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Jason Lester
Jason Lester's picture
Selling Dan grades for money

Hi everyone,


this is something that has really bothered and angered me for some time now and need to get this off my chest.

I cant speak for anyone else but it took me five long hard years to gain my black belt, blood on wood, sweat and tears, my examination took in total five hours, i know this varies from style, association etc.

Anyway, some time ago i had a student who wanted to reach black belt as quickly as possible in order to achieve his goel etc, as i explained more times than were necessary that karate is not about grades and belts, but he kept asking when his next grade would be.

At that time myself and my club were a member of a typical so called governing body association that offered insurance etc, in the end i told the adult student he was no longer welcome at my club and to look elsewhere, in which he did!

He was a blue belt at the time and with a total of 72 hours karate training, less than 12 months, i will make this clear, our grading system runs yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown, black.

Within two months of leaving my club he was graded 1st Dan black belt by this certain karate governing body! So, say 14 months karate training if that with no previous karate experience, go to the above in question, buy a black belt for a £100. Happy days!

Since then the student has gone on to open a club of their own and teach, what exactly?

Upon hearing of the Dan examination and opening of a club i contacted the chief instructor in question who ran the association etc, to question the crazy act only to be threatened over the phone that if i ever spoke of the above i would be paid a visit by the so called 8th Dan and sorted out! What a joke, the police were informed of the phone call.

Buisness man yes, 8th Dan no, a fake and a fraud i would say.

I appreciate that martial arts is big business and one can make a lot of money which is fair enough, but selling Dan grades to beginners in order to pay a morgage, nice new car, bills etc is just wrong full stop, you just dont do it, isnt it fraud?

This makes me sick to the core, i love karate and teach professionally but for me its about the art, NOT MONEY!

These kind of acts give individuals false beliefs and are a danger to the public.

So how many out there agree or disagree that selling Dan grades to beginners for a cushy life is right or wrong?

Kind regards,


Katz's picture

I agree, it's wrong, and I would never do it.

Then again, some people worry more about their belts than about what they actually know. They'll be happier having a black belt than knowing stuff.  It's all about the image.

If it makes those people happy, fine. I sure don't want them in MY club, but as long as they don't try to teach my students, I don't care. It does make them more likely to get into real trouble if they get in a fight, all the more because if they care that much about the image, they probably think having the black belt makes them badass. It's sad, but I don't care...

Having clubs that will sell belts out there does make sure people who are more interested in the belt than in the skills don't come to our clubs. Consider them a different world. Don't let it spoil your karate. :)

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Er..I doubt you're gonna get anyone saying they support it lol.

Stuff like this has been around as long as I remember, even stuff from the back of comic books and magazines. Much easier to get with the internet I suppose, but nothing new.

Thing is to stop it would require regulation, something that most seem to think would cause more problems than it'd solve. As long as there are people who want quikc-fix, instant gratification martial arts training, there will be someone out there selling it for sure.

Tau's picture

Absolutely, no Martial Artist with any respect for themselves or the arts will do this or condone it. 

I'll give you another perspective, though.

I don't make money from training. For me, my Martial Arts is a "hobby" which is a term that I detest because it doesn't come close to what it actually is. I train under people for whom their Martial Arts is their livelihood and more power them. I don't want that. At least, not at this stage of my life. I get comments to the effect that my prices are so low. I point out that Sensei in the next town who charges double what I do is a professional MAist. He has to. He has to put food on the table. I have no problem with this whatsoever. He's honest about it. As much as I love my job, I wouldn't do it if I wasn't getting paid.

Now, times are tough at the moment. Petrol costs how much, as one example?

I teach families of three. I have had students who have asked about grading and I've held them back for whatever reason. Most students, the good students, accept this. I know that some will leave if they don't grade. Although I don't want to lose students I accept this as part of the process and the best students will remain.


