You will find it in the advertising for almost every martial arts school around. The pitch to make you a “Black Belt” has been sold for decades. Several schools use it as their main marketing catchphrase or something that infers a Black belt. Is it a wonder that the public thinks a Black Belt is the end-all-be-all of the martial arts?

This post is not about the length of time it takes to “earn” a black belt. That’s for another dozen posts to argue over. This post is about the lack of insight that too many schools have and, in my opinion, the dis-service to our teachers and industry that many of us do. The Black Belt club is sold often and appears to those joining new to be the total goal. It provides the opportunity to be “awarded” the coveted rank without having to commit further. The total cost is known, the length of time is understood, and I walk away with my black belt.

Why is it this way? Personal opinion here, but American need to acquire things. The whole status piece built into our society. This causes problems in many facets of our society but, mostly, not truly understanding the value of something. Is it much different than the rest of the educational system right now? Does your schooling to get a degree to get you a job once you’ve graduated. Does it matter that you’ve truly learned anything? How about those who did an art degree but have better understanding of business concepts than the MBA? Yea, the art degree won’t get you hired.


At what point do we show our students that the black belt is only the beginning? When should they learn that “becoming” a martial arts black belt is more important than being awarded the belt? This opens another can of worms for those who will debate how old a black belt should be. Again, another post. If the point of training is to earn a black belt, why? I remember being a colored belt and wanting to challenge myself by competing in the Black Belt divisions. It became a goal. Once that goal was reached, though, what was the point of going further? It didn’t matter what black belt rank you had, there was only one division. I remember sparring against 1st Dan Black belts who had been that rank for TEN years because it didn’t help them in anything to train or test further. Usually 1st Dans are gone shortly after being awarded the rank because they get bored doing the same challenge over and over for only the chance of a trophy. Watch any big sport karate tournament and you will see the same handful over and over without any reference to their rank.

The photo above struck home to me because of this. Colored belt ranks equate to high school and you get the graduate from high school with a 1st Dan Black Belt. Now that you have a base education, you can work on learning what is really within the martial arts. This is how we keep students from leaving at Black Belt. Make sure they see the whole and help the to develop the desire “to become” rather than just “to acquire”.

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Author: Master Robert Frankovich

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