So after a few months of training, my instructor eventually told me I was ready to test for belt advancement. I got very emotional and I didn't know how to react. Contrary to the reaction of pride you might expect, I was emotional because I felt unsure of myself. I had been under the mistaken impression I would work the white belt level techniques until they were muscle memory. Or at least that was what I had hoped.

I was afraid of falling, because safely falling wasn't my strong suit. Forward falls in particular were hard for me to perform. I was also afraid of getting hit, which was actually a long way off. Presumably however, my instructor knows when I'm ready. He or she has gone through the same program I'm going through, they've helped me progress to the level they were at when they were asked if they wanted to advance. They know more about the system than I do.

I told my instructor I didn't feel ready, and I wanted more time with the maneuvers I still wasn't good at. They basically said "I'm your superior, and I know what I'm talking about." They said it more cordially and philosophically. That's all behind me now, and I have advanced. But I wonder if it would have been unreasonable to hold my ground and really kind of demand the extra time.

6 Answers 6


First and foremost, if you do not trust your instructor, it makes no sense whatsoever to train with them… Therefore you should trust them in teaching you useful things, in helping you progress, and in keeping you safe in class. This means that you should trust them when they say you reached a new grade.

Second, a grading is you demonstrating that you can do techniques at the level of your next grade. This does not mean perfect techniques or even accurate techniques or even right techniques. It means good enough. If you are put forwards to a grading, then you already have the grade. All you have been asked to is to show case that you can do it.

Note that the last point can be contentious. Some teachers insist that the possibility of failing must be there: it is an exam after all. Grading are sometimes viewed as opportunities to make money. Since one pays for them, it is tempting to rush people through them and if they fail pocket the cash with a "try again next time". We call those places McDojos. In that case, you should run and fast. Some teachers will not charge you for a failed grading but that is just a waste of everyone's time…

Finally, stop viewing grades as something worthwhile: they are not. Any belt costs £5, covers two centimetres of your waist, and is only useful in keeping your jacket closed. What matters is the journey and the skill you learned. Remember that first dan only means "I know the basics", at second dan you can do the basics, and understand them at third.


I am an Aikido practitioner, but I think it is very similar to Hapkido in this regard. The answer is:


First of all, the belt test is not only to examine if you have advanced enough, but also to see how do you perform under stress. Being able to use the techniques under some controlled stress conditions is a crucial part of martial arts. As it is not easy to create a situation like you would have in real life, belt examination is a good way to simulate it.

Second, it is not common in eastern cultures to question the decision of the master. I don't know where you live, but it is mostly expected to have full trust on your master. If you think your trainer is not enough qualified to have your full trust, than you should consider changing your dojo. An extreme example: If he says close your eyes, turn around and encounter an unknown opponent, you should do it. He knows you would feel uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable is also a part of training.

The third point as you have said, he has possibly seen a lot of students in his martial arts career, and he can understand to what degree you are ready. It is OK to take your time until you feel ready, but you might underestimate your advancement. I have seen people like you who hesitate to take the belt tests although they were ready. And after the examination they were like "Hey that was easier than I expected!". That is really common.

And at last, I should say I have never ever seen someone who has failed her/his first belt test. Maybe after the first degree, but exam commission knows it is really demotivating to let some fail the first test. If they see some serious mistakes, they make nasty comments after the test, but they don't let you fail. The only exception is that you injured someone intentionally. But that is very very unlikely.


Trepidation is normal. You have expectations about what rank means, and you are not sure whether you can live up to the expectations of a new rank. Many people have this reaction.

Analogy: Learning/Teaching Martial Arts is like Painting a Wall

A good analogy for the initial promotion process is painting a wall. You want the wall to look good, but it's not productive to continually repaint the same spot to make it perfect before working on the rest of the wall. The paint will not dry, and you will still see the whatever was underneath. It's best to go over the whole wall once, let it dry, then return to apply additional coats of paint and finally touch up. If you spend too long worrying about one thing like falling, this can actually inhibit your long-term progress. Rank is not an indication that you have totally mastered skills in the curriculum; you have not finished painting, but you have completed a coat.

