Grading in a Traditional Martial Art

The importance of grading in a Traditional Martial Art

The grading for Walsh Martial Arts Australia is coming up in mid-July. This has me reflecting about why gradings are such a crucial part of the traditional martial arts.

Grading in a Traditional Martial Art
Mohit grading from High Yellow to Green Belt

It’s simplest purpose is for the senior masters to gauge the progress of students based on the syllabus for their grade. These consist of a series of hand and foot techniques, self-defence and sparring . Their performance is not solely judged on their techniques, but also their respect, discipline and spirit as well. This is where the secondary purpose of assessing the instructor comes in. The student is a reflection of the training and instruction received and the culture of the class.

The testing master will provide feedback to the student of what he/she did well and areas requiring more focus and improvement. It is then the responsibility of the instructor to address these areas within class. The spirit and humility of the student to knuckle down and improve is an important marker of a martial artist.

By far and away the most important reason we have the grading is for the student themselves to test their techniques in a stressful situation. As a traditional martial art school, WMAA does not take part in tournaments or contact sparring. We learn effective hand strikes, kicking techniques and self-defence in a safe and contained environment. By emphasising correct footwork, hip movement and focus power we create the most effective and practical techniques. Instructors encourage students to train close to 100% intensity so that the old adage “how you train is how you fight” fits.

The formal grading can be a daunting occasion. You will have to showcase your techniques and knowledge in front of the masters, your classmates, friends, family and strangers. This nervousness and adrenaline rush is the closest thing we have to a stressful self-defence situation. It is a great analogy to how that student may perform in that real-life scenario. If a student gets flustered and allows the nerves and occasion get to them, they will react with nerves in a real situation. This is direct feedback that greater concentration and energy needs to applied during class. The key is for the student to channel that energy into strong striking, realistic self-defence, and energetic and practical sparring. Then that student should be confident in his or her ability to react in a self-defence situation.

After successful grading the masters reward the student with progression to a new belt and syllabus. The student will learn new techniques and build upon the experiences of their previous training. The journey to Black Belt continues on these solid foundations.


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Master Alan Lau

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