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When Do I Get My Black Belt?

Most martial arts teach students in terms of a continuing journey. As such, obtaining rank through a ceremonial belt is often achieved as the student reaches certain milestones. Not all ranking systems in martial arts are carried out through belts. In Kung Fu, it is customary to rank progress through sashes. The ultimate symbol of status for many remains the "black belt." Yet, achieving this highly sought after icon is not a cut and dried process.

Different martial arts schools have their own controlled systems for ranking the student's progress along his or her journey through the world of martial artistry. In Taekwondo and other major martial arts, many schools will utilize a belt and stripes system, or simply a stripes or other patch system in order to delineate when the student has reached first, second, and third degree expertise in the art.

Instructors will hold various tests on occasion during which the student must adequately demonstrate his or her skill levels in specific movements. But a student should beware of any martial arts school claiming or promising to give the student a certain rank in a specific or short amount of time.

The journey through the world of any martial arts discipline is meant to last over a lifetime, which should indicate that achieving higher grades of rank will occur over years of hard work and commitment.

Japanese Martial Arts and Rankings

Japanese martial arts utilize a system of subdivisions for various grades of rank. The Shodan black belt is awarded to the student who has demonstrated a solid overall proficiency of the basic principles. Shodan translates to "the first step," and indicates that this student is ready to start on the journey to more advanced teachings.

While the Shodan is the first degree black belt, the Nidan is the second degree black belt, and the Sandan is the third degree black belt. Translated, these mean "second step," and "third step," respectively.

Some Japanese schools will allow a holder of the Shodan to begin teaching the martial art to others, as a student teacher, or "senpai." Achieving first degree black belt may give the title "sensei" to the holder in some schools, while in still others, the title of sensei is not allowed until third degree black belt is attained.

Once you become a sensei, you have the privilege, and even the obligation as many see it, to begin teaching others the art. This whole process becomes important when choosing a martial arts school based upon the Japanese system here in the United States.

If you are on a quest to higher, more esteemed rankings, you first need to research the rank of the instructor under which you would study. Achieving even a Shodan rank from a sensei who holds the same rank is not as valuable as obtaining the same first degree black belt from a sensei who holds a third degree belt, or higher.

Student commitment and aptitudes vary widely, and only you know when it may be feasible for you to take your first black belt tests. You and your sensei should have an honest dialogue about when your testing should occur.

Esteemed Higher Rankings

In Japan, the custom is to earn more stripes upon the black belt, which denote even higher rank. However, some systems use a different color belt to symbolize their most esteemed ranks. For example, very high-ranking practitioners of Judo and Karate may wear a red and white belt, or a solid red belt. In Jiu-Jitsu, a purple belt denotes a senior advanced level of expert skill and knowledge.

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