With the popularity for belt ranking in the martial arts, a common question I get is, “What about Kickboxing? Do they have belt ranks as well?” This comes not only from parents wanting to learn about the martial arts in general, but also from students looking to train. The appeal of a merit based ranking system is attractive to many prospective students.
Kickboxing doesn’t normally have a black belt and thus a belt ranking system. Competition records and titles won through sport historically have served the purpose. Yet more and more, from Muay Thai to American Kickboxing, instructors and schools are adopting some form of ranking.
Want to learn more about how you can earn rank in a Kickboxing style? Well, here I will go over some of the options if winning full contact competitions are not in your plans. There may be an option for you still.
Table of Contents
Why Dosen’t Kickboxing Traditionally Have Belt Ranks?
Kickboxing is a combat sport that is based on a series of punching and kicking. It is often considered to be a combination of sport karate and boxing, though there is plenty of room to add your own style to the mix as well. It is primarily based in a small amount of technique tailored for full contact competitions.
This means that belt rankings were not practical since the technique proficiency does not take as long as many martial arts styles. With a limited amount of technique to divide between rankings, it is hard to justify the effort.
The other aspect is the real focus of Kickboxing. The sport is all about application of this small amount of technique is a live, full contact situation. This is also done in other sports, but due to the severely limited nature of the allowed movements, an extremely high proficiency is needed in those that are used.
The best way historically that could be found to test this is… in ‘the ring’.
There are currently several styles of kickboxing, including American Kickboxing, Japanese Kickboxing, Muay Thai and several versions used in mixed martial arts while combined with catch-wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu.
Want to see a list of the best kicking bags that can help you train your Kickboxing skills to the next level? Check out my article here listing them all by style and separating them by age levels.
Do Some Styles Of Kickboxing Have a Belt Ranking System?
Traditional kickboxing does not have a belt ranking system so it will not offer a black belt to any student who trains in it. Students who train will progress through the different moves and techniques based on their own skills and how quickly they catch on to each step. Some students can progress quickly and others will take more time.
For students who like to have the belt system, this can be discouraging. When looking at some of the other martial arts, there are ranking systems that showcase how far the student has come with their knowledge of that particular form.
Kickboxing generally does not have this, though some schools will use the Muay Thai armband system and others will implement karate into the lessons and do use the belt system.
For those that wish to gain the health and mental benefits of Kickboxing and learn how to use it in self defense, there are schools that offer rankings ranging from level designations, to arm bands, and even complete belt ranking systems.
If your school does utilize the belts, it is possible to end up with a black belt or one of the higher belt options. However, there are no specifically designated professional Black Belt kickboxers out there.
Those interested in competition will focus on improving their skills and learning new techniques. They can then utilize this in sparring or matches to see who can win overall.
How Do I Progress in Kickboxing?
The best way to progress through kickboxing is to continue working through your classes and learn as many techniques as possible. There are two options when looking at starting to train in Kickboxing. One is for health and fitness and the other is for competition.
Health And Fitness
There are many programs that offer Kickboxing as aerobic exercise, some as self defense, and others as recreational sport. All of these programs are prime candidates for some sort of ranking program.
For those not wanting to spar, fight, or compete, these may be just the option they are looking for. Fun and fitness is the goal with the added benefit of self defense techniques and a bit of toughness gained in the end.
If this is your main goal, then regular training in a fun and safe way should be how you accomplish goals. These goals could be in the form of rankings, belts, or levels, or it could be weight or colestoral lowering. Whatever the goal, Kickboxing in this recreational way can be a great choice.
There are even studies linking positive benefits for people with disabilities participating in fitness oriented Kickboxing classes. In a study, researchers out of the University of Dayton, Ohio found that sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis gained many benefits from its practice.
Students who are willing to spar with others, especially with those who have more experience, will find that they improve faster than other students who hold back.
Over time, for those interested in competitions, a great way to showcase your skills is to join tournaments with bouts against others who have studied kickboxing. While some kickboxers will wear a black belt in the ring, this does not necessarily mean that they are better than the other fighters since the rankings are not used in this sport.
