Categorized as: Student News

Should Children Earn Black Belts in Martial Arts?

the dojo kids class

Shoshin Ryu has a pretty straight forward policy when it comes to promoting black belts. Anyone receiving a black belt must be able to defend themselves against an adult attacker.

Applying this rule to children upholds the integrity of the rank. It also reinforces the idea of putting skill above rank. Regardless of what belt a student wears around their waist, the skill is what holds value. Many martial art systems incorporate “Jr” black belts, often times awarding higher Dan (black belt) ranks to children with as little as 5 years of training. This is not only a watering down of the rank, it sends a message of lowered expectations and a false sense of security for the person who achieves these types of rank. Shoshin Ryu and the dojo would rather keep a younger student at brown belt and let them grow in size and skill. Then when the time comes to test for Shodan (1st degree black) they can both truly defend against adult attackers and be completely prepared to perform well on their black belt test. This mindset also teaches younger practitioners patience, hard work and increases the appreciation for the eventual promotion.

There have been instances where students in the dojo started as children, trained 10+ years until age 16-21 and then tested for Shodan. The result was no less (and one could surely argue much greater) than if they had received a black belt at a younger age, since it is the skill that is sought after and not simply a rank. Rank can be said to have its place in any traditional dojo, but it is NOT the goal. It is nice to have a sense of accomplishment and progression along one’s path. It is good to have a general idea of the skill level of your uke based on rank, even if you haven’t worked together before. However, the need to show off what rank you are is opposite the philosophy of Shoshin Ryu. The instant gratification culture is one that does not belong in the dojo. Students put in the work, the effort and the time. A byproduct of their training is rank. By the time a student of the dojo achieves Shodan, the elation related to the promotion is less apparent. This is at least partially due to the teachings of the Shoshin Ryu Sensei who keep the focus on the training required to achieve this milestone and the letting go of the ego and pride. Not to say that when a student does reach this level that there isn’t a sense of pride and appreciation for the work done, it’s just that it is not the emphasis of the rank itself.

Next time you hear a conversation about someone’s 9 year old child achieving a 3rd degree black belt in a martial art, realize that this is in itself an indication of what is really being taught, and that while the rank may sound impressive, it is by all means misleading and does not represent what the rank is supposed to indicate. If you are seeing increased focus, skill and attitude in your own child then you know that they are truly progressing, and that along with the physical skill there is also a mental fortitude that is being developed. A mindset that does not worry about the immediate reward of an action, but knows that through consistent training and a resolute persistence that anything can be accomplished. In the case of learning self-defense, it is the ability to defend yourself. Think on this.

The Progression of Rank in Shoshin Ryu Jujitsu


People often ask “what is the order of belts in Shoshin Ryu”. In the adult curriculum the order is White, Yellow, Blue, Green, Brown 3, Brown 2, Brown 1 and Black. Each rank has new kata, throws, ground work techniques and added Gojinjitsu (self defense). With each rank there are added requirements in regards to proficiency in previously learned material as well as emphasis on certain types of motion. In the Shoshin Ryu curriculum concepts are interwoven throughout the belt ranks as well.

As a White belt, students are given a set of kihon (basics), a few kata, a throw and lots of gojinjitsu as well as the basics for ukemi (rolls/falls). The goal for the beginning student is to memorize the techniques, not so much to replicate them at blinding speed but rather to “know” the sequence of moves by recalling them from memory. Everything that is learned is used to provide a foundation of general motion. Knowing how to properly execute each technique, be it a strike or a kata, from the very beginning aids in the ease of learning later on in one’s path to Shodan (1st degree black belt).

