Once prestige has been lost, it is difficult, if not impossible, to regain. Some of us in the martial arts community believe that the giving away of black belts has irreparably damaged the prestige of the black belt. The black belt is now considered just a reward for paying on time, attendance, and perseverance. It has little prestige.
Some of us believe that the “martial” part of the martial arts has been forgotten, or it has just been eliminated to make the martial arts more palatable and profitable. A martial art involves all aspects of hand-to-hand combat, including being able to physically fight, mentally compete against others, deal with the emotions that arise during life or death confrontations, doing anything that is necessary in a confrontation, dealing with the aftermath; and being able to do all these things while living a seemingly normal life. This is the life of a black belt. Black belts do not go to class to socialize and “work out”; they go to hone their fighting skills.
Some of us believe that before being awarded a black belt, all testers must meet a single set of requirements and high standards, and that all testers must be capable of doing, and emotionally able to do, what may be required of black belt in a self-defense or combat situation. To us, the black belt is a goal that must attained, not a reward for trying to attain it. In a self-defense situation, black belts, either in their own defense or in defense of another, are legally held to a greater standard than ordinary citizens and, as such, they may be more morally, criminally, or civilly liable. A black belt better be a true black belt or his or actions on the street may end up with him or her being dead, in jail, or bankrupt.
One of the side effects of lowering the requirements and standards for attaining a black belt is that the prestige and meaning of the black belt has also been lowered. To compensate for this, more levels of black belts, other belt colors (such as red/white sectioned belts and extra wide belts), and other titles (such as supreme master and ethereal master) have been created. When it reached the point where there was a soke (founder of a martial art) on every corner, the sokes began claiming high ranks and master status in numerous other martial arts. When it reached the point that all masters were “super sokes,” the masters began claiming PhD’s in the martial arts (from bogus universities they create). What will come next?
Another reason for the black belt’s loss of prestige was the degrading of the belt by giving of “honorary” black belts to celebrities, politicians, and people in positions of power. This was supposedly done to publicize the martial arts and help them gain more legitimacy. It may have done that, but at what cost. We do not give “honorary” Purple Hearts, Silver Stars, or Medals of Honor. To do so would degrade their positions of honor.
In the navy, chief (E-7) used to be the highest enlisted rank, and chiefs ruled the navy. Then, to keep more sailors in the navy, more of them were promoted to chief, until there were too many chiefs. To fix the problem, they created the senior chief (E-8) and then the master chief (E-9) and congressional limits were place on the number of senior and masters chief that could serve in any one year. These extra ranks gave the chiefs an opportunity to increase their rank, but the extra ranks lessened the status of the chief. The same thing has happened to black belts. To compensate for creating so many black belts and provide the better ones with a way to increase their prestige, more ranks and titles have been added, which has reduced the prestige of the black belt. The black belt is now just another rank.