The kyu-dan belt ranking system is a relatively new invention for the martial arts. It was adapted by the founder of Judo (Jigoro Kano) from a ranking system used in Go and other traditional arts, such as Flower Arranging. (He also invented the judogi, the training clothes used in Judo, Karate and many martial arts around the world.) He introduced the dan ranking in 1883, when he graded 2 students to Shodan.
Many traditional chinese schools don't have an equivalent system of ranking. So, I asked myself the question, should my Kung Fu students have grades and belts? What are the pro's and con's?
For the instructor:
The biggest advantage to instructors is organisation. A single instructor can look at the students in a class, see their progress from their belt and know just what stage that student is at.
Let's say the first instructor is sick the next week. Another instructor can come into the class and know very quickly what level those students are at.
By following a widely recognised system like the kyu-dan system, even instructors from other schools can get some idea of what level these students are at.
For the student:
Although a student can set themselves a goal such as "I will learn this Kata in 3 months", it is not a very specific goal. A well-defined syllabus with attainable levels can help the student to set SMART goals.
Students also know what level other students are at. This can help to avoid accidents and injuries and allow students to explore their leadership skills when working with lower ranked students.
Being able to have a physical representation of their achievement, such as a belt, is a big motivator to many people. It renews motivation and keeps pushing the student to attain the next level.
The classic negative pointed out in regards to using belts and ranks is that they become more important than the actual martial arts! However, in my experience, like technique, this kind of attitude would have to come from the top to get any grounding.
Overall, the idea of grades has many benefits and few negatives. It is a great motivator and tool for instructors to keep organised and for students to measure and drive their performance.
Let me know what you think, or if there's any points I missed out on!
PS: Keep an eye out for my next post, how SMART goals apply to your martial arts training.
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