The Black Belt Business Podcast

Why I Need To Rank People In My Striking Program

Sep 25, 2023


Depending on the striking art you teach in your martial arts academy, you may already have a ranking system. However, for arts like Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Boxing, and MMA, there is no pre-developed ranking system ready for you to implement. 

Due to this, many school owners and operators choose to avoid a ranking system in their striking programs. Afterall, if it’s not a universally-recognized rank like a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, what’s the point of giving it out? And won’t having your own system make your school seem like a McDojo?

Simply put, a ranking system in your striking program will set up your school, and your students, for more success in the long run. Similar to the need for a comprehensive curriculum, a ranking system allows you to track progress, implement safety and structure to your classes, and reward hard work. A ranking system also allows students to set attainable goals and hit them.

We need advanced players to help us improve, but we also want to make sure those students don’t get bored or stagnate during the class setting. By ranking students according to their skillset, you can get everyone on the same page from the start and know how to approach teaching them. 

Assessing progress and setting goals

Creating a ranking system gives students the opportunity to set SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable/aspirational, realistic, and timely. 

Rather than an open-ended road to learning, which can daunt and discourage, students can focus on small, bite-sized goals which they can reach within a specific time frame. This provides not only a framework for attacking goals, but also a reward system where students can visually see and feel their accomplishments.

Through a structured ranking system, students can evaluate their development, identify areas for improvement, and work towards specific targets. This motivates students to consistently strive for advancement and provides a clear roadmap for their journey in the program.

Sure, it seems easy to say “if my students are becoming more skilled, isn’t that enough?” The short answer is no. While skill building should be the #1 goal of any martial arts practice, we as martial artists still suffer from skill-dysmorphia, or an unrealistic and often negative outlook on our progress and abilities. 

Giving students a visual progress system with built-in reward will help them aim for goals that they know are attainable as long as they put in the time and effort, and also provide them with markers along the way that represent their progress.

A ranking system in action

At Easton Training Center, we use a colored-shirt ranking system. Students know that before they can earn the next level of shirt, they must demonstrate certain abilities and control within their technical approach to striking. 

Our fundamental, beginner level striking class is called Kickboxing, which is a cardio-intensive class done on a heavy bag. The purpose of this class is to teach students the fundamentals of Muay Thai (how to punch, kick, knee, etc.) and build their cardio base so that they’re prepared for Muay Thai class.

We begin the ranking system in Kickboxing with a White Shirt after a certain number of classes to encourage students to keep coming back and showing up, regardless of how they feel. It’s a big deal to commit to a new hobby – especially one as intimidating as martial arts, if they have no previous experience. Students generally earn their white shirt after roughly 1 month of training depending on their consistency. The white shirt is akin to a single stripe on a white belt in BJJ.

From there, we progress into Yellow Shirt, which allows them to officially start attending Muay Thai classes and begin working with a partner. Once they’re in the Muay Thai program, a student will progress through Orange, Green, Blue, Purple, Brown and finally Black Shirt.

While you can choose any sort of ranking system to denote progress in Muay Thai (in our Kids program, we use belts instead of shirts), a colored system helps visually and quickly assess the skills of those around us. It also helps instructors understand the various skill levels of those in their classes, so they know who may need more help than others.

For example, you know when someone has an Orange Shirt, they already possess a specific skill set generally on par with other Orange Shirts. Naturally, these Orange Shirts students’ abilities will vary on a spectrum based on natural athleticism and time devoted to training, but we already know training with people of different skill levels helps us improve no matter what side we’re on.

Ensuring skill development, safety and healthy competition

Rather than denoting favoritism (which can come to mind when we think of “ranking,”) the structure is akin to the grade-system in school, a format familiar to us all. You can’t go to high school until you finish 8th grade; you have to graduate high school before going off to college. Learning striking at an academy is no different. 

Ranking helps ensure that students are developing their striking skills effectively and safely. As they progress through the different ranks, they gain a deeper understanding of the techniques, principles and strategies involved in striking. 

A ranking system helps students track their progress because they’ll know exactly where they stand along the curriculum. They also know, in a mixed-level class, what their partner likely knows based on their shirt color and rank. When training or sparring with another student, they will immediately get a feeling for what advantages they (or their partner) may have.

All of this becomes extremely important in close combat spots where the likelihood of injury is higher. This systematic approach ensures that students learn the fundamental skills before moving on to more advanced techniques, reducing the risk of injury and promoting overall safety during training. 

As students progress together in rank, the system also fosters healthy competition among peers, motivating them to push their limits and improve their striking abilities. 

By participating in sparring matches or competitions with individuals of similar rank, students can gauge their progress, test their skills, and learn from their peers. This healthy competitive environment nurtures growth, encourages dedication, and enhances the overall skill level of everyone involved.

Helping instructors get more organized

Along with keeping students progressing and constantly evolving, a ranking system also helps coaches and instructors know how to organize their classes so that everyone gets the most benefit. 

In some schools sans curriculum, coaches will improvise class on the spot based on who they have in that class. If the majority of students are familiar with previously taught concepts and have been coming to class regularly, the coach naturally wants to move on and give them something new to learn. 

However, since martial arts builds on itself, that means any newer students who haven’t had all the lessons up to that point will feel behind, lost and frustrated – which can create a negative experience for them. 

We’re not talking ‘negative’ like a tough, no-nonsense class; we mean a disjointed, disconnected experience that leaves them feeling unsatisfied with what they learned.

To avoid accidentally giving students an experience that may leave a bad taste in their mouth and keep them from enjoying class – or worse, scaring them away for good – it’s critical to evaluate their skill-level from the start so you can give them the best experience possible.

Building a community

Along with being an essential component for assessing progress, setting goals, ensuring skill development and safety, and promoting healthy competition, ranking systems create a sense of camaraderie and community within a martial arts academy.

Students at various ranks can interact, learn from each other, and support one another in their martial arts journey. Higher-ranking students often serve as role models and mentors for lower-ranking students, inspiring them to improve and offering guidance along the way. 

This collaborative atmosphere not only enhances the learning experience but also strengthens the bonds among students, creating a supportive and inclusive martial arts community.

Get access to our Easton Online Affiliate Introductory Pack and learn more about implementing systems and structure to help students achieve their goals!

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