Once tested and promoted to Yellow belt, the emphasis is much the same as White belt. More kata, throws, newaza (ground work) and gojinjitsu are added. Additional kihon are introduced and drilled. By this time, the student has been training for a significant time and repetition is the focus. All the curriculum learned as a White belt are still practiced with the expectation that the time it takes for the mind to recall the correct move lessens. Techniques are still coming from memory but from the viewpoint of someone watching, it may look like the techniques are instantaneous. Less effort is required to perform a throw, the rolls are more quiet and become more natural. Lines in motion become cleaner, tension is less and as a result, your body moves faster. Students feel more acclimated to the dojo and typically are less apprehensive about learning something new. Yellow belts also learn to become a better uke (attacker) during self defense and provide more realistic feedback for their partner to work with and improve.

Blue belt is when the student starts to see glimpses of muscle memory. When defending against random attacks some of the responses are being initiated before the student realizes it. The ultimate goal is to NOT to recall techniques from memory but to trust reflex. Reflex is engrained by doing the techniques over and over again. At some point, the body just moves to where it needs to be without thought. Blue belts does not necessarily require the student to incorporate reflex in all their motion (this is what brown belt ranks are for), but the student should start noticing that some of the tools they’ve been building are right there when needed. The kata that you are supposed to know are done with less thought about which foot to step with or what hand to punch with but rather how the foot moves and its relationship to center and if the punch is as efficient and powerful as it can be. Students must still commit to memory the new things they learn, but the time it takes for these moves to become more reflexive and less pulled from memory goes down. Everything is done with less effort, less time and with increased efficiency of motion.

At Green belt the student is preparing to be a brown belt. There is a higher standard as it relates to quality of motion and command of all previous techniques. Green belt is the gate-keeper rank for brown belt. Kihon should be crisp, fast and effortless. The student should understand the key points to each basic and be able to explain the details of how the technique works. Self defense is more real-time and should be effective against a real attack. Speed is emphasized as is power. The lower ranks are about where to be, Green and above are more about how to be. Throws are executed with only the bare minimal effort needed for success. Kata is done with more focus and becomes more than just moving through the sequence. Intent is introduced so that each motion is meaningful. Tiatari (blending) is introduced in order to “round out” the corners of your motion and allow you to accept the energy of an attack rather than fight it. Kihon, nage (throws) and newaza start to blend together in seamless transitions allowing for greater speed and efficiency. Green belt has additional kata, throws, newaza and gojinjitsu added on top of all the other curriculum learned up to this point. At Green belt, the student has a large amount of information and part of the challenge is not only keeping it all, but to make it all look and feel better than it was before.

Brown Belt III and II continue the emphasis of Green with more curriculum added. By this time, nothing “new” is really learned. There are more kata and throws and ground work, but the students realizes that if the previous techniques were trained properly, the “new” material is very much the same as what they already know. Things less tangible become more important. The ability to make all your techniques come from muscle memory and reflex is what is strived for. Concepts like Ma (transition) Ma-ai (distancing), breath, soft eyes and zanshin (continuing spirit) are introduced and the kata, throws, ground work and gojinjitsu become a vehicle for these concepts to be practiced. These concepts are introduced with the hopes that they manifest themselves in the students motion by the time they are ready to test for Shodan. The Shoshin Ryu practitioner will begin to understand that all motion is related and judgment about other martial arts systems goes away since there is a core understanding of root motion. The ability to make connections between different motions becomes 2nd nature. Students will choose between two weapons, bo or nitan bo during this time and begin to drill the techniques associated with each weapon.

The last belt of the Mudansha (non-black belt) ranks is Ikkyu (Brown 1). There is little new techniques introduced, the focus is on making sure all your previous training is polished and fluent. Any kata in the Mudansha curriculum can be executed on command. All throws and groundwork is understood at an expert level and be applied in numerous scenarios. All reactions are reflex based. At this point, the student can deviate from the core curriculum and start to create spontaneously without losing effectiveness. All motions are full of intent and nothing is done without a purpose. Lines in motion are direct without any wasted motion. At Brown 1 the student has everything they need to make Shodan and the time at this rank is meant to allow for fermentation of everything they know. When one tests for Shodan and passes, then, and only then, are they considered a true beginner in the martial arts. The student is now thought of as having all the tools necessary to begin learning the curriculum of the Yudansha (black belt).