Even people who have never studied the martial arts know what a black belt is. It’s a symbol of mastery and achievement. What most people don’t know is how a martial arts belt test works, what it involves, or when it happens.
What is Belt Testing?
In the martial arts, belt testing is the way we measure a student’s progress. Beginner students wear a white belt. As students learn new skills, each student is tested on their form and knowledge and may earn a new belt or a stripe on an existing belt.
Each test is designed to measure a student’s progress in skills that are connected to the next belt level. Testing is an individual measure of progress, but in most cases, a belt test is administered to groups of students. When a student passes a test, they receive their new belt as a measure of their achievement.
What Happens in a Belt Test?
In a martial arts belt test, students at the same level test for the next level. The next level may be a new color belt, or it may be a stripe for an existing belt. A stripe indicates that a student has achieved a higher level of mastery and that their next test will be for a promotion to the next color of belt.
Belt tests include both a written portion and a physical test. During the physical test, students are supervised by an instructor, who administers the test, and observed by a panel of judges. The judges watch students doing kicks, breaking boards, and demonstrating techniques. The process of testing is quite rigorous because promotion is an honor.
The students whose forms and techniques pass muster receive new belts or stripes at the end of the test to symbolize their new rank.
How Often Do Belt Tests Occur?
One thing that sometimes surprises new martial arts students is how long it can take to earn a new belt. In the early stages, when a student is moving from a white belt to a yellow belt, the test can happen as soon as an instructor decides the student is ready. At the later stages, when students are testing for advanced belts, they may need to wait a year or more between tests.
Martial arts school instructors typically work with students to help them practice for testing. They will show them the proper form for the techniques being tested, assist them with training and sparring, and help them master each kick, strike, and block. This type of repetition is beneficial for adult students as well as children.
How Many Belts Are There?
One of the most common questions we hear is about the number of belts that a student must master before receiving a black belt or a red belt. (In some martial art forms, a red belt is higher than a black belt.) While the number of belts can vary depending on which type of martial arts you study, there are usually six or eight, ranked as follows:
Once a student earns a black belt, testing continues. In most cases, the highest rank a martial artist can achieve is a 9th degree black belt, although — as we noted above — some disciplines, such as Brazilian Jiujitsu, offer a red belt. Some students may advance quickly while others may remain at the same belt level for years.
After a student receives a fourth-degree black belt, they may choose to test as a master instructor. As students are promoted, the testing becomes increasingly rigorous.
Whether your goal is to master taekwondo, karate, or another martial art, or just to learn self-defense, belt testing is a good way to measure your progress and challenge yourself.