MartialArtsCenterScottsdale, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center


How You Think

“Your thinking directly affects how you perceive and react to experiences.  It is essential to learn how to think.”

Sensei Ray Hughes

Philosophy 1.v4, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center

The Process of awarding Tradition Belt Rank

By Ray Hughes                                                                                                                              August 20, 2023

This is a re-edited 2016 article I wrote titled “How Traditional Belt Ranks are Awarded.”

Understanding the Criteria for Awarding Traditional Belt Ranks in Karate Schools

In this article, I will provide an overview of how belt ranks are awarded within traditional and robust karate schools. It’s important to acknowledge the nuances involved in granting rank to practitioners, recognizing that extremes exist on both ends of the spectrum. On one side, there are schools that exhibit remarkably low standards, bestowing black belts in as little as a year and a half, even to students as young as 6 to 8 years old. On the other side, certain schools uphold such rigorous criteria that they often result in the majority of their students failing to progress.

What many newcomers to martial arts may not realize is that belt ranks are predominantly granted based on a student’s potential achievements, rather than adhering strictly to proficiency benchmarks for each rank.

While proficiency in physical technique and martial understanding holds significant weight in determining belt ranks, other factors come into play, such as maturity, wisdom, training duration, and both physical and mental potential. It’s important to note that, from a self-defense perspective, success against an adversary goes beyond mere physical domination. Most self-defense scenarios demand a comprehensive grasp of self-defense principles, extending beyond just physical prowess. This is crucial because adversaries are often stronger and more powerful than the intended target.

Although specific guidelines exist for each rank, the proficiency expectations vary for each individual student. The objective is to challenge each student to achieve their potential for the given rank. Due to the distinct mental and physical skill levels possessed by each student, this process differs for everyone.

As administrators of rank, we continuously assess each student’s progress. This evaluation occurs throughout regular training, during the pre-testing phase leading up to an examination, and, naturally, during the examination itself. As we observe students during these phases, we evaluate their mental and physical potential relative to the rank they’re striving for. Beyond the physical prerequisites for the rank, we consider the effort the student invests, their duration of training, maturity, and any unique factors that might impact the assessment.

The reality is that less athletically inclined students require more time to attain a higher rank compared to their more athletic counterparts. We openly address this reality with our student base. It’s crucial for individuals to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, even if life seems unfair. Accepting this reality influences belt ranks. If someone denies or harbors resentment about the inherent unfairness of their circumstances, it hampers their progress through the ranks. A true warrior possesses the intelligence to overcome challenges using the tools at their disposal, even when the odds are stacked against them. These skills translate to success in everyday life.

Every rank level is subject to various interpretations and nuances. Trust between students, parents, and instructors is paramount for making appropriate rank determinations. Traditional instructors prioritize the best interests of each student and understand the pitfalls of lowering standards simply to appease students. Their goal is to empower students to achieve greatness rather than cultivate a sense of entitlement just for meeting the minimum requirements. They impart the importance of introspection in the face of failure rather than assigning blame to others. These lessons cannot be conveyed if standards are relaxed to ensure every student passes. Conversely, a high failure rate among students doesn’t effectively teach these skills either.

Rank serves as a necessary guidepost. It provides achievable targets for students to strive toward and offers insight into their progress within the broader context of martial art development. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that rank can also foster ego and other emotional traits that need to be managed.

The student’s philosophy should revolve around not fixating on rank. It’s the Sensei’s responsibility to handle such matters. By training diligently, rank will naturally follow suit. It’s preferable to be slightly under ranked than over ranked. Nonetheless, it’s essential to recognize the inner battle regarding rank. We all grapple with controlling our egos. Proper philosophical training, coupled with experiencing these internal struggles, cultivates skills that extend beyond the dojo and into other aspects of life.

In conclusion, belt ranks encompass more than just physical proficiency, although physical skill remains a significant factor in rank determination. A holistic evaluation of mental and physical development must inform the belt promotion process. Lowering standards doesn’t enhance mental acumen; high standards must be maintained, even if it results in failures. Striking a balance is key—prioritizing the growth of individual students over the pride of instructors or organizations.

Black Belt Pic, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center
Traditional 1 1024x429, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center
Adult Karate, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center
Youth Karate 3, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center
Black Belt Gi Scaled 1024x617, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center
Karate Belts 1024x682, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center
Kids5, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center

WHAT IS A TRADITIONAL MARTIAL ART SCHOOL?                                                            February 24, 2023

By Ray Hughes

(I wrote this article many decades ago and felt it needed to be dusted off and re-released.)

