The subject of belts and ranking is like so many things a complicated thing because though they are supposed to be straight forward they can mean different things to different people. In Krav Maga, it is no different. There are those who follow the original belt system developed originally for Judo, like us. There are those who follow the Patch system originally developed in the great split of the 90s when IKMF was formed. There are those who say there should be no ranking cuz it does not matter on the street. And there are those who came from a different martial arts background and simply took the ranking system for that and used it for Krav Maga.
Let’s Start at the beginning. Originally there was simply student and master and some way to indicate the difference other than skill. Then as martial arts started to popularize and become more about sport and less about life or death there needed to be a way to track progress and differentiate both skill and time at practice. At some point in the late 20s or 30s Judo’s founder created more or less the modern belt system. And that was that. From there on almost every martial arts style adopted some form of the progressive ranking system using colored belts or sashes. In a lot of styles each colour represents something other than the physical, it others it simply means the next stage.
Back to Krav Maga. If you have read into UTKM a little more you would know when we developed our curriculum we stuck with the traditional belt system as we believe to the lamen it is easier to understand than the patch system. The patch system was developed to appeal to the more military oriented nature of Krav Maga but to most people trying to explain this system can be a bit annoying. But everyone understands what a white or brown or black belt is. So in following Krav Magas original nature, we decided to keep it simple. Additionally, if Krav Maga is simple then we shouldn’t need so many levels to get through the curriculum. Advanced progress can simply be marked by Dans anyways, which are more an indication of continued progress, skill and dedication than anything else.
To the people who say there shouldn’t be ranks, I would say that they really dont understand humans. People who say this usually come from a special forces background and are already physically, and potentially mentally stronger than most people. They may find themselves in a new school and doing far better than average. Thus, due to ego, they feel they deserve more. But they are forgetting that ranks are far more than just skill. They are right though. There are no belts on the street (unless you are wearing one and use it as a weapon of the opportunity of course!) but this is a two-way street. Being a high rank doesn’t matter if you are overwhelmed and being a low rank doesn’t matter if you escape to safety. But humans are funny creatures and we like to measure everything, including our progress. We also like to compare to other people of similar ranks. We are social creatures and thus we crave a system with earnable measurable progression in relation to those around us.
To the last group of people who teach Krav Maga but use some other or random ranking system you are either being disrespectful or care more about business than the actual style, you are teaching. Just my 2 cents and I’ll leave it at that.
So, Belts. What are they even good for?
The obvious has already been stated; Measurable progression. But what does that even mean? One thing to consider is one of UTKMS main goals, to produce people, not belts. People are the product of a school, not their ranks. A belt usually indicates both the completion of minimum time and practical requirements accompanied by an acceptable demonstration of skill for the level in question.
For example, did they show the required attendance or attitude? Did they show the required skills? Did they pass the test? In some systems, it’s simply a matter of going through the motions. In others like ours, we expect you to be able to show us you can really defend yourself while tired and at each level adding the additional skills you have learned at each new level.
Simple, yes? well no. I could have 2 yellow belts, that both passed the test but one is clearly better than the other. This should not discourage anyone, rather show an individual that there are those bigger stronger and faster and that for them the best self-defense is avoidance knowing there are such people out there. Unfortunately, due to our nature, this often discourages people.
In styles with competitions this certainly can be very discouraging but in Krav Maga, it should not. The difference without the sports aspect, the only reason you should be wanting to progress is for yourself. Though really, this sentiment should be applied to all styles. So if you are stuck at a certain rank for a long time all it means is show up more and train harder.
The reality is, self-defense is for your self. It is so that you know what you are capable of in any given situation and you have the confidence to do something should the need arise.
At UTKM we break the skills up based on rank. Beginner is the white belts. Novice is yellow and orange, and advanced is green and up.
When it comes to Krav Maga everyone always wants to lean the fancy stuff which is what a lot of Israeli Instructors focus on. But again, if you are not special forces then you are not a naturally gifted individual physically and mentally and we need to build you up properly so that you don’t hurt your self overestimating your ability.
This is why I believe in ranks. To let you know where you are at so that you dont get overwhelmed in conflict and focus more on the avoidance and situational awareness.
If you can barely punch or kick, then learning to do gun disarms (though easy from a technical standpoint) may just be dangerous. I know you imagine yourself the next John Wick or Hit Girl (Links contain Violence and language) but being delusional is just plain dangerous. I know it hurts your ego to hear this but when it comes to self-defense and your life, there is no room for such things. If you want to learn the cool stuff then put in the time, show us you can do it and you too can learn.
But I want to feel I progressed now!
7 ranks, as a basic, should seem like enough? Or is it too much? BJJ only has 5 ranks. Yet BJJ is quickly becoming one of the more popular styles globally. One thing they understood, is that people are impatient and want to see marked progress now. So they added 4 additionally tape stripes per rank, and even more for the kids. Unlike the days of old where progress meant surviving a life or death battle today just means feeling useful, and happy with a sense of purpose. Before our purpose was just trying to survive. But now our purpose may mean getting to the next rank in a given style. The thing is people are more and more impatient no thanks to social media.
Enter the stripe or half progression. Now people seem to expect progression from JUST showing up. If I show up I will get another stripe. Thus it feeds our ego and our need for acceptance among other things. Yet going this way often dilutes the style. Fortunately, BJJ is still holding strong but there are concerns that standards will fall if ranks are given out too often and too easily. But does it even matter if it’s not about life or death? I think it does still at least.
For Krav Maga, it still is about life or death, survival and much more. There really is no room for ego. Yet if many schools want to survive they need to give the people what they want? right? Well no. If you as a Krav Maga school do your best to remind people why they are leanrning then it should be less about their next rank and more about how they feel about their own progress.
Are they better today than they were yesterday? Delayed gratification goes a long way especially if you ever need to use Krav in a real-life scenario.
I know you want your next rank, I do too (in BJJ) but I care less about the rank now and more about getting better and so should you.
A rank, a belt, a stripe is simply a milestone in a journey. It is not always about skill, but it is definitely about time and attitude.
If you feel you deserved the next rank but haven’t gotten it just stick to it, remind yourself why you started in the first place. In Krav, the reasons are often a little more than just I always wanted to do it, or I just want to do something fun while getting in shape. Often it is things like, I was assaulted, My house was broken into or I was bullied. If those are any of the reasons you came to Krav then the rank doesn’t matter at all.
So remember, no matter what rank you are. It’s about building people ( yourself) not just about getting another belt color or stripe. Check your ego at the door, and just keep training and like everything in time, your next rank will come.