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



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