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How to tie your martial arts belt

by Mark Lamendola, 4th Degree Black Belt

This is much like tying a necktie, really.
  1. Fold the belt in two.
  2. Open the belt toward you, placing the peak of the fold just below your navel.
  3. Wrap the belt around behind you, and bring both ends in front.
  4. As you wrap it, slide the right handside under the lefthand side--so it looks like one piece of belt from behind.
  5. In front, cross the left end over the right end. You now have an X in front. The left end is now to your right and the right end is now to your left.
  6. Bring the left und under the belt and back up over it.
  7. Cross the right end over the left end, wrap it under the left end, and pull.

This is how I tie my belt. In some schools, they tie it exactly the opposite way--but that is very awkward. Some also cross the belt in back, so it looks like you have two belt pieces instead of one. I think that looks sloppy and I doubt very much that was ever the way people wore their belts before the Americanization of the martial arts.

More about belts

Traditional Kung Fu has no belt system. In the USA, most martial arts schools have had to adopt belt systems for a number of reasons. You may have noticed MMA fighters don't have a belt system. Think about why that is.

Most schools with a belt system award them when a student can correctly complete a kata or form as part of a belt exam. Most Kung Fu schools do not do katas or forms. Some do. I have never used these in my classes. When I have awarded belts, I have done so based on written test requirements that a student must pass. But just passing those requirements won't ensure the student gets the belt. The student must also be able to demonstrate a certain competency level in sparring. The other students try to trip him up (or her up). Nobody "plays nice" just so somebody else can get a belt.

In many schools, you dance your way up the belts. In others, you fight your way up. In some schools, belts are looked down upon as an exterior motivation that the student should not need.

In some schools, a belt exam costs a hefty fee. In other schools, the instructor certifies you as qualified to wear a given belt and you can then wear it if you buy it.

When I taught classes in my own school, there was only one belt. You either earned a black belt or you didn't have any belt. And the student never paid for that belt. I presented it after the student had passed the written requirements and the sparring requirements. Anyone who could pass those definitely deserved recognition.

A good instructor wants to help you learn. A bad instructor wants to impress you. A good school helps you learn the martial art. A bad school sticks you with having to learn many dances (katas or forms) so you can pay for yet another belt with each one. Now, I am not saying katas and forms are bad. They are a viable teaching technique that an instructor may or may not choose to employ.

In my school, we didn't have formal katas. We would, instead, drill on a specific technique using a partner. My students were required to practice the technique on their own, using imaginary partners of differing sizes. Yep, that's really a kata. We just didn't call it that. The reason was to steer clear of the dancing for dollars situation that characterizes so many martial arts schools.

Unfortunatly, katas are often misused as a way to milk the student for money. How can you tell? If the kata for the next belt exam is just more complex but doesn't really reflect a higher level of actual fighting skill, then you're being milked for belt money. If you want to brag about your belts to other people who are doing the same thing, then you may wan to put up with this.

My experience with Kung Fu instructors in general (both as a student and as a visiting instructor to another school) is they have a high level of confidence and really don't have a need to win anyone's approval. Nor do they see their students as needing to be reassured through a huge number of belt exams that they are learning something.

Still, being able to say you are a black belt is a reward in itself. Especially if your fighting skills are so good you can easily prove that without having the belt on.

In any good school, the instructor(s) will help the good student find his or her own way in the art. In a good school, the goal isn't belts. It's skill in the art. In a great school, the goal is to build the person and the skill in the art is only a means of getting there.

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