Within the Scottsdale Martial Arts Center, Inc., a commitment to tradition is deeply ingrained. The karate program and other arts offered here remain staunchly traditional. Yet, the question arises: What truly characterizes a traditional approach? Surprisingly, even among traditional martial art school owners, this is a subject of debate, and some go as far as to argue about who embodies the most tradition. This may sound incredible, but it’s a reality.

In my perspective, a traditional program encompasses two fundamental elements. Firstly, it boasts a lineage that traces back to antiquity, complete with unique protocols. Secondly, it holds a distinctive philosophy governing its perception and handling of specific situations. Today, certain martial art schools claim to have amalgamated the best techniques from various sources into a superior system. These contemporary establishments market themselves as modern schools focusing solely on the most effective “moves,” discarding what might seem like insignificant training. Regrettably, these nontraditional schools fail to grasp the overarching theme present in traditional schools—a theme rooted in the necessity of these techniques for survival in eras past. Training systems were formulated based on practical success, which justifies the inclusion of seemingly mundane drills in the traditional curriculum. However, these factors alone don’t suffice to classify a school as traditional. True traditional schools embrace a unique philosophy and culture.

Understanding the Philosophies of Traditional Schools

  1. Money

One aspect pertains to the school’s financial approach. If monetary concerns become paramount, the school loses its essence. Nontraditional and contemporary schools often employ contracts to maximize profits. Their focus is more on financial gains than on fostering genuine student development. This is not to say that they don’t care about their students; rather, they operate with different priorities. Naturally, they might never openly admit this.

  1. Motivation

Rather than teaching the profound discipline of sticking to decisions that align with one’s best interests, some schools resort to contracts to motivate students to continue training. Achieving this through skilled, passionate instructors is a complex task compared to relying on the leverage of a contract. Additionally, less experienced and enthusiastic instructors frequently turn to entertainment as a teaching strategy. This brings us to the second point: teaching tactics. Nontraditional schools emphasize entertainment over discipline. This approach stems from instructors lacking experience in teaching discipline and a desire to avoid the discomfort that arises when instilling discipline. It’s easier to entertain students with quick rewards, allowing them to do as they please, rather than teaching them the harsh truths of life. Thus, they motivate students through swift rank progression. This leads to situations where six-year-olds hold black belts, a common occurrence in such schools. These establishments cater to the emotional desires of individuals, failing to instill true discipline. In contrast, discipline is the cornerstone of a traditional school. How can one defend themselves or navigate the real world without it? Imparting discipline, particularly to children, requires substantial expertise and experience. Decades are spent learning how to understand students, selecting the right words, and delivering them in ways that motivate action, even when students are resistant. Instructors must also possess the experience and courage to handle the discomfort that arises while nurturing discipline. This includes telling students they’re not ready for the next belt or addressing concerned parents. Traditional schools teach students to handle setbacks and life’s fluctuations, instilling resilience. This process involves time, hard work, and facing disappointment—entertainment-based training systems can’t achieve this. Although traditional schools may have entertaining aspects, entertainment isn’t the means of teaching discipline.

  1. Sense of Accomplishment

Lastly, a profound sense of accomplishment accompanies the training in ancient ways. Understanding these practices fosters respect for tradition. Although hard to articulate, this sentiment is authentic. Rank progression hinges on time and age, as true learning takes time; quick knowledge acquisition only yields a false sense of reality. If standards are high and techniques demanding, time and effort are requisite. In a traditional school, climbing the ranks demands extensive time investment. Students receive guidance and philosophy to cultivate a strong work ethic and perseverance toward their goals. This education cultivates not only skilled martial artists but also equips practitioners with life success tools. Life is inherently challenging and unfair, and students require genuine skills, not illusory ones.

In conclusion, not all traditional schools are equal, and contemporary schools with long-term success are scarce. The Scottsdale Martial Arts Center has thrived for nearly 40 years. We are the longest-standing martial art school in Scottsdale, devoid of binding contracts and the spectacle of six-year-old black belts. The traditional path proves effective.


Traditional 1 1024x429, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center
Philosophy, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center
Philosophy Pic, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center
NewIgniteSchoolWallpaper 1 1024x576, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center
Hapkidowallpaperblkwht, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center
Black Belt Pic, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center
Virtualkidsmablkwht, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center
Warriors Scaled 1024x364, Scottsdale Martial Arts Center


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