Although there are many martial artists that deny it, more than many want to be recognized for their accomplishments as martial artists. I had a discussion with my students recently about the belt ranking systems and titles. Most martial artists that practice and teach arts from Southeast Asia and who live outside of this region will at some point have this discussion with their students since traditionally belts and titles in these arts only meant you are extending an open invitation to a challenge. Although in the west primarily, this is not really the case since there are laws that are strictly enforced regarding real fighting.
I tell my students that belts and titles serve as an internal way of categorizing students who are at different levels of experience and to assess when a student is prepared to represent and/or teach for their particular organization if they so desired. It’s also a good marketing tool for martial art businesses because many acolytes are motivated to reach various goals and it also keeps them in attendance.
For others outside of schools and organizations, titles are usually self proclamations based on how an individual rates themselves and wants to be regarded. In some cases acolytes out of respect will refer to their teacher with a particular title that they are familiar with.
I tell my students that reputation is more important in our group than titles and belts. Reputation not only in fighting ability but in character is a much more important part of our group. Last weekend we had a five hour martial art workshop where students participated who have been absent from training for various reasons also attended the event. As I walked around helping students I overheard some of the members who had been absent from training comment on how good their peers had become that were training consistently. The students that were consistent also were very humble and eager to help others that were having difficulty with certain principles and concepts.
In retrospect, the students that trained with consistency had begun to develop reputations for their skill and character and understood that achievement was not something you tied around your waist or hung on your wall but how others around you felt positively about you.