During competitions, kickboxers are able to showcase their skills as they compete against other students. Over time, they can learn how to beat others and they may win championships.
Some of these championships may provide some proof of a win, like a championship belt, but these just showcase that the kickboxer won in that meeting, not that they are a black belt or any other color of belt.
I Have Seen Kickboxing Schools Offer Ranking Systems. What is This About?
There are some kickboxing schools that have arranged themselves in a way that they use the Judo or Karate style belt system. Some do this in order to motivate their students to work hard, some do it as a way to earn money, and some do it as a way to combine some lessons of karate in with the kickboxing as well.
While this ranking system is not traditionally found with kickboxing, it is something that is growing. There are several well-known Western kickboxers who fight with their belts on to show their ranks as well. There is no such thing as a black belt kickboxer though as this is not how the system works.
Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez is one of these well known (and undefeated) American Kickboxers that formed his own system including belt rankings. His system is one of the few in the world to be recognized by the major governing bodies in Japan as an official martial art.
His system is a modern synthesis of traditional Karate, Boxing, American Kickboxing, and his own blend of application techniques and philosophies. To train in his system is to train in a full martial art program with all of the trappings. It is much more than simply a ring sport.
To have a full belt ranking progression, this well rounded sport and self defense art is a must. Simply adding a set of levels to the sport techniques found in most Kickboxing styles just doesn’t work well.
For those interested in Sensei Benny’s career and style (Ukidokan) visit his site here for more.
Muay Thai is a popular system of Kickboxing with the rise of Mixed Martial Arts and those competitors having an affinity for the style. It came specifically out of Thailand and originally was a battlefield tactic added to double sword wielding warriors. Later it developed into a hard hitting sport.
Some of the confusion about whether kickboxing has a black belt or not is because of the ranking system used with Muay Thai. This is a unique form of boxing that uses the whole body of the participants, rather than just the fist. For example, the participants are allowed to use various parts of their body, including knees, elbows, and takedowns, for defense in the bouts.
In Muay Thai, fighters will wear a set of armbands that are meant to represent categories that show their personal position in the sport. These are a little bit different than the karate belts that we see in many Americanized versions of the sport. A beginner in Muay Thai may wear an armband that is white, yellow, or orange. This shows others their skill levels and allows them to progress through more movements as well.
Advanced participants in Muay Thai, or those who have spent a good deal of time studying this form of boxing, may wear an armband that is either green, blue, purple, red, and brown. There are also different combinations of these colors, such as black and gold, that are used to indicate who the instructor is in the course.
The armbands are used to distinguish how long the student has practiced Muay Thai. It is not who is the best, but more about how much they have mastered in this artform. In some situations, kickboxing Masters may choose to use these armbands as well.
I have an article that goes into more detail about the unique case of Muay Thai rankings. Read more about it here.
Other Options For Kickboxing With Ranks
Choose your kickboxing school with caution. There are some reputable schools that use the belt system. This should not necessarily deter you from joining. As long as the instructor is well-qualified and can prove their experience, you can learn all of the tenants of kickboxing and progress with your skills.
These schools can be found locally or even through online training. Remember, if you aren’t interested in competing, this is one of the smaller styles in terms of amount of technique. You can easily learn the techniques to a good proficiency in one to two years. Most all of your training if not for competition will be on your own anyway, so online training here is a good option even for adults.
The problem comes when schools use these belts and ranking systems as a way to make more money. In some Western schools, it is not about the skills of the students on how they progress. The belts may be used as motivation, but the teachers may not have the right background to teach the class and the belts are used to make as much money as possible during the class. Because of this, always choose your kickboxing school with caution and research if they do use a belt ranking system.
The Kickboxing Black Belt Takeaway…
Kickboxing is a great physical activity that combines together karate and boxing into a unique movement of the body. It takes time and dedication to learn and often the student needs to have their own motivation because they will not have a ranking or belt system to help them stay focused.
There are some programs that do offer some sort of ranking, and this could help those not wishing to go the competition route. Either way you choose, Kickboxing is a great additive to your fitness, sport, or martial art journey.