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It's standard in most arts that access to rank/belt exams is restricted in some way. In many cases, there are minimum waiting periods between exams, and in some dojos, an exam can only be attempted with an instructor's recommendation.

Is there a style or system in which anyone (or, at least, any paying student) may test for the next (or perhaps even any) rank whenever they reasonably wish to do so?

In the academic world, this kind of concept is becoming more and more a thing, with some universities offering course credit (or even entire degrees) for passing challenge exams that can be taken "anytime", but I admit I've never heard of any dojo that would grant a belt to someone who just showed up, paid a fee, and passed a test (or even a battery of tests).

If the answer is no, is such an arrangement inherently inimical to the spirit of martial arts (i.e. even if you can pass all the tests, you aren't really a Master until you have spent X years sweating and socializing in the dojo), or is this more of a practical matter in that very few students have what it takes to go any faster than normally allowed, so instructors tend not to encourage it?

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    I can name a particular TKD Studio i was at in California that allowed people to make appointments for testing. Is that sufficient for your question? – Sean Duggan Jun 27 at 1:58
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    Not every martial art has belts, nor do all schools call their physical spaces dojos. If the school calls it a dojo, it probably has belts. – mattm Jun 27 at 3:17
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DISCLAIMER - This answer comes almost entirely from an ITF TKD perspective and my own personal experience.

For the first few grades then maybe >> or perhaps it is more acceptable. This is because we are looking for the beginnings of the art, stances, breath control etc. these are things that

  • could be learned relatively quickly if someone was studying hard
  • could be learned at home (and should have been practised at home)

So in the first few tests we are looking at "can the student do XYZ" - so someone turning up able to do those things - wouldn't be too much of an issue and we could pass them.

As things get higher up we start to muddy the waters,
Progression relies on more than just - can you do X? - but also have you experienced enough?

  • Can you call yourself a blackbelt if you have never seen a competition?
  • Can you call yourself a blackbelt if you have only ever trained with one instructor?

the list is endless and individual, but there are some basics that must be done for my association (and likely most association). So without proof of this criteria being met, it would be a "no" to grading.

At higher grades it is also about knowledge and experience

For Example: I know that X move requires I chamber in Y way, but without practising it many times my body won't naturally do it, so that knowledge won't save my life under pressure.

What this means for higher grades is sure - I could show you all the moves and you could repeat them - but without the mind and muscle memory to back you up - you aren't that grade yet. So a "test" is more a formality of - you have done the relevant training (quantity and quality) - perform what you have practised under a little pressure and here is the next certificate.

One final point - as @mattm said in the comments - "Not every martial art has belts" - I ask many students why they do martial arts, if they answer "to get a black belt" I tell them to go to the shop and buy one. Passing a test ONLY proves that you can pass a test - for a martial arts test to really test your martial arts knowledge it would last a few hours a week for months (or in many cases years).

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