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Grades or belts?

Taijiquan tends to be taught by grade rather than by belts. Beginner, intermediate, experienced, advanced, expert, master
. Belts could be used, but seldom are.
Remember that belts were invented by a Japanese Judo instructor teaching in France in the early 20th Century.
They have no historical/traditional significance and were intended as a learning tool not a status symbol.

When you get a black belt ranking it doesn't mean you've gotten a foot in the door. It means you have learned how to find the doorknob.

(Dave Lowry)

Kung fu

Chinese martial arts sometime use belts, sometimes not. It depends on the individual system/style/school. If belts aid learning, then they are useful. If not, they are just fabric.


It is difficult to compare a taijiquan syllabus to an external martial art because the material being explored is fundamentally different. How so?
In taijiquan, the initial concern isn't combat. It is health, fitness, composure, concentration and the cultivation of whole-body movement. The latter in particular is unique to the internal martial arts
Performing a technique/application/movement using aggression, muscular tension, force and isolated limb movement simply isn't the taijiquan way


A taijiquan grade contains a lot more material than a belt does. Much of the training is not directly about combat. Rather, it underpins the use of the body and this is then utilised when fighting.
An external martial artist might pass their
yellow belt in just 3 months, whereas a taijiquan student could take an entire year to complete the beginner's syllabus at a basic level of competence.

Approximate idea

If we look at taijiquan relative to the external martial arts - purely in terms of combat skill - it is possible to do an approximate comparison of grades to belts:

Taijiquan   External martial art
Beginner   Yellow belt
Intermediate (part 1)   Orange belt
Intermediate (part 2)   Green belt
Intermediate (part 3)   Blue belt
Experienced (part 1)   Purple belt
Experienced (part 2)   Brown belt
Experienced (part 3)   1st dan black belt
Advanced (part 1)   2nd dan black belt
Advanced (part 2)   3rd dan black belt
Advanced (part 3)   4th dan black belt
Expert   5th dan black belt
Master   Red belt

Don't get too hung up on the comparison suggested here. Remember: it is only allowing for one aspect of taijiquan training and is intended as an idea not a definitive guide.

Learning curve

Taijiquan students learn how to move first, then fight later. This means that their learning curve is quite different to the external martial arts
. Martially, taijiquan students do very little at first.
But this changes as they become more advanced - both the body use and combat concerns start to become increasingly sophisticated.
Topics such as jing and neigong require an immense amount of study.

Taijiquan is an art where all the principles of other martial arts have been turned upside down.
They practice fast, we practice slow.
They practice hard, we practice soft.

(Cheng Man Ching)


The external martial arts often plateau at a certain stage. A block is a block is a block. There are no new insights to explore. This is not a bad thing. Their chosen art is usually still very effective.
People may get better but there is often little to discover as the student attains the higher ranking belts.

Taijiquan fighting method

There are no plateaus in taijiquan. If a student fails to make continual on-going progress, then the fault lies either with their teacher's limitations or their own personal attitude/approach.
Taijiquan was designed to be a journey without a destination. You just keep going. There is no conclusion. No end point. No certificate, trophy, reward or belt

Page created 21 May 1998
Last updated 26 April 2018