How Do You Do Yours?

In this blog post I want to talk about gradings, promotions or belt testing.

Most arts have some kind of formal rank, grade or belt system in place.

It usually follows some kind of a syllabus or curriculum of learning.

This allows students and instructors to map the progression of the student on their martial journey.

The order of the belts and syllabus will vary from style to style and maybe even across associations.

But what I want to discuss in this post, is the way rank is attained.

To avoid misunderstandings, this post is only dealing with rainbow grades or belts below the coveted black belt.

Dan grades, I will leave for another day.

So how do you conduct your gradings?

In my time in the arts, I have come across 3 types of grading.

– Assessment
– Testing
– Awards

The first type is an assessment grade, which follows a strict process where all students are assessed against a minimum standard or criteria.

This may include both written knowledge sections and physical or practical sections.

Usually set for specific dates in the year, for example every 3 months, and conducted formally.

“X” number of technically correct repetitions of the required techniques and you pass.

The students and instructors know exactly what is required to pass and what will not.

It is standardised with no hidden aspects or surprises.

The second type is a traditional test, this is when the student has learned all the required techniques and they are tested by the examiner.

As in the assessment type grading, there will be a formal testing of the student, outside of normal class times.

Again, at with assessments, these test will be held in average every 3 months.

It is the examiners prerogative for the format and they ask for what they want to see, their opinion is the only criteria of what is needed to pass.

This type of grade is more subjective and open to interpretation.

What one instructor looks for may well be completely different from another.

The final type is an award.

There are no formal tests or assessments.

There are no fixed dates and promotions take place during normal class times and are completely at the discretion of the instructor.

Now, I’m not going to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of each type or recommend which one you should use.

That is down to the instructor or the association you train with.

In the SBA, we use the assessment method.

All students have access to the syllabus from white belt to Shodan and understand the criteria they will be graded under.

This removes the subjective or personal opinion of the examiners.

The students are fairly assessed and, in my opinion, our grades stand up to external scrutiny.

As the chief instructor of the SBA, I took the decision to move our clubs from traditional style testing to assessments.

I was sick and tired of politics and looked at the ways I could change things for the better.

We started by looking at the way our classes were being run and insisted that all instructors hold formally accredited teaching qualifications, first aid qualifications, a qualification in safeguarding of children youths and vulnerable adults and an up to date criminal record check.

This put our teaching practices above the level of most associations, as all instructors have been externally assessed on their teaching abilities and backgrounds.

The next logical step was to look at the syllabus and the way rank promotions were taking place.

We put all our instructors through a formally recognised assessment qualification, the same qualification used by industry and trade sectors to assess vocational qualifications.

Each grade has a specifically written criteria and minimum pass marks.

This has lengthened the process for the examiners but gives the students a fairer representation of their abilities.

Are we finished?

No, we are now looking towards the future, with a full review of the syllabus.

But that is also for another day..

If you would like information on what we have put in place or on any of the qualifications mentioned drop an email to


Speak to you soon



I came to learn Fighting not Kata..

Most martial arts focus on 3 main areas:

– Basics
– Kata/Patterns
– Fighting

As martial artist’s we all want to fight, right?

If we are honest, we go through the motions of the first two, basics and Kata, to get to the good bit..


Sure some instructors may dish out the old cliches and tell there students “I train so I don’t have to fight”.

That’s not a bad thing.

It has its place, especially for those that teach kids.

But when push comes to shove, we teach fighting.

At some point, no matter the style or art you train in, there will come a time when you doubt your techniques and feel the need to test what you have learned.

Whether you try semi-contact or full, you will pit yourself against the techniques and strategies of your peers.

It’s easy, at this point, to forget your roots and change the focus of your training.

Often I have heard of students being attracted to the bright lights of competition and looking to another art or instructor to provide what they think is missing from their training.

Leaving the solid base they had, to chase their elusive dreams.

Many end up just hitting pads or worse, being used as cannon fodder for senior students who already compete..

But remember a successful fighters shelf life is pretty short, you may have already missed the bus.

Not everyone will be a champion and injuries happen.

No matter how great you think you are, the reality is that for most people, you’ll never make the UFC and will still have to be at work on Monday morning.

Unlike competition careers, martial arts is a life long journey. With over 30 years of training in several arts.

I still consider myself a beginner who has only started to scratch the surface.

So let’s look again at the main areas of training:

– Basics
– Kata/Patterns
– Fighting

Basics is where you learn your art.

It’s your introduction to training, where the foundation to your art is taught.

You learn the concepts and principles of striking, kicking, blocking, locking and throws.

It is taught carefully, with your instructor making corrections to your body position.

Practice is long and repetitive, committing techniques to muscle memory.

If learned properly, techniques will come on their own in reaction to the situation or attack.

This is put into action and tested when we spar or fight.

We apply our techniques in a dynamic way against a resistant partner.

But there is a massive leap from basics to sparring.

Care needs to be taken or injuries can occur, even if we do try and break it down into 3 step , 5 step or 1 step first.

This is where Kata comes in.

Kata is the means by which fighting theory becomes fighting practice.

It takes the individual technique taught during basics and combines the concepts of timing and distance.

Kata also allows you the chance to work on your own, outside of class.

It is the foundation for all sparing and opens your mind to the idea of multiple attackers and practical self-defence technique.

Now before I get called out on social media, I didn’t say Kata was for Self-Defence.

I said it can open your mind to multiple attackers and practical self-defence.

In my opinion, Kata practice will change the practitioner’s perception of their basics.

Beginners might not understand the nuances of Kata or see the benefits, so let’s change our discussion to something most people understand.

Weight loss.

In weight-loss and fitness circles, there are daily arguments about the use of fad diets and specific fitness regimes.

Fashions change, things come and go but no one would argue against the long term benefits of healthy eating and exercise.

The scientific results are well documented and have stood the test of time.

But what has that to do with Kata?

In society, things that work are kept and things that don’t are thrown away.

There’s a reason traditional arts use Kata.

Because it works.

Kata holds the secrets to your art, kept in plain sight and passed down through the generations to you.

Hopefully you’ll remember this post if your training becomes boring, allowing you to see things from a different perspective.

A wise student never forgets the importance of their Kata.

And if you are learning a style or art that doesn’t have Kata, maybe you should be asking the question why not?

Fighting is a young students game, Kata will be with you for life.

Speak to you again soon..