Rules Review: Competing at a different rank reviewed

It happens all the time and in some leagues, it is allowed by the rules: people move up in divisions in competition to challenge themselves. For instance, a brown belt is winning constantly in the advanced division and decides to move up to the black belt division for more competition. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

The rules of various leagues give some insight as to how those leagues view this type of move. In NASKA (North American Sport Karate Association), for instance, the rules clearly state that “a competitor must compete at the highest belt level they have earned in the martial arts.  A competitor can never compete in a division of which he/she had not earned that rank.” In the NBL (National Black Belt League), the rules don’t seem to indicate that a player must compete at any specific rank based on training. Instead, competitors must compete in “the proper division of the color belt that he/she is wearing when he/she is being staged at the division he/she is competing in.” Also, players must compete at the same belt rank “in all events and divisions at the tournament.” For the WAKO (World Association of Kickboxing Association) there are no guidelines for belt rank at all but most WAKO events do not offer divisions based on ranking.

In addition to the rules of the league, there are safety and morality concerns as well. If a lower rank moves up to a higher rank division and gets hurt, should the competitor assume the risk of moving up? No tournament requires certification from competitors of their ranking. There would be no way for officials to determine if a competitor was competing in the wrong rank level.

In addition, martial arts is not just a sport. Most competitors get their belt ranks from instructors and through martial arts systems. Is it appropriate for a competitor who has not actually achieved a ranking in his/her system to wear a different belt?

Of course, there is also the concern that if a competitor is not being challenged at a lower rank, he or she should move up. First, the competitor who is not challenged may get bored with competition and may stagnate in development. Second, the other competitors who are not at the level of the better competitor don’t stand much of a chance and should be allowed to develop at their own pace.

Moving up in competition level based on rank is a decision that is not to be made lightly. Once a competitor moves up, he/she typically can not move back down. The decision should be made by the competitor and typically with input from his or her coach or instructor. is the largest media outlet for open sport karate tournament news and information. Over a quarter of a million people turn to’s online news, live streams, photos and social media to keep up-to-date on the dynamic sport of open martial arts competition. – We Love This Sport! 

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