Oftentimes, your kid's karate belt will look like this (especially if your child has their belt for a while);
And people will ask me:
Why? Why so many stripes?
How many stripes do I need to do a grading?
What's the point?
So... Let's get into it.
First thing first: Circles.
What are circles?
Did you even know your kid gets circles? Many people don't.
Think of circles like quarters. Four circles equal one stripe, the way four quarters equal a dollar. You need four attendances before earning one stripe. But we're talking circles here, not stripes.
Circles have two purposes: attendance and incentive.
For kids aged 3-12, circles are the way we mark attendance. In every single class you attend, you will receive a circle.
However: poor behaviour, disrespect, bad attitude, or lack of effort may mean Sensei will not give you a circle. This puts you one day behind in getting that next stripe.
If you do extra well in class, Sensei may even give you two circles. This happens very rarely, so don't be disappointed if it doesn't happen to you (I think I've awarded double circles maybe once in the last year).
Circles help Sensei keep track of how many classes you have attended (because only classes in which you earn a circle count toward your grading: if you lose a circle for bad behaviour, and you don't have enough circles to meet the minimum requirement, you may not be in the next grading). To know about minimum attendance (read: circle) requirements for grading, see our article: A Mega Guide to Belts.
Now: All About Stripes
As I said before, Stripes are earned every four circles. If you behave poorly, and Sensei has to take away a circle, you will not earn your stripe on time. Here are some common questions about stripes:
Can behaviour impact stripes?
Yes! Poor behaviour at home or in class at karate can always mean stripes are taken away. Many times, I have had parents come into the dojo to talk about their child's poor behaviours such as lying, hitting, stealing, bad language, and many others. Depending on the severity of the behaviour, we can remove one stripe, two, or the entire belt worth of stripes. They do not get these back right away if the behaviour stops: they have to earn them back one by one, and this can even double times between gradings.
This helps the child see a physical thing being taken away from them as a consequence of their actions and will help them to remember not to do such a thing again.
However, we do not remove stripes for minor things. If you have a bad day, or make a mistake once, nobody will take your stripes away. Usually, removing stripes is reserved for ongoing or very poor behaviours.
What do stripes mean?
If you multiply the number of stripes on your belt by four, that means the number of classes you've done that count toward your grading. They also work (as mentioned above) as a sort of behavioural currency. However, there are other sorts of stripes, like one very large black or white stripe at the end of a brown belt, that signify rank. And a "dragon" belt, with a black line running down the middle of it, signifies that the student wearing it is in the Little Dragons class instead of the Youth one.
Why didn't I get a stripe today?
There are two reasons for this. Students do not all get stripes on the same day. If Johnny and Bobby start karate on the same day, but Johnny misses class one day, Bobby will get his stripe before Johnny does. This is because Bobby came to class 4 times and Johnny only came 3 times. Not to worry: Johnny will get his stripe next week, as long as he behaves and tries his best in class.
It's simple: you only have to wait for your turn, which is typically once every two weeks if you're coming to class twice per week. This is almost always the reason you did not get a stripe tonight.
The second reason for not getting a stripe is, like mentioned before, poor behaviour. If you screamed, hit, or didn't do the class (sat down and refused to participate, or got an injury and left/sat down), got angry, said something nasty to Sensei or anyone else, or just generally behaved in a way that is not suitable for karate, you won't get your stripe.
What does stripe colour mean?
Nothing! We change stripe colours depending on what is available at the store. Also, depending on which "circle board" you are on, your colours will be different.
Why do I have so many stripes?
Good for you! You came to a lot of classes. Sometimes, it means you missed your last grading. Sometimes, it means you had to learn a bit more before you're ready for your next belt. Sometimes, it means you went away for a long time and had to earn more stripes while you remembered what you forgot. If you have more or less stripes than the other kids of your belt rank, it doesn't mean you did anything wrong. Just that you've come to more classes than they did!
I Have Enough Stripes: When Is Grading?
