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9 Reasons why YOU should get your black belt



The black belt is synonym with mastery amongst commoners while practitioners consider it a token to the beginning of their real journey. Most people achieve the rank of black belt (or the equivalent) simply because they the path set by the organization they are part of. Often encouraged and even pressured to do the black belt examination, students do not question why they are getting the belt. We on the other hand, did just that: question ourselves and other practitioners on the reasons why people should get their black belts. Here are the reasons we found.

Picture on left is courtesy of Kuan Win.

Reason #1: The noble reason:

The achievement of a black belt proves that the student has endured vigorous training, demonstrating strength of character, determination and excellent training ethics, all qualities associated with being contributing members of society. The preparation leading to getting a black belt degree is a stressful one, where the student is given the opportunity to push themselves beyond their limits in preparation for the big day. The examination is only a formality that proves the student’s acquired abilities that will enable him the grasp the full essence of the art.

The author does not the word “noble” as derision. Rather, what should be conveyed with the word “noble” is that everyone, no matter how unethical, will use this reason to justify their black belt programs.

Reason #2: The black belt impresses people

Did you know that “A black belt must register himself as a deadly weapon”? We sure hope no one believes this as it is one of the most enduring urban legends to circulate amongst non-practitioners.

Misconceptions of the general public may be the reason why many are so easily impressed by the black belt. As many grand-mothers, aunts and parents and even practitioners demonstrate during family parties, getting a black belt is an achievement worthy of praise.

Reason #3: The black belt informs others about the level of the practitioner.

The black belt is a stamp of approval from the head instructor. Without a black belt, it can be difficult for junior students to find a trustworthy person to ask for guidance. By getting a black belt, you let the juniors know that the head instructor has deemed of worthy of the art which in turn means you have the skills to show them the correct way.

Ranking will also help people estimate your abilities for sparring fights, which in turns will help in pairing up with a suitable training and sparring partner.

The four stripes represent a 4th dan
photo taken from


Reason #4: The black belt opens door to higher level competition and seminars.

Logically, high level competitions are only opened to high level competitors. Even without standardized criteria, black belts are widely accepted as proof of higher skills. As a result, a practitioner that wants to improve themselves through higher competitive challenges will imperatively have to get his black belt.

tae_kwon_do_black belt competition
 Tae Kwon Do Black belt fight for the "Chong Lee Cup 2010" in Montreal
Photograph is courtesy of Jeremy Nguyen

Reason #5: The black belt shows the organization the commitment and loyalty of the wearer.

Getting a black belt is a proof that the student has stayed and trained as a member of the issuing organization for the minimal period of time. Getting a black belt shows the organization that the student is worthy of extra efforts and resource, and that he has the will and commitment needed to take his training to a higher level. It also shows the student's willingness to comply with organization's rules and philosophy.

Loyalty written in Chinese
Image taken from

The retention rate of martial arts students is typically low. Some estimate that only 1 to 5 percent of people who begin training in a martial arts school will still be training after five years.

Most people join a martial arts school for all the wrong reasons. Some want to learn a secretive mystical way to dispatch opponents effortlessly; others just join out of curiosity. After the novelty effect wears off and that it is made clear that the secret to mastery is hard work, most students get bored and quit. Investing extra time and effort to train those quitters may prove wasteful in the long run.


Reason #6: Black belts Increase school prestige

Which auto constructor looks more credible?  Ferrari, which races (and wins) in Formula One (F1) racing or Lada which only joined once the World Touring Car Championship? Forget that the lada may be more practical for everyday use in colder climates (and more affordable) than Ferraris, in our collective subconscious minds, prestige is synonym with credibility. Without having even the slight knowledge of the world of automobiles, the majority of people would choose the Ferrari over the Lada. which one would you choose?
Lada vs Ferrari: This example is used to illustrate the fact that people judge by appearance.
Any further comparison is out of the scope of this text.
Photograph taken from

A martial arts school loaded with black belts will always look more prestigious than one with only white belts. This reality tends to change with Mixed Martial Arts around, but as long as the school members don’t publicly fight each other, the only gauging tool accessible to the general public is a number of black belts (and the amount of trophies won by them).

Evidently, organizations that count within their members, schools with high amount of black belts also see their prestige goes up.


Reason #7: Black belts help organization's finances

Examination fee for passing the first belt (commonly from white to yellow) typically ranges from $20 US dollars to $50 dollars. Before getting to the black belt, organizations often have between five (5) to fifteen (15) ranks, if you count the half levels usually given to children.

No matter how noble the reason, using half belts effectively doubles the number of examination the students has to go through.
photograph taken from

Strangely, the examination fee tends to go up as the students attends black belts examination and beyond. There have been reports of a $200 US dollars price tag to attend 2nd dan examination and even $600 US dollars for a 4th dan.

Black belts help build martial arts organizations
picture taken from

To be fair, higher belts do require even higher level examiner, but knowing that the practitioner is commonly required to fly to another country to meet the examiner, how do they justify such high prices?

Do higher level grade testing take so much more effort that the prices need to go that high, or perhaps, getting higher belts is a proof of loyalty to the organization, thus enabling them to charge more…


Reason #8: Black belts grant higher in rank in school hierarchy and access to privilege club

Some school and organization filter out members by rank for attending special events. The events referred to are not necessarily the type where a certain skill level is required; sometimes it doesn’t even make any difference. Events like dinners, galas, meetings or even social outings are not accessible to lower graded students, regardless of ever loyal they may be.

Other examples include restricted use of certain school facilities like lockers or training weights. Training equipment like punching bags or other striking targets are exempted from this example since most of that equipment may hurt the practitioner is not properly used.


Reason #9: Getting the black belt frees up McDojo belt factories of their liability

Some school owners who were particularly creative with their marketing came out with the concept of guaranteed black belts: Pay an upfront fee of a few thousands US dollars and the school will train the student until he gets his black belt.

By giving the student his black belt, the school has held their side of the contract and is no longer liable for training the student. It also means the students has to pay again for more instruction.

Predictably, attaining a black belt in such schools typically takes a lot less time than in school of equivalent style. Students are strongly pressured to go up in ranks and may be reprimanded for taking too much time.

Because of the bad publicity given by the internet community, such school tends to fade out of existence with time, but reports do confirm that some school still offers the “black belt guarantee”.


Isn't it ironic that out of the nine reasons, less than half directly benefits the practitioner? To be fair, not all organizations are fraudulent and there are many good organization who truly are noble and truly use the black belt as a rite of passage, taking the practitioner from the infancy to the young adult stage of his learning.

At the end, it is up to the practitioner to decide whether he wants to pursue belts and ranking or not, but at least now, he can see all sides of the black belts.  






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Last Updated on Thursday, 24 June 2010 08:40  

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