our system lower gradings are at least 4 months apart, middle grades 6 months apart and from 3rd Kyu to Shodan 1 year apart, they cost £10 which includes your new belt, except Shodan which is £75 which includes UK registration. At these prices you can see the club is not run commercially, it is for the proliferation of the martial art.
    RJ Clark likes this.
  12. Enkidu

    Enkidu Destroyer of your martial arts fantasies

    Sorry... gotta disagree with this... at least the "stupid Westerner" part. As mentioned above, the belt system started in Judo in the 1880s and was soon adopted by other Japanese martial arts. Moreover, Judo and Asian martial arts really didn't gain any foothold in the West until after WWII when US troops were stationed in Japan and elsewhere. So, while there may be some truth to the reasons why a belt system was adopted, it wasn't targeted at Westerners... it was targeted at Easterners and just happened to catch on later when Westerners were later exposed to Asian martial arts that had LONG before adopted to belt system.
    Ian Sinclair, Deborah and RJ Clark like this.
  13. Schubertdog

    Schubertdog Shodan

    Depends on which books or websites you read:)

    I include myself in that portion of the statement "stupid westerners" if it were not for the grading system I dare say I would have constantly wondered how I was doing.
  14. Enkidu

    Enkidu Destroyer of your martial arts fantasies

    It isn't a question of books or websites. The origin of the colored belt system is well-known. It is also pretty hard to dispute that the explosion of Asian martial arts in the West occurred only after the end of WWII brought about largely by the US occupation and exposure the Japanese Martial arts. Kano certainly was trying to spread Judo internationally prior to WWII, but it isn't exactly like the belt system was devised with Westerners in mind. Frankly, it was devised with his fellow Japanese in mind since he first had to successfully replace Japanese Jujutsu with Judo, which took several decades.
  15. RJ Clark

    RJ Clark Tree Ninja Staff Member

    I'm actually having a hard time finding anything that doesn't support that the modern rank/belt system started with Judo.
    If you have a link or a book that states otherwise I would definitely be interested in checking it out. One of my maxims is Question everything. So if there's compelling evidence someone else also came up with what we know as the modern rank system I'd like to read about it.
  16. WonderingFist

    WonderingFist Disciple of Mind

    I personally don't find grading's important. Though the way I've been teaching my guys is that they can grade whenever they want. There's no belt system or level of importance on one idea over another idea. Since the current guys I have agree with me and they don't care, I don't have any sort of formal grading. I just test them...if I think they're good enough, I get to teach them more stuff.

    Generating Cash -
    I can see that gradings' quite easily could make a lot of money, the ceremony (or attendance to the grading), the new belt, patches, whatever else you could think of charging them, and across hordes of students, that would work.

    Sorting out a lot of students at once -
    The best method I could think of honestly, gradings and a belt system. I don't have an organization or said-hordes of students. So I figure I'll have to cross that bridge when I get there.
  17. MadoreGojuRyu

    MadoreGojuRyu Master

    believe it or not I try my best to insure that the rank my students wear is the rank that bests represents their level of expertise under my leadership, but you never truly know until the s**t hits the fan and they have to react. Plus you never really know how they represent their rank outside of the dojo unless someone rats them out or they slip up and mention something.

    my dojo is only in its second week but I refuse to accept someone that might make my style and dojo look bad to other folks and other martial artists. And I dont mean that in a fighting way, more of the way they treat others and how they carry themselves.

    but for me and the style I came up with we do use a belt system and it gives people something to work/strive for. its not to show whos better than who, Don Nagle is a good example of this.
    WonderingFist likes this.
  18. Master Fahy

    Master Fahy Samurai

    Let's look at gradings in education first. How important is it to pass your grade level at school? How important is it to graduate high school or college? I believe it is very important! I couldn't imagine just walking up to a student and say, "here you go, you graduated to the next level or grade", can you! I hope that my next promotion at work is given out the same way! I do agree that belt testing should be held in highest regard and that students should do their best to pass the test! Students in most schools that I know of are usually selected prior to test because the instructor feels they are ready to test. Can a student fail a test? Yes, most definitely! I give my students 100 points to start with and deduct for mistakes. Does a student have to have 100 points to pass? No! They do need to have at least 75 points or higher to pass the test. Everyone including myself couldn't pass every test that they've taken with 100%. I also don't agree with someone having to wait 6 years to test for black belt! If your better than another student, you shouldn't have to wait to test. It's that simple! Yes, if you award a belt to someone, your reputation is at stake! Master Fahy
  19. WonderingFist

    WonderingFist Disciple of Mind

    That's a very interesting point, and it certainly shows the difference between our philosophies. I've never cared for grading it education. It means close to...nothing for me...and I suppose that's reflected in the way I've conducted my 'gradings'.
    Though the way you conduct your gradings still appears to be very thorough and you seem to be a very passionate teacher!
    Cheers for the input.
  20. Schubertdog

    Schubertdog Shodan

    I remember reading somewhere about it being introduced by Gichin Funakoshi in the 1920's . If it travelled over from Judo apologies to all for sharing my blinkered view.

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