The Debate on Martial Arts Belt Promotions: Maintaining Student Count and Standards of Your Martial Art

4 min read


MA hand shake

The criteria used to measure and progress students when they deserve promotion is one of the most widely debated topics in almost every discipline of the martial arts world. Historically, the belt ranking system can be traced back to its first use by the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano, who awarded the first colored sashed to denote rank in the late 1800’s. Since then, the evolution of martial arts has seen countless variations of colored belt ranking systems. The belt ranking systems differ not only between the various arts, but also between different organizations or schools who practice the same art.

The main concern of many people who debate what constitutes a student promotion always seems to come down to the practitioners who fear that the legitimacy of their belt levels and overall art will be watered down by teachers who are quick to promote students, due to the fact that with holding belts from students leads to a higher turnover rate for their academy. Unfortunately, this debate will likely never end due to numerous variables in different factors in student ability and the different standards held by the countless teachers across all martial arts.

Regardless of the different opinions on the matter, the unifying principle that all should be able to agree upon is that belts are meant to signify knowledge, competence in practice and dedication to the art.

Get your free copy of our guide, Four Essential Strategies for Student Retention

My own upbringing in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and exposure to various philosophies on student promotion across different schools sets my opinion on the side of the group of practitioners who want to protect the legitimacy of the art and make sure that the standards of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are held by every practitioner. That being said, it’s definitely clear that a large number of schools have difficulty holding on to students who lose interest after not hitting milestones or think they deserve promotion after practicing a certain amount of time.

So how do we solve the problem of maintaining high standards for various belts while maintaining a dedicated number of students?

Every teacher should have a high standard of proficiency for each belt level but additionally, they should have a sense of the amount of training time and repetition that it takes for their students to reach that level. While the measures of time at rank and attendance are not enough to promote alone, they should be closely monitored. As students reach certain milestones, the teacher should be consciously paying attention to those who have shown the dedication, only promoting those whose skills match or surpass the high expectations.

If the skills do not measure up to the expectations but the dedication is there, it is the responsibility of the teacher to help the student get there. This responsibility is also an opportunity on several levels. Giving positive reinforcement on their dedication, communicating to the student exactly what they need to focus on will strengthen the student teacher bond, while keeping the standards high.

If the school sells private lessons, this also presents the opportunity to offer those additional services to the student. Should they choose to purchase the private lessons, the teacher can focus on building the skills the student needs. The end results are students whose skills match their belt, stronger relationships and additional revenue to the school.

Get additional tips on keeping your students loyal in our free guide, Four Essential Strategies for Student Retention.

New call-to-action