Is Belt-Rank Revocable? Can And Should Rank Be Something That Can Be Taken Away?

In light of some recent news of an instructor revoking his student’s rank of black belt, I thought it would be interesting to explore the topic of revocation of rank.  Can/should a belt be revoked?  And if a belt HAS been revoked what ramifications does/should it have for the person whose belt has been revoked, and how does the revocation of a belt reflect on the instructor who awarded that belt to begin with?

Disclaimer: while this post was inspired by a recent event, the analysis has nothing to do with any specific instance or incident and is not a direct commentary on anything that has actually happened…

There are a couple of schools of thought on this topic:

  1. A belt is merely a symbol of skill acquired and time put in, therefore once you’ve been awarded a belt it can’t be revoked regardless of what you have or haven’t done.  It’s a one way procedure, once one has leveled up to a specific belt they can never return.
  2. If a practitioner does certain things deemed unacceptable by their instructor/association/society their instructor has a responsibility to distance themselves and their academy from a potentially toxic individual, part of doing this can involve revoking their rank.  This is similar to a professional organization revoking someone’s license because of misconduct.

A belt is at its most basic level an endorsement.  It is an endorsement of the belt-holder’s skills and in some schools of thought is also seen as an endorsement of their character.  Most instructors will hold a student back from their next belt if they feel that the student’s conduct or attitude is not befitting a person in a higher leadership role.

Once a person reaches the rank of black belt that filter of discernment should be so fine that if there are issues with a person’s character they should have never made it there.  But obviously plenty do.  And the truth is that high level grappling skills have absolutely nothing to do with a person’s moral character.

Opponents of revocation of rank say that it undermines the professor’s judgment.  If someone give their student rank and then says “No, I was wrong” what does that say about the person who awarded the rank?  Does it mean that their judgment was flawed?  And if it was flawed, what else is flawed?

Rank is a license.  It is a license to teach, and it is a license to exist in the same world as people of the same rank, along with the privileges and potential responsibilities that that carries.  If we were talking about catch wrestling or sambo (both martial arts without belt systems) this wouldn’t be an issue.

Is the belt something that can be revoked?  I don’t have a definitive answer, but many people think they do.  What do YOU think?


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