August 2014

What Age Parameters Are Acceptable For A Black Belt.

Recently there has been discussion on one of the internet forums regarding the acceptable age for awarding a black belt.

The range generally put forward was 18, as the level of maturity was considered one of the requirements for meeting the criteria.

Interesting, as many places around the world allow people to raise children, drive cars and go to war at ages less than this.

The awarding of a black belt in most systems of martial arts is for the attainment of a level of skill and understanding of the basic techniques, concepts and principles of the school. It is considered just the start of the mastery of the art and forms the standpoint from which the real understanding and mastery will begin.

In several cases commentators have referred to the inability of the young to develop full power in their execution of the techniques and yet I have witnessed, both in person and from watching online video demonstrations, adults that appear to have little understanding, poor execution and questionable power when demonstrating their technical proficiency.

In fact, if we are to accept the lack of power argument, we should also put an upper age limit on the awarding of a black belt. The older we get we lose strength, speed and flexibility, thus reducing our effectiveness.

In my own school, which is highly respected for producing high quality and technically proficient students of Muay Thai, BJJ and MMA, I do not have a set age parameter for the awarding of a black belt. However, I have very strict requirements in the skill level that must be demonstrated.  The minimum period that any student spends in developing the skills to reach black belt is 5 years in my MMA and freestyle Martial Arts systems and 10 years for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

For students who start very young (I only take students 5 and above) I have designed the curriculum so that it takes 6 to 7 years to acquire the black belt qualification in the Freestyle Martial Arts Arts and MMA systems.

In addition all students in my systems only receive a probationary black belt level, at first, which is eligible to become a fully certified 1st degree black belt after 1 year if they have met the requirements.

In my mind, experience and opinion it is the time spent quality training and the expertise acquired that should determine the awarding of the black belt not an age. Age gives no indication of a student’s ability; as people mature and learn at different rates, particularly in this era when the old preconceived dogmas of capabilities have either been or are being broken down.

As martial artists we have to question the accepted dogma, bring our ourselves into a 21st century mentality and remind ourselves of the benefits that martial arts training provides; benefits that go far beyond the self defence aspects of the art and which will influence any student at any age, benefits that, if gained in a balanced manner with the other aspects of living a rewarding life, would assist in developing a well rounded and very powerful character that may prepare a student for anything that life throws at them.  

Martial Arts Training – A Valuable Life Enhancement Practice.

Research has shown that if we want to live a long and healthy life we need to exercise both our minds and bodies and keep stress under control.

There are a huge number of activities that we can take part in that will fulfill these requirements, however, few address them overall to the extent that martial arts training does.

  1. Physical benefits:

  2. Mental benefits:

  3. Stress relief and emotional benefits:

Training in martial arts will develop strength, coordination, balance, cardiovascular fitness and flexibility at the physical level thereby providing an overall and well rounded physical development and maintenance methodology.

From the mental development and maintenance point perspective practicing martial arts has been shown to increase focus, concentration, hand - eye coordination and reaction response time.

An often neglected area of our well-being is that of our emotional state of mind and the effects of stress on our health. Once again the martial arts have demonstrated positive effects in developing a strong emotional state of mind and demonstrable effects in reducing stress. The confidence building and stress relief power of martial arts is one of it’s most powerful benefits.

All of these benefits at all levels will enhance practitioner’s lives throughout their lifetime and have effects in all areas of their existence. Martial arts training is, in my opinion, one of the most valuable pursuits that anybody can include as part of their lifestyle; from the young childhood years, when so much of our development occurs, through adolescence, adulthood and into our mature years when its health benefits really show dividends. 

The key is to find a martial art that you enjoy and that provides the benefits in a way that you can embrace them and gain the full value that training in martial arts can provide.

When Competition Can Interfere with the Benefits of Training Martial Arts.

For my entire martial arts career I have been involved in competition either as a competitor, trainer, promoter or official.

I have come to witness and realize both the benefits and problems that competition can cause in a students progress, confidence and attitude, again these can be both good and bad.

While the student is progressing and developing it is understandable that they may wish to compete, to test themselves and their training, and this is to be encouraged if they have that wish.

However, when it comes to the coaches they have a great responsibility to ensure that the student is ready and that the competition is managed fairly so that the student is not put into a situation that would create a mismatch.

The responsibility for this falls on the coaches of the students involved in the competition. Unfortunately one of the biggest problems I have experienced, over the many years I have trained, is that of dishonorable practices by the coaches of students, particularly in not being honest about their competitors experience. They have little thought for the development of students overall and only care about their own academy’s win record.

One of my students recently found himself a victim of just such a situation. With only 6 months of training he was interested in trying a competition of MMA. The promoter of the event matched him, with my agreement, with a student that we were told had 2 years of training “off and on” in BJJ and had just come back to training. This seemed to me to be a reasonable situation, and potentially a fair match although favoring the other student to a degree, but not too greatly and so would be a good starting competition for my novice student.

However, at the moment of the introduction of the competitors, I sensed something was not right. The opposing student entering the cage with a BJJ blue belt around his waist; I certainly do not give students blue belts with just 2 years “on and off” training. The fight lasted less than 2 minutes with my student being choked out very cleanly and effortlessly, interesting from the point of view that the opposition was supposed to have just been intermittently training for 2 years.

All was to be made clear the following day when another student of mine checked Google and found that the student had, in fact, be competing for the last 2 years in a National Grappling and Wrestling Championship, placing in the top 3 of each of the championships including a first place this year! something that his Brazilian coach had neglected to mention when reporting his experience to the promoter.

It is this sort of dishonorable behavior that loses students and seriously impedes the development of any competitive sport, but more so in martial arts where the competition may cause serious harm.

This does no one any good at all and will always be a problem in the development of martial arts competition. In my 40 years of involvement in martial arts it is sad that things still have not changed.

I suggest that all coaches think about the effect that such dishonorable behaviors have on both their own student and student of other academies who are training in martial arts, to gain the benefits that are possible. Forget your ego and think about the true value of what training in martial arts can do for a student and what you can contribute to the development of others.