Updated: Mar 11
The short answer to this is not if you don’t want to. However, in order to achieve anything significant in life, it’s helpful to set yourself goals - those smaller steps towards a bigger target. We talk about this in the Leadership Book in sections such as ‘Strategy’& ‘Planning’. In martial arts, that target will often be ‘Black Belt’ - the goals are therefore progression through the coloured belts awarded at Graduations.
In any martial art that has a traditional lineage, there is a belt system or grade system in place; ours is no different. There are a number of theories about where the belt system came from. One story is your plain white belt became darker with sweat and dirt as your training progressed, eventually becoming the belt black. Another theory is that the system was developed in the 20th century to demonstrate to the western mind feedback about how students were progressing. Without doubt, it can help to motivate the student to better themselves and to provide goals to aim for in order to reach the next stage of training and improvement.
All students should be guided by the advice of their Instructor. Remember, they have already gone through all the graduations ahead of you and so have a wealth of experience in this area! If they say you should go to graduation, then it will be because they think you are good enough. But, we know from our Leadership Book that goal setting is important in ANY walk of life, so you can see why it is used to create small manageable goals (next belt level) to achieve an overall long term target (black belt). The fact that most martial arts have taken up the belt and grading system shows that it is a successful and integral part of martial arts training. Goal setting is one of the reasons that a belt system is used, but what does a belt and its ranking system really mean? Some students may believe it is status, some may believe it is seniority and some may believe it represents the path of their journey to black belt… whatever you believe, the most important thing is what it means to YOU.
Some of you may aspire to become Instructors one day - if so, our Instructor Training Programme will be ideal for you - and therefore you will need qualifications to do so; graduations are a necessary step for their career development. However, for the majority of students, it is a recognition of what they have learned over the previous months, years and (for the elite few) decades. Each belt builds on the previous level, with the student becoming more confident, more knowledgable, faster, fitter and more powerful. You know what you are capable of, what your strengths and weakness are and what you stand for - the graduation system reflects that back to the student themselves.
But it’s not up to your instructors to get you to any given level - it is up to YOU. Yes, you will need competent instruction, but you have to walk the path - you need to ‘do the doing’. Tang Soo Do means Way of the Hand of China/Tang and so there is a path to be walked and you will be guided/led down it, but not dragged along it. ‘Teaching’ and ‘learning’ in martial arts works much the same way as in other areas - someone will do a lot of teaching, but you have to do a lot of learning, so be an active learner. My point is that it is up to you - if you want to achieve a certain target, you will need to work actively towards that goal.
For most people on the outside looking in, a belt looks like something that holds your uniform (Do Bok) together, but we know better. We understand what it means and how hard we have worked to achieve it. We also understand how it has helped us in our everyday lives.
So the longer answer is YES…