Giving a Black Belt; An Instructors View

Giving a Black Belt; An Instructors View

We often see lots of information about earning a black belt and what it means to an individual who has received it. We don’t often hear about the Instructors side and what Instructors think about before telling a student that they are ready for a black belt. This article is going to focus on the Instructors view. Aiming to give some insight into what we take into account when deciding to recommend application for a black belt.


Training Effort

How hard does the student try? That’s really what training effort is all about.

  • Does the student give 100% in their training?
  • Do they train at home? (trust me, we can tell)
  • Will they attempt to make up classes if they miss a lesson?

There are questions I ask myself when deciding if a student is ready to apply for a black belt. If I can say yes to all of the above; I know the student is putting in the effort to be ready for a black belt and that they have a drive to attain their black belt.


Technical Ability

It is expected that to sit for a black belt a student can demonstrate a strong understanding of; and the ability to perform; all basic/foundation techniques and a range of more advanced and difficult techniques. However, it is not enough just to perform the techniques. The technique must be performed well; with balance; and control; while generating a good level of power. We often see this demonstrated by board breaks. A student is not expected to be perfect when applying for a black belt. Often a black belt will improve more in the 6 months after their grade than they do the entire journey to black belt. However, it is expected that their ability is of a high enough level to attain a black belt.


Mental Preparedness

This assessment comes down to looking at the student’s attitude towards training and their ability to cope with difficult circumstances. A black belt should be ‘mentally tough’, that is they will have to stand up at a grade, in front of their classmates and spectators and perform some very difficult tasks. It is one thing to break some boards or do a perfect pattern after class as practice; it is a whole different experience undertaking the same action in front of 100+ people. The second attribute I look for is the student’s willingness to keep going; will the student continue after they are physically spent, do they have a ‘never give up’ attitude? At a black belt grade, at students get pushed to their limits; then we keep going. This is the test for the black belt, do they have the mental strength to continue when their energy is depleted?



This is one aspect that cannot be attained through martial arts training alone, unless of course training is happening 4-5 times per week. Stamina comes down to a student’s ability to undertake a fast paced activity for a long period of time; 20-30 minutes of free sparing for example. This can only be attained by an individual undertaking training to improve their cardiovascular fitness. I remember before I applied for black belt, I would jump on an exercise bike and ride 10kms at varying intensity as fast as I could. This combined with some intense free sparing at training meant I was well prepared for the physical requirements of my black belt grade. This is what I look for in my students. I recommend all students to undertake some additional training to build their stamina, you will need it to get though a black belt grade.


Positive Role Model

When I look at students approaching black belt, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Are they a positive role model / do they set a good example for other students?
  • Does the student show respect for their instructor and other students?
  • Do they help less experience students when training?
  • Do they come to class and put effort into their training?
  • Are they conforming to the expected behaviours and rules of the art?

If I can say yes to these questions then I know I have a student who is ready for the responsibility that comes with wearing a black belt. This also helps determine a student’s suitability to help instruct others and maybe even have a class of their own. The test here really comes down to the student being someone who displays the attributes expected of a black belt.


Will you be able to defend yourself?

This is the the most import consideration before a student is allowed to apply for a black belt.

When awarding a black belt, effectively I am telling that student, you are now capable of defending yourself in a violent situation. This criteria is about the instructor even more than the student. I know how I would feel if a student of mine was injured trying to defend themselves. At that point I would ask myself ‘have I prepared that student to defend themselves to the best of my ability’? If I could not answer ‘yes’ to that question, I think I would stop instructing on the spot. I can honestly say, every student of mine wearing a black belt has been given enough instruction and has developed the skills to defend themselves. So, if you are told you are not ready for a black belt for any of the reasons I have talked about here, remember the underlying and most important factor that your instructor is:


If a student is not displaying all the attributes required of a black belt, then they are not capable of defending themselves, therefore, they are not ready for a black belt.

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