Promotions by William Mioch

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.
William Mioch
Taekwondo Techniques, Patterns, and Applications at the Traditional Taekwondo Blog. [Subscribe using email or RSS feeds] [Tkd Sitemap]


Colin Wee said…
Bill - that is a fantastic post, and in fact complements an article I just submitted to the Australasian Taekwondo magazine. I think you're spot on when you say that the cons of having a negative mentality of rank progression comes from top down. I have always been associated with small-ish schools and certainly have had very little engagement in rank progression, and certainly have had very little (if any) politicking amongst high dan ranked black belts.

There are certainly a lot of positives in the kyu-dan system, especially if they're tied closely with the level of progression within your system. I myself will continue to use this system because of the organisational aspects. If anything I might reduce the number of kyu ranks (from 9 to 6), if I were forced to, but would keep the colouring system. The colouring system matches closely with how I see beginners progressing upwards to their black belt.

I was under the impression that goju karate and their chinese counterparts in china adopt an equivalent ranking plus gi usage. Certainly if you were to apply a kyu-dan system on your chinese students, this would not be too much of a stretch given your background (and hopefully continuing practice) in karate. You should not think of it as an incongruous practice.

wmioch said…
Not incongruous at all. I think new students actually expect it. It's become kind of synonymous with martial arts.
Mathieu said…
I agree. I did have some gongfu practice near where I live and I was expecting belts. Instead they have shirt colors...
Christine said…
I agree that the skills are more important than belts. The purpose of a dojang is to train martial artists, not to sell black belts.
Wholeheartedly agree - my favourite part of this post is the reference to poor attitude towards belt ranking coming from the top. I've trained at other clubs and in other styles and seen this kind of attitude. A belt ranking system works well when the students grade when they are ready - not after some pre-set period of time. How long does it take to get a black belt? How long is a piece of string...

Where I train, the belt ranking system works well for me as a student, for my fellow students and for the instructors.

supergroup7 said…
I love this article! Well Done!!

and thank you for the link, and introduction to SMART goals.

I like how you bring out some very poignant ways of using belt ranks in a positive manner.
Colin Wee said…
Andy - my goodness, where have you been? Colin
;) Haven't been away - just so busy at work. I'm ashamed to admit it, my training has been rather lax this last year alongside my not getting much done online (answering e-mails for one). My instructor apparently hasn't given up on me, and I'll be back into it when I get back from my annual holiday next week (been without a car for a few months and the new one arrives next month). Resolved to get my son and daughter back into training in Augast as well!
Colin Wee said…
Good to have you visit then. I've been wondering about your blog. It's been left to lie fallow longer than mine has! :-)


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