How To Stop Morally Bankrupt Instructors Diminishing The Value of Black Belt


The black belt has for decades been seen as a sign of martial arts mastery.

In the 70’s and 80’s when the height of martial arts movies like The Karate Kid and Enter The Dragon was at its peak, the martial arts craze was at fever pitch.

Many people viewed the term ‘black belt’ as the equivalent to ‘deadly fighting machine’.

Stories were common about how a martial artists must warn anyone who was about to attack them that they ‘knew kung fu’ or any other kind of martial art.

Posters of Bruce Lee adorned bedroom doors across the globe, and more cars got waxed as a result of Mr. Myagis teachings than ever before.

However things changed, once the monetary value of the black belt was discovered we saw the belt become an exchange, not for skill but for time served and even worse in some cases money.

In today’s post, we will explain how you can stop the ‘black belt economy’ in its tracks and instead create a new martial arts economy.

However, be warned this is not a rant about old school black belts values being sold down the river.

Instead, you will follow my journey as I went from angry ‘ I-earned-my-black-belt-the-hard-way‘ to something even more powerful

Trust us, this will help you!

The Devaluation Of The Black Belt

About 2 years ago I was in my local town when an old friend from work stopped me.

You know the type of situation, I hadn’t seen him in years, so we chatted about our work, old friend’s and then about the kids.

Knowing I did martial  arts he said to me:

“Are you still doing the Kung Fu?”

I had actually never done Kung Fu, but I have learned that goes with the territory.

Anyway, I told him yes to which he said

“My lads a have just got their black belts too.”

The boys (all 3 of them) were 11 years of age, and I can honestly say that my heart sank to the bottom of deepest parts of my body.

As I came home that day, I was thinking about how I got my black belt. The study, the hours of training, sparring and then fighting for the grade.

I know that those 11-year-old boys would not be anywhere near good enough to wear the coveted black belt, yet they had the same grade as me (albeit in a different art). I was gutted, “how could this be happening I thought”.

As luck would have it I noticed a debate ongoing over on a Facebook page about young or junior black belts.

It as clear that many professional martial arts instructors used belts as way to make money, and if they gained the child as a student at age 5 they would soon go through all the colours of the rainbow and be a black belt.

But is this right?

Should the level of black belt be used as simply a tool for retainment of kids?

What I learned next totally changed my views on Junior black belts and arts which literally hand them out like sweets.

The Best Of Both Worlds

As I strived to understand why people felt they needed to give out the almost mythical level of the back belt to children, I realised one thing.

It made absolutely zero difference to me.

I still had my belt; I knew what it cost me.

So I started to ask a few of my friends this question:

“Would you sell your black belt?”

I explained to them I meant the grade, so that I instantly became a black belt and they lost their grade.

We hypothetically started at £500, then £1000, and we rose to £50,000.

Then one friend said to me “It doesn’t matter what price you ask, you can’t take the grade away from me. Sure you can buy a physical belt for £10, I can put your name on a register, heck I can even give you a certificate, but the belt means nothing”.

I was taken back by my friend who was as hardcore a martial artist as you could find.

“How can you say that?” I said. “I worked my ass off for my grade.”

He turned to me and said, ” You didn’t work your ass off for the grade, you worked your ass off to become something more.”

I pondered what he said for a minute.

He could see that I was looking confused so he turned to me and said “3 years ago you would have struggled to defend yourself, now if you were attacked you could easily hold your own, you would actually be pretty dangerous. 3 years ago you got stressed really easily, and 3 years ago you got tired running down the road”.

He was right.

He then grabbed me by the shoulder and said “The grade means nothing. It means zero to anyone except you. Do you think those people that got their grades handed to them were transformed like you? I’ll tell you they weren’t. They look the same, they still get out of breath running down the road and they couldn’t defend themselves. They haven’t transformed.”

“Hold on” I said.

“But what about the child black belts?”

He smirked and said “Those kids have changed too. They will probably behave better, they will be fitter, stronger, part of a team, in fact, I am in favor of children getting black belts because it represent a journey for them, and you will find that children who take up martial arts change far more than adults. ”

Understanding Just What A Black Belt Means


To many the black belt means “the ability to fight” but if you step away from that context and look at it as a benchmark for personal growth and transformation it will give you an entirely different perspective.

Over the years since this internal and external conversation happened about black belts I have seen many more kids talk about their black belts.

Does it diminish my grade?

I used to think so, but in reality, the grade represents a transformation.

Yes, we all know that grades are still going to be given out, but the only way you can stop the devaluation of black belt is to realise that the value is within the transformation process.

Taking someone with no skill and giving them self-respect, confidence, weight loss, self-protection ability or any other factor.

The martial arts are about personal growth and not just fighting ability, after all, how many martial artists spend their whole lives training and never actually have a fight?


A belt is just a piece of material. A grade can just be a certificate, but the transformation is different.

It is done at a level that many do not understand.

So these days when I see a black belt on a man, woman or child I know they have been through a process of transformation.

I no longer see fighting ability or am even bothered if they lack any.

Morally corrupt instructors may have initially used the value of black belt to make money; such is life.

However, the people doing the devaluation of the grade is quite possibly everyone else.

By just seeing the grade as a sign of fighting prowess we actually forget all the other amazing things that the belt is a sign of.

So to increase the value of the grade instructors simply need to see the value of personal growth.

I hope this article has been useful

Published by The WOMA.TV Media team.