Recently there has been discussion on one of the internet forums regarding the acceptable age for awarding a black belt.
The range generally put forward was 18, as the level of maturity was considered one of the requirements for meeting the criteria.
Interesting, as many places around the world allow people to raise children, drive cars and go to war at ages less than this.
The awarding of a black belt in most systems of martial arts is for the attainment of a level of skill and understanding of the basic techniques, concepts and principles of the school. It is considered just the start of the mastery of the art and forms the standpoint from which the real understanding and mastery will begin.
In several cases commentators have referred to the inability of the young to develop full power in their execution of the techniques and yet I have witnessed, both in person and from watching online video demonstrations, adults that appear to have little understanding, poor execution and questionable power when demonstrating their technical proficiency.
In fact, if we are to accept the lack of power argument, we should also put an upper age limit on the awarding of a black belt. The older we get we lose strength, speed and flexibility, thus reducing our effectiveness.
In my own school, which is highly respected for producing high quality and technically proficient students of Muay Thai, BJJ and MMA, I do not have a set age parameter for the awarding of a black belt. However, I have very strict requirements in the skill level that must be demonstrated. The minimum period that any student spends in developing the skills to reach black belt is 5 years in my MMA and freestyle Martial Arts systems and 10 years for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
For students who start very young (I only take students 5 and above) I have designed the curriculum so that it takes 6 to 7 years to acquire the black belt qualification in the Freestyle Martial Arts Arts and MMA systems.
In addition all students in my systems only receive a probationary black belt level, at first, which is eligible to become a fully certified 1st degree black belt after 1 year if they have met the requirements.
In my mind, experience and opinion it is the time spent quality training and the expertise acquired that should determine the awarding of the black belt not an age. Age gives no indication of a student’s ability; as people mature and learn at different rates, particularly in this era when the old preconceived dogmas of capabilities have either been or are being broken down.
As martial artists we have to question the accepted dogma, bring our ourselves into a 21st century mentality and remind ourselves of the benefits that martial arts training provides; benefits that go far beyond the self defence aspects of the art and which will influence any student at any age, benefits that, if gained in a balanced manner with the other aspects of living a rewarding life, would assist in developing a well rounded and very powerful character that may prepare a student for anything that life throws at them.