Probably one of the most hotly contested things among Martial Arts schools is the issues of "Test Fees". A test fee is when the student must pay to test for the next belt or stripe level. It is very controversial because every school has its own practice, some will charge down to each stripe given, while others will barely charge anything at all. And there is no "right or wrong", it all depends on the needs of the school and the integrity of the teacher.
"Belts (or the kyo/dan system of rankings) originated around the turn of the century by a Japanese martial artist, Jigoro Kano (1860-1938). Kano created Judo by modifying battlefield jujitsu or aikijutsu eliminating the really dangerous aspects and make it safe for practice as a sport. Judo, was introduced into Japanese grade schools and colleges. With so many new students, all in the highly structured public school environment, Kano decided that a grading and ranking system would help to encourage them, and would allow him to gauge their progress." *see source below
When I started training there were only three colored belts; white, green, brown and black. My instructor added two more belts (gold and purple), after his enrollment drastically increased. The added colored belts helped my instructor and his teacher levels differentiate instruction for the students. There was far too much content in the existing four levels to know immediately what each student was working on.
At the time, there were never any fees for a test or a belt change. It was considered a gift from my teacher for all the hard work and dedication to the Art. My wife Jennifer, who trained Kung Fu, had a similar experience. Students in that lineage could progress once every five years, there was no test. Five years of hard training was the test, and the student only needed to pay 30 dollars to cover the cost of the sash.
In my own school, my students are required to know a certain curriculum to move to the next level. This is both rewarding and challenging as a sensei. I get to see my students highlight their strengths and the proud faces of their parents. However, it is very difficult, I have to be prepared to fail students who are not ready to move on. There are times when I am asked to test a student who I do not feel is ready, they may not be attending regularly or working hard enough, but see their friends are going to test and ask to do the same. Sometimes I let them and sometimes to my surprise, they prove themselves.
There have been times when I have had to fail my students. Once I failed an entire class because they were not taking their training seriously, and plainly just going through the motions for the test, with no fire, no enthusiasm, and little clarity of motion. I could tell they just expected to pass. I have also had to fail my own son. It is incredibly difficult to fail students, no teacher wants to see their students disappointed or discouraged. It was a gut check for me each time, I hated doing it, but knew I would be lying to myself and their parents if I just moved them on to keep everyone happy, and my student wouldn't have learned a valuable lesson, work ethic.
That entire class of students came back for the next test and blew me away, they were on fire and sharp!
I was speechless, I literally had tears in my eyes. That entire class was fierce! My son learned that he has got to show up and work as hard if not harder than everyone else. He doesn't get to lay back and disengage because he is my son.
If you or your child ever fails a belt test, know that you now have one of the most profound learning experiences ahead of you. Failure is a necessary part of life, learn, come back fast and come back hard.
Read more on the history of ranking
Sensei and owner of Croton Karate. Sensei has been a student of Martial Arts for over 25 years. He knows every child in his dojo by name. Croton Karate is one big hardworking family.