If you're doing Martial Arts as your profession and you have a family to feed and you know that if you refuse to grade a family then they'll likely leave then that's going to make you think twice. That's a family worth of class fees, grading fees, clothing sales and so on. This is a great forum of largely like-minded people and we all love what we do and dedicate vast ammounts of hours and energy to it. I stand by my point. Our families come first. This is why I'm NOT  a professional Martial Artist. I might be one day but at the moment I can indeed put preservation of the art and standards first.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

I think it's a bit more complicated than people just making a living off martial arts. Sometimes it goes the other way. Someone who makes a living off teaching has more invested than someone who does it as a "hobby" it's true, but that has both negative and positive possibilities. It by no means makes a McDojo or belt factory. In fact, you can find plenty of questionable behavior, status and ego gratification stuff in training that is free or low cost as well. There is WAY more involved in the bad side of martial arts than just money, though admittedly it can certainly play a role. I'm willing to bet though that if you looked you'd find belt factories and similar behavior where people barely even turn a profit.

I'd also point out, it is actually fairly "traditional' to expect some kind of compensation for teaching martial arts, it has historical precedent that goes back quite a ways, it didn't just arise with the modern martial arts boom. The question I guess is whether or not there is a good faith effort to provide something..authentic fopr the compensation, or whether it's just a cheap, slick, shiny, disposable product.

MykeB's picture

I've trained with the product of belt factories before.  Some of them mean well, and were young enough when they got their black belt that they didn't really understand what was going on.  To them, it was legitimate training.  Others, they were old enough to know, but just wanted enough skill to show off to their buddies and the girls and a black belt to brag on.  An hour's drive north of the first place I trained offered an 18 month "accelerated black belt program".  Sign up, pay for the 18 months training, uniform, sparring gear etc. and show up.  Bam!  You're a black belt.  Another school will have you in a black belt in less than three years with one to two nights a week training.  They have an MMA program to train ammature fighters as well.  A whole different kettle of fish there, but with the same bad smell.  These types of programs and organizations have been around as long as commercial martial arts just like bad mechanics, ambulance chasing lawyers and bald barbers.  They are a stain on their professions that money didn't bring into being.  It's why I am so cautious about joining our club to an organization.  Being outside of the flock of large styles, most groups seem more interested in their own ideaology/structure, money, fame or all three.

Others have said it, isn't about the money in this case.  However, it's not money that corrupts instruction or devalues training.  Plenty of top martial artists make a living teaching and training.  I believe Mr. Abernethy even mentioned having to make the jump from "hobbiest" to "professional".  The morals of the instructor have more to do with the selling of belts that the numbers on the checks.  And while not grading someone when they feel its time might cost you some students now and then, it will keep more of them around once you have a reputation for providing sound, honest training. 

And lastly, I'll state this as a nonprofessional, not to be taken as more than tongue in cheek.  I'd have invited the 8th Dan on down to settle things.  If you can get a 1st dan in less than 14 months, he could have had more than 8, maybe 9 years of trianing to get that 8th dan.  I know, I know.  Makes me a bad karateka, but I think calling his bluff would have been a good thing.  The instructors I came up under didn't take threats like the one issued to you lightly Jason.  I suppose that's where I get that gut reaction to invite the guy onto the training floor to settle things.  You did the right thing though considering.

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

I had a similar spell, I although I have nearly 20 years of Martial Arts experience am only graded to Nidan (because I moved from style to style prior to gaining a Dan grade). When I was opeing my school I was advised by the Head of the Organisation that I could write my own Grade! Now It was a little tempting, I'm not going to deny it as I could then concentrate on my syllabus and my student's training as oppoesed to my own gradings etc.But I though to myself " How could I grade without testing, but expected my students to do what I wasn't willing to do myself!"

I think that Sandan (3rd Dan) is a good level to have to sit formal gradings, then time served after that but I still think that Time awarded gradeds for any lower grades is definately a NO NO!!!

I know of a Instructor who was Time awarded his last grade, I actually asked for the Org he is with to make sure he sat his next grade and for me to be on the panel

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Tau wrote:
This is why I'm NOT a professional Martial Artist. I might be one day but at the moment I can indeed put preservation of the art and standards first.

This is an important point to discuss, Personally, I don’t think it’s an “either / or” situation when it comes to money and standards in the the martial arts. It is possible to keep high standards and make a living. Indeed, in my case, I’d say that my teaching is of a higher standard for having made it my profession. I have time and energy to devote to my research, training and teaching that I simply would not have if I were still “on the tools”.

The money I make from the martial arts has allowed me to increase my standards; it has not reduced them. I actually decided to go fulltime for that reason: If I was to further what I do beyond the point I had reached, I did not have the time for a “day job”. I had to make the martial arts give me a living wage in order to develop further and to share what I do with a wider group.

