Testing for higher ranks/belts is an important part of martial arts. When students are promoted to a higher belt, they receive tangible recognition for their hard work in class, their completion of promotion requirements, and their satisfactory performance of all the required patterns and techniques during the testing. Promotions give students a great feeling of pride and accomplishment and help build their confidence.
After students have been training for a few months, if the instructor thinks the students are ready, he or she may invite them to test for the first color belt. At the testing, the students must demonstrate their knowledge of the martial art and their ability to perform the techniques and patterns required for the belt for which they are testing.
At the beginning of their training, most students may notice that their belt tests are scheduled closer together and are short in length. This schedule keeps up their interest in training until a pure love of the martial art itself takes over and maintains their interest for a lifetime. As students move further along in the rank system and their knowledge and skills increase, their belt tests will be further apart and will take longer to complete. This is because the skills are more numerous, more difficult, require more time to learn, and require more time to perform correctly in a test.
All tests are held in complete safety under the personal direction of the instructor and numerous assistants. In most promotion tests, a panel of senior black belts will judge and score each student's performance. The instructor makes the final decision as to whether each student is promoted or not.
Purpose of tests
Tests can be used for:
- Motivation. Tests motivate students to train harder than if there were no tests. Martial arts tests provide extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
- Extrinsic motivation. The reward of receiving a higher rank belt at the end of a test provides extrinsic motivation. The belt ranking system provides goals for students, giving them a purpose to continue training. Peer pressure causes students to want to keep up with the promotions of their peers. It also causes them to try to do better than their peers.
- Intrinsic motivation. Due to the drive to succeed and face new challenges, the mere presence of a test motivates students to keep training and trying to prove and improve themselves.
- Measuring progress. Testing is a way to measure student progress. The belt system indicates progress in a martial art and, since belts are earned at testing, it means that testing measures progress.
- Analysis. Testing helps the instructor analyze the strengths and weaknesses of students while watching them perform under stressful conditions. The instructor can compare the students to help him or her decide which students have satisfactorily learned what is required for the next rank.
- Providing feedback. Feedback about student progress is a useful part of a student's learning process. The more detailed the feedback, the more useful it will be to the instructor. Testing provides an instructor with feedback on the standard level of the school as a whole and of individual students. It provides the instructor a way to gauge the effectiveness of his or her teaching and whether the quality of the students is that expected by the organization certifying the rank. Testing indicates how instructors are doing, whether the standards are uniform, and which areas need more attention. For example, national testing may highlight weaknesses in a certain region or school or a specific area of the curriculum. Tests also give students feedback as to the quality of their skills as compared to fellow students.
- Assessing rank certification. Certification is a formal recognition by an authorized body that a student has attained a certain level of knowledge, skill, and competence. Anyone may buy a black belt, but an authorized belt certificate from a national organization is difficult to attain. They are earned by successful completion of rank requirements at testing. The certification is prized for a lifetime as proof of belt status even when the skills have faded.
- Maintaining standards. Standards are what separate many martial arts organizations. Standards are debated within organizations and between organizations. Any organization that strives for excellence and respect from peers, must have strict and tough standards. Testing helps set and maintain standards. However, standards without precise documentation are too subjective. Too often, standards are debated without clearly defining which standards are at issue. Individual instructor standards vary but ultimately, the minimum standard is what is specified by the certifying organization. For example, most instructors neglect some areas of training for one reason or another. By using a strict standard at testing, these deficient areas may be identified. Should the need arise to compare results from one testing to another, strict standards enforced at all rank tests help make the comparison more accurate. This is especially important when comparing testing across national or international borders.
- Maintaining quotas. There is no limit on the number of black belts that may be awarded; however, too many blacks belts dilute the status of the black belt. Strict testing on belts leading up to the black belt, as well as for the black belt itself, help ensure that only the most deserving students receive a black belt.
A fee is charged for the testing, which covers facility costs, instructor's time, a new belt, a certificate of promotion, etc. If you are not advanced, the fee may be waived for the next testing.
To be eligible to participate in testing, students must have a minimum time in the present rank, a minimum number of class training hours, meet minimum age, and have the instructor’s recommendation. To be promoted, students must adequately demonstrate some or all the following as required by the rank they are testing for: some specific techniques, a specific pattern, a set of step-sparring techniques, a board breaking, and free-sparring skills. Promotion requirements vary depending on the school, the belt level, and the organization to which the school is affiliated.
What is tested
During a test, black belt judges look at the way students perform the basic and more advanced techniques of the martial art as well as the required test material. Judges rate each student's performance based on correctness, power, timing, control, and enthusiasm.
What you get if promoted
If you pass the rank testing, you will receive a certificate of promotion and a new belt from either your instructor or the organization with which your instructor is affiliated. You will also gain more confidence, greater responsibility, and a sense of accomplishment.
At some point, either immediately after the testing or later, your instructor will formally present you with your new belt and certificate of promotion. The procedures and formality of the presentation depend on the instructor's way of doing things.