Even those who have never learned martial arts are familiar with the term “black belt.”
It’s a symbol of great accomplishment and mastery. However, most people are unaware of the process, requirements, or time commitment of a martial arts belt test.
Rank Evaluation: What is it?
The way we gauge a student’s progress in the martial arts is through rank evaluation. In most styles of martial arts, the belt that new students wear is white. Every student is assessed on their knowledge and execution as they pick up new techniques, and those who demonstrate efficiency may receive a new belt or a stripe added to a current belt.
Each rank evaluation is meant to assess a student’s progress and abilities related to their current belt rank. Although belts and stripes are usually a personal indicator of progress, a rank evaluation is typically given to a group of students. A student receives their new belt as a symbol of progress after demonstrating proficiency of curriculum at their current rank.
How Does a Rank Evaluation Work?
Students at the same rank are evaluated for the next rank as a group. A new color belt or a stripe for a current belt could be the next step. A stripe denotes a student’s development within their current color belt. Some belts may require multiple stripes that represent several ranks within one belt.
Rank evaluations may often include both a written and physical component. Students are observed by a panel of assessors while completing the physical portion, which is administered under the supervision of their instructor. Examiners watch students performing katas, sparring, and demonstrating self-defense techniques. Because receiving a promotion is a great privilege, the evaluation is fairly tough.
At the conclusion of the evaluation, new belts or stripes are given to the students whose forms and abilities meet standards as a representation of their new rank.
How Frequently do Rank Evaluations Take Place?
How long it takes to earn a new belt is something that often surprises brand-new martial arts students. In the beginning stages the evaluation can take place as soon as an instructor determines that a student is prepared, when they are moving from a white belt to a yellow belt. At later stages in their training, students may have to wait a year or longer between promotions. Black belt promotions typically have several years between ranks.
Instructors at martial arts schools frequently work with students to help them prepare for rank evaluation. They will guide them through training and sparring, demonstrate the proper form for the skills being assessed, and help them perfect each kick, strike, and block. Both adult and children benefit from this kind of repetition.
How Many Ranks Are There?
The number of belts a student must earn before being awarded a black belt or a red belt is one of the most frequent inquiries we get from new students (a red belt is higher than a black belt in several martial art styles). There are often six to eight belts, ranked as follows, though the number might vary based on the style of martial arts you practice:
Rank evaluation continues after a student earns a black belt. While some styles of martial arts like Karate and Brazilian Jiujitsu include a red belt in their ranks, generally speaking, the greatest rank a martial artist can obtain is a 9th degree black belt. While some students may progress quickly (due to prior experience or cross-training for example), others might spend years at the same rank.
In many arts a student may choose to take on additional training toward becoming an instructor. With instructor training completed, and having earned earned required instructor rank (often third to fourth-degree black belt in many styles) teaching titles, such as Sensei may be awarded. As instructors advance in rank, knowledge and teaching experience their titles may change.
Rank evaluation is a good way to gauge your progress and provide yourself with a challenge, regardless of whether your objective is to master taekwondo, karate, another martial art, or simply learn self-defense.