Belt Testing For Kids: Lessons About Life


Belt testing for kids at martial arts schools can be a controversial topic.

The reason why is that some martial arts schools have figured out that doing a lot of belt tests, without worrying about the quality of the students, can be a big money maker.  Students that keep getting new ranks stay on an emotional high, parents pay for the tests, and they tend not to quit.  

Many schools do this because of advice that one of the big martial arts billing companies has given them: martial arts schools should be like public high schools.  They should have very high graduation rates, and not having high graduation rates is a failure of the school.  They also believe in a 4 year graduation – achieving black belt (some now even do a 2.5 year black belt – but that’s for another article.)

These schools are referred to as “McDojos.”

There are great martial arts schools that turn out very high quality students that earn ranks on a regular basis.  In my mind quality means mainly two things: kids that have great attitudes (disciplined, focused, respectful, etc.), and they can defend themselves if attacked (they can fight.)  I don’t have an issue with these schools – they are doing a great service to kids, parents, and the world. 

McDojos generally have only half of the equation – they turn out students that have a great attitude, but they can’t fight (there are schools where the kids can fight, but they have terrible attitudes – this occasionally happens with MMA programs for kids when there is no character development taught).

I visited a school like that several years ago.  

They were conducting a belt test where an 8 year old was testing for his second degree black belt (I was trying to hide my shock!)  This student was doing a form, and was putting their thumb under their fingers when making a fist!  They obvioulsly had never even hit a pad hard, because if they did, they could have broken their thumb.  And obviously they were able to pass through the rank system without every having been corrected for this most basic mistake.

This is an extreme example of a school that’s missing the “martial,” but have the “art.”  It’s more common than you think.

The Purpose Of Belts For Kids

Belt testing is a way to mark progress for your child.  It is a way to let them know they are on the right track, and encourage them to keep going.

Belt testing for kids is one way of teaching kids important lessons about life.  It’s supposed to teach the child how success and achievement happen.

Years ago I had a parent that wasn’t happy that their child wasn’t on the upcoming testing list.  They indirectly told me that they would not be renewing if their child wasn’t testing.

The problem is that the parent hadn’t been bringing their child to class.  In our dojo, one of the requirements for testing is that you have been coming to class at least twice per week for the entire curriculum cycle (we also need to see a good attitude, and we need to see a certain proficiency with the techniques we’re focusing on for that cycle.)  They were bringing their child once every two weeks on average.

If I promoted the student, what lesson do they learn?  Don’t show up, don’t put in the effort that other people put in to achieve a certain level, but you still get the same benefit.  This hurts the child as they’re not being prepared for the real world.

When they apply to colleges, they won’t be able to get into a good school, because they learned that they don’t have to put in the work, but they still get the reward.

When they start working, if they continue with the habits they learned in their early life, they may expect a raise because they want it, not because they earned it.

It’s a disservice to teach kids the wrong lessons when they’re young, because that will hurt them when they’re older.  

And the consequences when they’re young are small; the consequences when they are adults are significant!

They may cry when they’re learning one of these lessons when they’re young.  If they don’t earn their orange belt, and others do, it’s not a big deal.  When they’re older and they don’t pay their mortgage, and they lose their house, it’s a much bigger deal.

The Bottom Line

Martial arts training can be a great tool for character development.  Training hurts sometimes.  And I’m not necessarily referring to being punched in the face, or taken down too hard (though that’s part of it).  Belt testing is one of the disciplines of the martial arts.  Discipline, by definition, isn’t always easy or fun!

If you bring your kids to martial arts training because it is fun, there’s nothing wrong with that.  Just know that they may get more out of it than just having fun. 


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