A short survival guide by Jerry Devine, Chief Instructor of PMA.

The time has arrived to test for a higher belt rank at the PMA but first parents and students need to understand what this can mean in terms of achievement, egotism, self-development, motivation and much more. Without an appreciation of the meanings and purposes of belt testing, students can suffer some negative consequences, especially without the support and understanding of the whole family. Our object is to make earning the next belt a joyful and meaningful experience for students. If you have previously received this outline, you may wish to review it again, and there are some updates on junior belt ranks.

First, everyone including the karate teachers and parents should understand that the belt is a personal accomplishment and reflection of progress that belongs to the student. I never tease a student about his or her belt. I am pleased with whatever level a student holds since it is only one more step on the way of a long journey towards mastery.

In the senior group (13 and up) the belt colors begin with white belt, then orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. After that the brown belt is awarded. At the junior level there are a different set of belts. One set is for the ninjas aged 6 to 8, while the other set of colors are for the samurai who are 9 to 12. There are stripes for each level that are a full promotion level. Stripes avoid the problem of having an extensive rainbow of lavender, scarlet, gold, silver, etc.

In seniors, brown is a very high rank and can take from two to five years to earn. It is divided into three levels called san-kyu, nikyu and ikkyu, the highest.) Then comes the black belt, referred to as a shodan ranking. Black belts can earn 'dan' level rankings (in English this would be degree) after more years of study and performance. The award is often highly misused in the US and it certainly varies in importance depending on the style or school. In traditional karate it takes many years of intense dedication to earn ranks like third and fourth dan. Many myths and misconception abound about these ranks. If someone says they are fifth dan and they are twenty years old, it would be a an exaggeration of rank since a minimum of fifteen years should have transpired and the student would have to possess other knowledge such as long term teaching that younger students wouldn't have. The PMA has several high ranking dan levels at the fifth, fourth and third levels. These include such prominent PMA teachers as Granja Sensei, Black Sensei and Brown Sensei.

In the junior or ninja division, belts are based on white, orange and yellow as the base colors. Within each color the students earns a green, then blue and finally purple stripe. For example a very high ranking ninja would be yellow with purple stripe. The basic level or kyu is how we identify the ninja, the basic colors of white, then orange and finally yellow. Since currently testing occurs every four months, a student could reach the highest level after nine testings or three years training. By then the child is likely nine and is graduated up into the samurai ranks where he will be transitioned into a samurai rank.

Now at samurai the colors all reverse to make it easier for teachers and students to understand. The order of ranking is they start with green, then blue then purple. Within each base color the stripes are always white, then orange, then yellow.

Now it gets exciting! The samurai now moves up to the very advanced ranks of red belts. Red belts are the highest in junior karate. The stripes follow the basic progression of white, orange, yellow, green, etc. We expect a lot of our red belts!

When the samurai student graduates up to senior or shogun level, he again receives a brand new senior transition belt and is well on his way to earning the coveted black belt.

The student is doing the work and therefore friends, brothers and sisters and neighbors should not be making demands or comments such as "Haven't you got your black belt yet?" There are no time limits such as four years to get through high school. Belt promotion measures technical progress, mental progress and also future potential. To compare two students directly is unfair and allows for no individuality in the students.

Dojo or school protocol is very demanding and students (and parents) should avoid asking if they are ready to test; the instructor will nominate the ready student. The exception is a discrete letter from the parent who realizes because of possible clerical error that a child got overlooked on the list of nominees for the next test date. The karate teachers meet often to discuss who is ready and who needs more training and what specific areas need developing.

When nominated for testing a month early, you are sent the application. Return these promptly. It is assumed if you maintain your progress and attendance, you will be ready on test day. Scheduled times of the students are given on the application . You should arrive 10 minutes early on test day. you. Don't miss test day...the next one may not be for four months! If you absolutely cannot make a particular test, tell your instructor as soon as possible. Testing is mandatory every four months.

During the physical testing, you will perform in front of examiners who will ask you to demonstrate punches, kicks, katas, etc. They are looking for your strengths, not weaknesses. Students can learn a great deal during this half-hour. Sometimes the examiners offer suggestions and they always encourage you. During the test students are exposed to the idea of striving for a goal and achieving success. Students learn to deal with the pressures of performing while being observed by testers and family. It makes school tests a little easier to bear.

Usually belts are awarded right after testing but sometimes we make the awards the next week in class so that fellow students can share in the event. Often we call the parents out onto the floor to present the belt to the child.

It is not wise to eat candy, milkshakes, dairy products, oily foods, junk food, etc., within two hours of the testing. Stick with carbohydrates such as fresh fruit, potatoes, non-fat granola, oatmeal, salads (no oil). Definitely avoid carbonated beverages. Be sure to drink water.

Students should arrive in a very neat gi (washed and ironed) with patch on. When entering the test area be sure to bow correctly and announce loudly "Good morning, good morning, sir." Show the same courtesy to your examiners. Thank them before departing. If your immediate instructor is present, go over and greet him or her. If he is busy testing someone, direct a special bow of greetings in his or her direction. This protocol is an important part of testing, it measures alertness.

Family members are encouraged to attend and give support. Introduce your parents to the instructors when you meet. Show courtesy at all times to everyone (guests, fellow students, little brothers and sisters, etc.) We are testing not only your karate skills but your good karate attitude and that includes outside the dojo. If you are polite to me on the floor but are loud and rude in the lounge to others, perhaps being cranky with family members, you will not receive promotions.

A special note for parents....

I thank you for your support! Giving up more of your free time to testing always concerns me. I have designed the test days to minimize your required stay. In some schools that I have observed, testing can drag on for hours. We schedule times for you that are fairly exact so you can arrive, test and leave. If you enjoy watching the others test, feel free to stay longer. Generally, you can readily complete the test day in one hour. I welcome your suggestions that make the operation run more smoothly.

Thank you. Jerry Devine, Chief Instructor of PMA

Note. This outline is just an overview into the complexities of belt ranking. PMA holds very high standards for its students and individual rankings. Every consideration is given to the individual as well and we allow for different maturities within the structure. I always enjoy talking and explaining how belts work so don’t hesitate to email and ask me about how the system works. Please do not ask me however ‘when is my child going to get a black belt’ because that one cannot be answered or predicted easily! My stock answer for that difficult question is "after much effort and a lot of parental support!"

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