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neil kenyon
neil kenyon's picture
Black belts for children.

I was chatting to my brother last night about the old grading system we went through and how it took years to get anywhere near black belt and how there where no children with black belts in those days. We then discussed the issue of children ( under 16 years old) attaining a black belt. I am not fully comfortable with the idea of 12 and 13 year olds at 2nd and 3rd dan. 

Without any prejudice to our younger students, what are people's thoughts on this subject.

regards Neil. 

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

Do not give a FULL blackbelt to anyone under the age of 16, the only ones that do are belt factories, I do give Junior Dan grades which are a stepping stone to the Adult levels. I also have 2 separate syllabus 1 for Children and 1 for Adults.

Wastelander's picture

My Sensei will test children as young as 14 for Jun-Shodan, which is a pre-black-belt rank denoted by a black belt with a white stripe down the center. He will not test anyone for Shodan before the age of 16, and a 16 year old has to pass the exact same test as a 26 year old. Interestingly, that exact situation (a 16 year old and a 26 year old testing for Shodan) is going to be happening this summer--wish me luck! :P

I will mention that, apparently, my Sensei's instructor used to have the same rules, but has relaxed them over time. Now, he has a few kids under 16 with Shodan ranks in his dojo. I suppose that, eventually, you've trained for so long and been promoted to such a high rank that the importance of a Shodan ranking is diminished. Looking back at history, Shodan really didn't mean all that much when the black belt started being used in judo, anyway--you could take a fall for demonstrations, and beginners could ask you some questions--so it stands to reason that it likely wouldn't have meant all that much when it was transferred to karate. Honestly, pretty much anybody can meet that standard in a couple years of practice. I think that, over time, the importance of Shodan has been inflated--whether rightly or wrongly isn't really relevent--so our expectations have changed since the inception of the black belt. In the end, it's really all dependant upon the importance each individual instructor places on that rank.

ky0han's picture


it totally depends on what you understand is being worthy of a black belt.

If you feel it is just the technical excellence that makes someone a black belt than by all means you can give it to everyone that meets the technical standards even 10 year old kids. Or has it something to do with live experience or maturity than your students have to reach a certain age to be awarded a black belt.

If you understand the Shodan to be just the beginning than it is possible to award your students with a black belt after lets say 2 years of training. If you understand the black belt to be a high rank than you let your students work for it at least 7 to 10 years.

Regards Holger

neil kenyon
neil kenyon's picture

Thank you all for your thoughts and comments. 


stevem's picture

I agree with Holger. If, within your club and the ethos your club has, a student demonstrates that they satisfy whatever your criteria is then they're worthy of whatever rank that criteria allows. That being the case, age shouldn't matter and I mean that either way - if you start saying anything below a specific age is too young then does the reverse occur and someone becomes too old? Sititng here, typing this through my 'never had to write a syllabus or run a club' rose-tinted glasses, I do feel that anyone who decides to train, regardless of age etc, should be able to rise through the ranks.

I say that as a member of club where I gained by black belt at age 12 and another student gained theirs in their 70s. By the same token the jujitsu club I attend has a VERY demanding black belt syllabus. Unless you're physically up to it, you won't attain that level, as it really does push even the fittest of students... in fact the club lost a cracking older student who felt they couldn't get that far and grew disillusioned. Quite sad, but it happens. Whether that speaks more about the club, the syllabus or the student I'll leave for others to judge. I've met some great students, excellent fighters etc, who wore black belts yet couldn't teach you how to sit down if their life depended on it let alone teach you a karate technique. I also know black belts who will never kick head height or perform the jump in Unsu, but they can teach a 5-year-old kid with attention problems how to perform Heian Shodan.

Overall I'd suggest it really does depend what you want from someone in your club who wears a black belt.

Mark B
Mark B's picture
I have two separate syllabus - junior & senior. As with the question of teaching application to junior students a syllabus aimed at adults with all the related material can hardly be appropriate for children. For the same reason don't teach adults and children together - either groups training would have to be compromised. If a junior works through the syllabus requirements and grades Shodan it is a junior grade. Their belt would be black with a white tag. When they move up to the adult class they would still Wear there black belt. When they pass their first grade on the adult syllabus the white tag would be replaced with a yellow, and so it would continue until they achieved Shodan as an adult.