Others may think differently, but I’d like to think I’ve made a positive contribution to the martial arts. If I were not fulltime, my sphere of influence would remain the handful of people I teach twice a week. As it is, being fulltime has allowed me to share my thinking / approach globally and people tell me that’s been helpful to them.

If we take a few seconds to think of influential teachers, fighters, researchers, etc relatively few of them have “day jobs”. Some do of course, but they are the exceptions as opposed to the rule.

Some further thoughts on this issue: If you put standards before the money then the money will take care of itself because people are attracted to quality. If you put the money first then you’re eventually going to have problems and you have to attract people through false promises and “style over substance”. That never really lasts though as sooner or later people realise that “all that glitters is not gold”. That’s why the “McDojos” tend to work on the basis of a high turn over of students who they get to commit quite large sums of money early on. The more stable and ethical alternative is to provide quality on an ongoing and ever developing basis; and plenty of good groups do just that and provide a living for the heads of those group in the process.

If high standards are to be the norm in the martial arts then those groups who have high standards need to ensure they work to overshadow those with poor standards. We won’t get rid of the charlatans by sitting back and letting them run the show. If they are the ones with all the money and time they will also have the ability to promote what they do to the widest possible audience. What we see all too often is good quality people complaining about this situation to the handful of students they have. What they should be doing is ensuring their quality is available to the masses; and to do that they need to work as hard as they can to provide the alternative and to get their message out. We can’t do that if everyone of quality opts to maintain “amateur status”.

The bottom line is we all need money is needed to get by and almost everything costs someone something at some point. Anyone reading this now is doing so for free, but I have to pay lots of money each year to host and maintain this site. I also spend many hours working on it for no payment (the site is free to all users). I therefore need to make money from the books, DVDs, seminars, etc in order to provide this site (and the other stuff I make no money from) and still be able to provide for my children. If I were not fulltime, then this site would not be here to serve those who find it useful.

The point I’m labouring to make is that making money from the martial arts is not automatically unethical nor does it automatically mean a reduction in standards; it can mean the opposite. Knowingly teaching crap and charging a fortune for doing so is obviously wrong. However, the martial arts and the individuals who practise them can greatly benefit from money being earned and spent in the right ways. If “Love of the Art” is greater than “Love of Money” then we should have no problems.

All the best,


michael rosenbaum
michael rosenbaum's picture

Selling Black Belts dates back to the introduction of the kyu-dan ranking system to karate. If I remeber correctly Chojun Miyagi was bribed by some Japanese karate-ka for a "stroke of the brush" i.e. rank certificate.  Miyagi refused their offers though, being the person he was.

I've had the same thing happen to me a couple of times and on each occasion I've just shook my head in disbelief. I really and truely feel sorry for those who will go to no ends to get a high dan ranking because you spend so much time focused on rank that you miss a lot of quality in the process. Quality training,  quality friends, etc, etc. you get the picture.

I don't teach for a living, though I do teach for money. However making karate your career is a hard job indeed.  Here in the states martial arts schools have one of the highest start up and failure rates of all businesses. It sounds like the dream job, but its not. Competition is fierce and you're always having to worry about the latest gimic coming down the pike. For instance: "Hey Sensei, can you teach me one legged monkey boxing like I saw on T.V. last night?"  Hence you find yourself in the postion of saying yes and making a few extra bucks, or saying no but keeping your reputation. Just because someone teaches professionally doesn't mean they're a fraud. Frauds and fakes can be found in all things, same goes with quality.  You just have to look harder on most occasions.

Tau's picture

michael rosenbaum wrote:
Selling Black Belts dates back to the introduction of the kyu-dan ranking system to karate. If I remeber correctly Chojun Miyagi was bribed by some Japanese karate-ka for a "stroke of the brush" i.e. rank certificate.  Miyagi refused their offers though, being the person he was.

I've had the same thing happen to me a couple of times

I've never had this so maybe grades from me aren't worth spending on them yet? I have had a small number of students, all juniors so far, tell me how desperate they are to wear a black belt or be a black belt so similar. I tell them to go and buy one from JJB Sports. So far they've always realised that message behind that. Presumably one day one of them actually will!