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Coloured belts and grading exams are ubiquitous in martial arts schools, particularly in many traditional oriental martial arts styles like kung fu, karate, jujitsu, and so on. Every one wants to be a black belt (or sash), and to many people both inside and outside of the martial arts community the black belt signifies the highestr martial arts ability and hence a person that is not to be messed with.
But I can't help thinking that the importance of belts is often over-emphasised. What's really important, at least in most martial arts, is your ability to defend yourself and protect others in a violent confrontation; and over the years I have met many black blets who couldn't do this, and many untrainined people who could.
Not long ago I was looking for a new school and I started training briefly at a place that seemed entirely geared towards producing black belts. This lead to a very formulaic training program that focussed on a limited number of techniques, all in isolation, and with no consideration as to the context or different situations in which they might be used. This made for a lot of students that were great at passing exams but utterly incapable of defending themsevles in real situations. On the other hand I was lucky enough to train in San Shou with Shifu Yan Lei of the Shaolin Temple UK for a while, and he had no grading system at all, just two separate classes for beginners and more advanced students.
Fighting is fluid, chaotic and unpredictable, wherase grading exams are the exact opposite. What's more most grading systems pay no attention to physical conditioning such as fitness, speed, strength and flexibility, which are very important when it comes to a real fight. So my advice is if you want to be a great martial artist then don't go to a black belt factory, and don't get too hung up on gradings.

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