Circles and attendance requirements are just one factor that goes into grading (or for 3-5-year-olds, we call it "graduation" as it is not a test). We also have to think about other things: have you taken any extended breaks from karate? Have you been trying hard in class? Paying attention? Have you been away a lot? Is there a grading even coming up? Are my skills ready for the next grading? Have I learned all of my techniques and/or katas? There are many factors, and minimum attendance/circle requirements are just that: minimums. There is no maximum. If the minimum is 20, and you have 35, that's alright. It doesn't mean you're bad. It means you're going at your own pace, so don't worry about it. Sensei will know when you are ready, and in the meantime, you can always ask your Sensei what you can improve on (because asking when you can do a grading is a no-no).
When Stripes Stop
Circles have an end date. While all Little Dragons will earn circles, not all kids 9-12 will.
This is because at solid purple belt in the 9-12-year-old class (called Youth Class), you will stop getting stripes even though you do still get circles.
The reason for this: purple belt is the first belt labelled 'intermediate' (IE: you've got a pretty high rank!) and the time between gradings will get much longer. MOST students at this belt at higher will wait longer than the minimum required time. So, stripes are less important. It should also be noted that adults and teens in the 13+ class do not get stripes at all: stripes are only for kids.
Also: by purple belt, we expect students to have good behaviour and manners at (almost) all times. No badly behaved student should ever have a purple belt. Therefore, if you are very badly behaved (everyone has bad days: that isn't what we're talking about here), you quite simply should not be a purple belt. If you develop bad behaviour, you will have to return to being a white belt.
Depending on the situation and severity of the behaviour, this may be a permanent solution and you will have to grade to each belt level again, or it may be for a certain amount of time, and you will get your purple belt back once your behaviour improves.
Gradings & Graduations
What is Graduation? Graduation is something only for kids 3-5 in the Ninjas class. Kids this age are not students we wish to put through a 'test' of any sort; instead, in graduation, they will show off their skills to their parents as best they can and, afterward, be awarded their new belt. They will not fail, as it is not a test.
So... what is "Grading"? The general non-karate term for it would be 'belt test'. You come to the dojo usually on a Friday or Saturday, and Sensei will test you on the different moves and techniques you've learned. It's not so scary: generally, Sensei will not ask you to come to a grading unless you have already shown in class that you are ready for your next belt.
Oh no! I missed a grading!
Gradings are a lot like stripes: not everyone will grade at the same time. You have to be invited to come to a grading. Just because we're hosting one does not mean you are invited to come.
Maybe we had a grading a few weeks ago, and you were not in it. That doesn't mean you missed an email or forgot about it: it just wasn't time for you. Maybe you didn't have your belt long enough, maybe you still had things to learn. If the requirement for your next belt is 30 classes and one kata, and you have earned 30 classes, but you can't quite do your kata... Then you're not ready. (And I don't mean that you can struggle through your kata. I mean you know every step and rarely (if ever) mess it up.)
As a general rule, kids with the same belt and a similar (not the same, but similar) number of stripes or attendances will probably grade together. This applies more in Little Dragons class than Youth or Teen/Adult, but it is generally correct.
I can't come to my grading time!!
If you are on the grading list, and you cannot come to your grading for some reason (illness, vacation, or you just forgot), don't worry. You will still grade. One of two things will happen.
In the quieter times of the year when we have fewer kids in class (summer, late spring) we will often organize an in-class grading. This is when you do your test during your regular karate class, and while the other kids may participate, you are the only one who is testing for a new belt.
Second, during the busier times of year (September through May/June), you may have to wait for the next group grading. Not to worry: this may be just one or two months away. It's a longer wait, but this may be the only available spot on the dojo schedule.
I hope you've learned something about gradings, circles and stripes today. If you didn't get a stripe tonight, it's probably just not your turn. Karate is, amongst other things, a waiting game. Be patient. Enjoy class. Don't strictly work for your next belt stripe.