This is not to say that falling (or any other element) can be skipped without problems. You still have to ensure the wall ends up fully painted and looks good before you move furniture in front of the wall. It's your instructor's responsibility to teach you more when you are ready and not before.

What is Rank?

Rank is a funny social construct. It is a combination of fighting ability, technical skill, teaching ability, perseverance, and social ability. You can get promoted based on strengths in some of these areas while being weak in others. It's an imperfect measure of all of these things. Rank does not help you fight, it does not change your health or well-being. Having a rank changes neither your skill level nor what you know. Outside of your organization, rank is meaningless.

Rank does have an outsize influence on what people think of themselves. This includes a need for feedback for advancement, a way to compare themselves to others, a desire to be the biggest person in the room, and your anxiety over being good enough.

Accept rank for what it is, a social recognition that you are a little more advanced. Refusing rank creates its own problems. Your juniors will look at the progress you have made and despair that if you have not advanced they never will. Your peers will feel poor when you, someone at a lower rank, can do something better than they can.

Not all martial arts have rank. Some people find this liberating, while for others it feels directionless.


Depends on the instructor.

I've encountered instructors who promote people way too quickly. When I was looking for an instructor to train with in college, I encountered a school that would routinely promote people to black belts in tae kwon do within two years. (I ended up not training with them).

With that said, if I'm understanding your question correctly, you've been training for some number of months and your instructor wants you to do your first belt test (correct me if I'm wrong). This sounds reasonable. In many styles that I've encountered, you test for your yellow belt (or the equivalent) after a couple of months (usually a minimum of 2 months of consistent attendance). After that, the time between tests keeps increasing. For example, in tae kwon do, you may be able to get your yellow belt after as little as 2 months but be expected to train for years between black belt tests.

That being said, the time frame seems reasonable enough (assuming that you've been training consistently).

You want to strike a balance between not rushing yourself to test too quickly (it's not about the belt) and not letting fear hold you back. If you tend towards the latter (which I personally do) and you've chosen a good instructor that doesn't promote people too quickly, then if they think that you're ready it could be good to trust them. This can help you avoid falling into procrastination.

See if you can get details on what you'll be tested on. My instructor gives us detailed breakdowns of exactly what we're expected to know for each test. If you know those things to the level that your instructor expects you to know them for that test, you should go for it.

TL;DR: Some instructors promote people too quickly, but based on what you've said it doesn't sound like your instructor is one of them. I'd be inclined to trust him if he thinks that you know the material.


Ultimately, it should be your choice. Listen, but make your own decision

While your instructor can certainly tell you what they believe to be the best course of action, it is ultimately always your decision whether you want to test for promotion. I have personally declined to test for promotion a few times, both in Tae Kwan Do and in Capoeira.

I'll admit that, in first case, it was basically a matter of that I felt no particular need to achieve promotion (I had already reached nearly Black Belt level in Tang Soo Do) and that I wasn't interested in paying for the testing fees. It actually ultimately resulted in me getting promoted a few weeks later in class, where the instructor handed me the belt and later explained that, while he understood my reasoning, the instructors used belt levels to determine who to pair in class, so it was important for me to have a belt appropriate for my skill level.

In the latter case, Capoeira, I had less prior experience and the belts influenced very little of what was done in class, so my mestre simply accepted that I didn't plan to test and I remained at that rank for the rest of my time there (my current Capoeira class doesn't do belts, so it's not a factor). Frankly, I felt that, in that case, I was advancing slowly enough that the rank felt appropriate for me. The one thing I do regret is that, because I was avoiding the possibility of being promoted, I missed out on the Batizado where students and teachers from other cities were brought in for the day.


I practice Hapkido too. As long as your Sabeum (instructor) said that you are ready, then you are.

I think this is your first belt exam, right? If so, then just do your belt advancement exam because first advancement (from my experience) is easy, and just like @Endery said, I don't think your first exam will be hard enough to make anyone fail.

Also, if you still not confident with your skills, you will gather more confidence after you pass this exam.

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