Qualities and Characteristics
of the Belt Ranks
Attaining rank is often a motivational
goal for the majority of martial artists. The value of rank achieved
is often different from school to school. Ed Parker realized this to
be a problem. So he created his teaching curriculum to be taught in
a consistent manner in order to establish uniformity within his American
Kenpo association. Since his death, this uniformity has greatly changed.
The following qualities and characteristics have been compiled from,
Kenpo Karate Student Booklet, by Eric D. Lamkin, 1992, and The Qualities
and Characteristics of Rank, by Larry G. Tatum, Black Belt Magazine,
Yellow through 1st Degree Black
(from Kenpo Karate Student Booklet, by
Eric D. Lamkin).
The following are the objectives to achieve the qualities
and characteristics of each belt:
A Yellow Belt practitioner is given an introduction to the American
Kenpo System while developing a working knowledge of the basics –
the foundation of the Art.
An Orange Belt practitioner must strive for the development of proper
form so as to enhance the effectiveness of the basics.
A Purple Belt practitioner must strive for the development of speed
achieved through economy of motion by executing basics with proper form.
A Blue Belt practitioner must possess a proper display of power achieved
by the correct application of form plus speed of the basics.
A Green Belt practitioner must strive for the development of timing
achieved by the proper application of breath control.
3rd Degree Brown Belt
A 3rd Degree Brown Belt practitioner must strive for the development
and display of focused strikes achieved by adding power to breath control.
2nd Degree Brown Belt
A 2nd Degree Brown Belt practitioner must enhance his/her physical fitness
in order to increase ones stamina and to make one more tolerant of pain.
1st Degree Brown Belt
A 1st Degree Brown Belt practitioner must strive for the development
of mental skills by possessing a working knowledge of the principles,
concepts and theories of American Kenpo Karate.
1st Degree Black Belt
A 1st Degree Black Belt must demonstrate his/her expertise in American
Kenpo by properly applying these three formulae:
Knowledge of Basics + Form + Speed =
Power + Breath Control = Focus
Focus + Physical Conditioning + Working Knowledge of Concepts, Principles
and Theories = Expertise in individual self-defense
1st Degree Black Belt through
10th Degree Black Belt
(from The Qualities and Characteristics
of Rank, by Larry G. Tatum)
First Degree Black Belt
A first-degree black belt (junior instructor) has achieved a certain
level of physical expertise. Understanding the concepts and principles
of motion, he has become a formidable fighter defensively and offensively.
However, his skills outstrip his ability to communicate and teach, so
teaching is essential to any further progress.
Second Degree Black Belt
For the second-degree black belt (associate instructor), the ability
to teach has begun to reinforce newfound skills. He has discovered that
"to teach is to learn," and this is accomplished by a re-evaluation
of past mistakes and bad habits. A new sense of responsibility appears,
and he must begin to cultivate an image of authority within the school.
Third Degree Black Belt
At third degree (senior instructor), the black belt fins that first
and second-degree black belt look to him for guidance and direction
in the execution of techniques. He now has the authority within the
school environment to organize a curriculum, express policy and set
Fourth Degree Black Belt
At fourth-degree black belt (head instructor), the black belt acquires
the privilege of overriding others within the school after careful discussion,
as well as a more mature ability to communicate that allows teaching
first, second and third degree black belts. Together with these responsibilities,
the fourth-degree black belt assists the master instructor in seminars,
demonstration and other public functions at which the school and the
art are represented. His physical expertise should be noticeably above
that of more junior black belts, particularly in terms of speed, power
Fifth Degree Black Belt
The fifth-degree black belt (associate professor), has reached the level
at which he begins to teach the art beyond the realm of the school.
Although the school curriculum has been carefully spelled out, he is
no longer bound by it and has acquired the ability to tailor it to fit
individual student needs. At fifth degree, in short, the black belt
now moves on to a broader base of responsibility.
Sixth Degree Black Belt
The sixth-degree black belt (professor) has now reached a level at which
he can not only teach the art but also begin to positively formulate
its concepts and principles outside his school. As a result, caution
becomes imperative. He has advanced to a critical point in his art,
and it is at this point that his accumulation of time in grade becomes
his defense against teaching what he cannot later retract.
Seventh Degree Black Belt
At seventh-degree black belt (senior professor), a noticeable change
takes place in the black belt’s understanding of his art. He becomes
capable of ascertaining the problems that lie within the teaching of
the curriculum. Working from a broader base and beginning to teach locally,
nationally and internationally what was once taught mainly at home,
he now recognizes that his former ways may not work abroad and must
be tailored to particular minds, cultures and agendas. He has realized
that while the language of the art remains the same, the varied applications
of that language must be fitted to the environment. In brief, a seventh
degree who goes out to teach in the world must have learned to tailor
his teachings to the place and the people.
Eighth Degree Black Belt
At eighth-degree black belt (associate master), the black belt’s
concerns shift to exploring areas of physical mastership that were not
visible to him in the past. His art eventually begins to expand physically
and mentally, so much so that a definite physical change becomes evident,
expressing the fact that he has begun to settle into a physical mastery.
Thus, movements are less contrived because they are in the process of
becoming embodied within him.
Ninth Degree Black Belt
At ninth-degree black belt (master of the arts), the black belt has
reached to a level where, at any given moment, he can choreograph a
technique by reaching a "super-conscious" level. No longer
separate from the art he has internalized, he has at last embodied it
and become an element of it. What he teaches and what he physically
embodies are indivisible. His contributions to the martial arts inside
and outside the community are many, and his rank is backed by at least
25 years of sacrifice and service.
Tenth Degree Black Belt
Tenth-degree black belt (senior master of the arts) represent a lifelong
endeavor to help all humankind. The rank is so respected by peers and
students that the person’s word affects the course of the art.
(The titles for the 10 ranks of black
belt and the basic ideas of the differences between them came from Ed
I have added a few needed definitions and explanations and provided
interpretations.) - Larry G. Tatum