A couple days ago, one of my eight-year-old students asked me, “Sensei, one of my classmates at school was bragging about how he got his blackbelt over the weekend. Why did it take him less than three years, but here it takes way longer?” Such a simple question, with a straight forward answer, but so difficult for a child to understand.
As with any business, you must consider how schools make their revenue. In the martial arts, schools make their money one of two ways, monthly tuition (the USSD model), or testing fees. It is not unusual, particularly in certain styles, to see monthly tuition advertised for as little as $25 p/month, but with 40 or 50 ranks between white and black belt. Each of those tests then have a testing fee starting at $100.00 (give or take), rising into the thousands for brown and black belt tests! To make matters worse, these schools often guarantee black belt in under three years. Well, it’s quite easy to do the math and realize that these students test for their next rank every couple weeks, and since they guarantee the rank every X-number of months, they do so with no regard for the skill level, maturity, and overall readiness of the student, but rather for that payday at the end. I’ll let you decide whether that’s ethical or not…

At USSD, we ask ourselves three questions to determine whether a student is ready to test: 1) Does the student have the required material per the USSD Student Manual? This is easy to determine, as you can look at your Student Manual and determine if you have the required material or not. 2) Is the student proficient enough at the material? We obviously expect a brown or black belt to be better at a technique than a purple or blue belt (middle level ranks). The overall skill level must match the rank they are going for. Lastly, 3) How is the student’s mental and emotional readiness? If the student is not mature enough to understand what black belt truly means, or for whatever reason they simply aren’t mentally ready, there is no rush for us to test the student.

It is my opinion that the worst thing an instructor can do to their student is to lie to them by misleading them into believing they are something they are not. At USSD, it takes at least six years to earn your blackbelt, simply because that is how long it takes to fully grasp and understand the material on a deeper level. Blackbelt is a big deal! It’s not something that should be given away as a participation prize, as is often the case at many other schools. You can be assured, when you are promoted at USSD, whether from white belt to yellow belt, or brown belt to black belt, you will be ready, you will have earned it, and you will represent everything that is right and good with that belt!