By Jose R. Villanueva

As originally published on the Listen & Be Heard Weekly1, March 16, 2005.

Often times people go into a Martial Arts school, and they see the ranking system of colored belts displayed on the wall. Unfortunately, they do not have a complete understanding of what a belt represents. They misconstrue the actual meaning behind "belts" or "belt ranking systems." Parents look at the "belt," and they want their child to have a black belt. There is a question that needs to be answered so that any general public would understand: What is the significance of a "belt?" There are layers of importance. First, setting and achieving goals. Second, the development of the different levels of skills. Finally, the acknowledgement of having achieved a certain level of proficiency.

A ranking system of "belts" is part and parcel to the setting of goals. An instructor and a student in combination set goals for each belt rank. There is usually an average time period that has been time tested for each belt level. When a student sets a goal, and he accomplishes it, he knows that he can be successful. It teaches a student that he not only can set goals and achieve in the Martial Arts, but he can do the same in other activities in life.

A belt represents the potential skill that can be developed. Each level has exercises and techniques that are particular to that belt rank. A student must be able to have the conditioning and apply the skills that are inherent to every level that he passes. Overtime a student is continuing to raise his abilities, and going up the belt ranks. It finally culminates in an ability to competently defend oneself.

There is a very important significance to the meaning of a "belt." It is necessary to the final completion after every belt rank level. A student trains very hard to develop his skills, and he is given a belt, a certificate (certifies one's accomplishment on paper), and his instructor's acknowledgement. The final piece of the puzzle that solidifies a student's accomplishment is the instructor's words, "Congratulations! You've earned it." It is imperative; otherwise, a student will never feel like he fully accomplished the goal.

A "belt" is a physical item, but it is the significances that give it meaning. We assign value to things, and without that value it really represents nothing. People can put so much attention on the actual physical object that they lose the "true meaning of a belt." A belt is an object that cannot accomplish goals, fight for you, or defend for you. It is only "you" that can make your abilities a reality.