What is grading and what is required?
To grade is to take an examination for the next level, to be awarded the next coloured belt. The belts in CFTS begin at beginner’s level which is white. The first awarded coloured belt is blue and is usually taken after only a few short weeks of training. Subsequent grading examinations take place at three monthly intervals if the student is ready.
To grade for any colour is a reward for diligent practice and not a right. We train to get better at karate and to grade successfully is proof that a student has achieved this. It is not the colour of the belt that is important it is how good you are and how much you have improved that is important.
It may be pertinent here to point out CFTS’s philosophy on grades;
Taking blue belt isn’t too difficult at all. It is more a formality. It is a final decider before a student commits to training regularly before buying a karate suit, joining CFTS and buying a licence.
The next level of CFTS Shotokan is Red, which follows three months after blue. A red belt is still a novice grade where one is introduced to more moves and techniques.
Orange and Yellow belts are about learning the basic moves and combinations a bit like learning to dance. To achieve this, a student should be training twice a week by the time they are yellow belt. The grading syllabus broadens here and simply an hour a week or visiting the dojo once a week is not enough to learn new skills let alone improve what they already know.
Junior grades through the middle grades have an intermediate belt system where they wear stripes of the next coloured belt on each end of their belt. To grade for intermediate belts is easier for a child. This system was devised when the amount of children grew to the level it is at today. It is to reward them for progress in easier steps rather than having to jump from one belt to the next in the steps that adults do. It aids their confidence and self-belief to grade this way. However if a child can prove themselves to be worthy of the full belt, it can be awarded (called Double Grading).
Green and purple belt through to purple and white (the intermediate grades) is about making those dance moves work and it is now that a student should be able to make their karate look like a defensive fighting system with controlled aggression. Developing stamina, strength and a better technique should occur through these grades and the reward for achieving this is taking Brown belt which is recognised globally as being of a high rank.
By the time a student is a brown belt, their karate should be effective. It should work! Not to train often enough in the dojo nor to practice at all at home means this will not be achieved. A student should be in a position to defend themselves against someone of the same age or sex that doesn’t train in a martial art and without enough dedication this is not possible.
After Brown belt gradings are by invitation which is only extended when a student’s instructor believe they have trained well enough and often enough and improved sufficiently to warrant an attempt at going up a level. From Brown belt to Brown and White is a minimum of six months and a similar time gap before undertaking the next level which is Brown Belt with a red stripe.
A Brown and red belt (1st Kyu) is the final grading before the work begins for taking the much coveted Black belt. At Brown and Red a student of karate should regard themselves as apprentice black belt. By the time they are a black belt (Dan Grade) they should be in a position to deal with any threatening situation out on the street. This may simply be by having the courage to walk away from a bad situation or to diffuse a situation by calming an aggressor down or maybe by simply running away. Only as a final resort should a black belt have to fight to defend themselves but as a CFTS Black belt they should be able to do so against over 90% of the population. It is always worth remembering that there is always someone more aggressive, more capable than you who in any case may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs so it is wise not to be over confident. (Remember the fifth line of the Dojo Kun - Hitotsu! Kekki no yu o imashimuru koto! - One! To guard against impetuous courage).
1st Dan (Shodan)
Grading for Black belt (Shodan) isn’t just about being able to defend one’s self. A candidate undertaking such an examination must also have a background knowledge of Shotokan and its history and terminology.
2nd Dan (Nidan)
Being invited to take 2nd level Black belt (Nidan) comes after two years of wearing a Black belt if one can demonstrate sufficient improvement and a deeper knowledge of not just Shotokan but other karate styles too.
3rd Dan (Sandan)
Third Dan (Sandan) used to be classed as the ultimate grading which brings you in to instructor level and takes place a minimum of three more years training. Here one must demonstrate all Shotokan moves and techniques and a deep knowledge of not just Karate but other martial arts too.
4th Dan (Yondan)
To grade for fourth dan, after a further four or more years training, a Black belt has to be capable of performing any of the thirty Shotokan kata and be able to name all the moves within them. They must also be able to demonstrate the purpose of each and every move within any of those kata.
5th Dan (Godan)
The final physical grading a student of karate undertakes is fifth dan, which takes place five or more years from the candidate's previous grading. Here, part of the grading is to write an essay of thousands of words on a subject on martial arts set by the examining board. The physical part of the grading is to host a course on an innovative subject which must also include some knowledge of other martial arts or styles of karate.
After this grade, the next Dan grade levels come at ever-increasing time scales and are honorary for continued development both personally and that of his association, club and students.