What’s the purpose of stripe testing in martial arts training?

By Sensei Serge Sognonvi and Carmen Sognonvi
Originally published at http://www.urbandojo.com/blog

Each month, students in our kids martial arts training programs at Urban Martial Arts have the opportunity to earn two stripes.

They can earn a black stripe for handing in their Black Belt Excellence worksheet by the 15th of the month. They can also earn a colored stripe for passing their stripe test at the end of the month.

Once students have 3 black stripes and 3 colored stripes on their belt, they are eligible to test for their next belt rank.

Here’s why we’ve implemented this system of stripe testing at Urban Martial Arts:

1. Students stay motivated because they achieve small goals that build up to a big goal

The ultimate goal for many of our students is to earn their black belt. But considering that it will take anywhere from 3 to 5 years of martial arts training to achieve this goal, how can they stay motivated along the way?

As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In other words, if you want to achieve a big goal, you must break it into smaller goals.

Every 3 months, our students can test for their next belt rank (e.g. from white to yellow). But along the way, they also have an opportunity to earn a stripe every 2 weeks.

By achieving these smaller goals that build up to a bigger goal, our students stay motivated and excited about their martial arts training.

2. Students understand the specific qualities they must master in their martial arts training

What happens if you kick hard, but your kick lands in the wrong place? You won’t do any damage. That’s why you need both power and accuracy.

What happens if you punch toward the correct target, but you were too slow? Your opponent will move out of the way. That’s why you need both focus and speed.

What happens you perform all the moves of a form correctly at a tournament, but without any energy or zest? You’ll likely receive a low score from the judges. That’s why you can’t achieve excellence without intensity.

Our students understand these principles because at Urban Martial Arts, we spend each month working on one of the Six Qualities of a Champion, each symbolized by a different color: power (blue), accuracy (green), intensity (red), speed (white), focus (black) and excellence (gold).

At the end of each month, if they have learned the required curriculum and demonstrated that month’s quality, they will earn a colored stripe on their belt.

Simply being able to memorize and execute self-defense moves, forms, and sparring combinations does not make you black belt material.

Why not? Because in martial arts, it’s not just about what you do, it’s how you do it.

3. Students learn that in martial arts training, they must balance the mental with the physical

You’ve just learned about at how we spend each month working on one of the Six Qualities of a Champion.

But we also work on a different life skill each month through our Black Belt Excellence worksheets, everything from anger management to developing courage, from good nutrition to being honest.

Each student who hands in their Black Belt Excellence worksheet by the 15th of the month will earn a black stripe on their belt. Once they have 3 black stripes and 3 colored stripes, they’ll be eligible to test for their next belt rank.

Why do we require both types of stripes? Because we want all our students to have a good balance between life skills (symbolized by the black stripes) and physical skills (symbolized by the colored stripes).

After all, a martial artist isn’t just someone who kicks and punches well. A martial artist is someone who embodies the qualities of confidence, self-discipline, respect, and courtesy.