In many martial arts there is a teaching syllabus, with students being awarded progressively higher grades as they become more competent. Formal grading examinations may exist, or a teacher may declare a student to have consistently demonstrated competence at a certain level and worthy of a grade.
A popular method of demonstrating you have achieved a grade is through the coloured belt system, Aiuchi Jiu Jitsu (whom I train with)use such a method. In other organisations, such as the British Aikido Federation (whom I also train with) there are no coloured belts for student grades, white belts being retained until you pass your first Dan grading. Finally some martial arts systems may not wear a belt, and there is no initial visible distinction between seasoned and new practitioners.
Coloured system Some cite the coloured belt system as giving a clear view to instructors as to where students have reached with their training. It allows them to taylor a class according to who is on the mat. I have a number of arguments against this concept.
- Assumes recent grading. I know one person who trained three days a week for 14 months before doing a grading.
- Is the regular instructor really that unaware of who is teaching? I hope not!
- Everyone has weak spots. They may have got lucky in that they were not tested on these in their last gradings.
- Visiting instructors will be aware in advance if they are teaching mixed grades or grade specific.
A coloured system does help when on all grades course with people you don’t know well and where you feel help is required from a higher grade.
All black and white Then there are those who maintain that retention of white belts until students reach Dan grades (popular in Aikido circles) is a form of arrogant humility. To them I point out that the idea of grades was a concept developed by Kanō Jigorō, founder of Judo in the 1880’s. Coloured belts were created by Mikonosuke Kawaishi around the mid 20th century as part of introducing Judo to Europe. If someone is going to accuse Aikidoku of displaying arrogant humility, I counter it back that their coloured belts show modern pretentiousness.
Doesn’t matter In actuality I hold no preference on the system used. What I will say is that when you are training with someone it rapidly becomes obvious if their skill is greater or less than yours. From the initial attack, to the certainty of the defence.
Yes, I am always cautious in my initial attack on anyone because my minimal experience means I have to engage in order to judge what level I am dealing with. I’m sure the more knowledgeable amongst you can probably gauge a great deal from the way some stands to a hundred other minor matters that I have yet to pick up on. But that’s my point, you will know you have someone in front of you who cannot take the full speed punch that you happily deliver to your training partner of fifteen years. I, on the other hand, cannot deliver that full speed punch (yet) so you have nothing to fear.
Summing up A coloured belt may provide a rough idea of where a student is in their teaching and in larger classes it helps identify senior grades when help is required. Yet when working one-on-one the best indication of a students ability is in what they doing at that moment in time.