News & Blog

Our Case For Vocational Gradings As A Last Resort For Clubs

We recently posted on Facebook about the unveiling of our Vocational Grading Scheme, something we’ve been working on for the past half a decade on a case by case basis. In 2022, we decided it was time to make it more readily available to those in need. Our first attempt at sharing this news with the community had a bit too much swagger, and conveyed an air of superiority around the decision to offer a remote-based grading process.

In the interests of transparency, we’d like to set out our position and thoughts on why we believe vocational gradings can be a good option in the right circumstances;

Never For A 1st Dan

First things first, we would never advocate a vocational method of grading for a 1st Dan Black Belt. The reason for this is mostly in the atmosphere, pressure and right-of-passage that comes with attaining a black belt. It’s something that has to be experienced ‘in the flesh’. In the same way we can’t accept any online black belts awarded to students who have never undertake the pre-requiste 4 years of continuous in-person training, we would never look to administer 1st Dan grades. This is something we believe should remain solely at the disposal of senior instructors who have worked with and mentored students for the correct period of time at club level.

Never Instead Of An Available In Person Assessment

We hear constantly of clubs where the lead instructor is desperate for the opportunity to progress his or her grade, but can’t for various reasons (see below). The first premise of a BMABA vocational grading is that it is not a routine or arbitrary process. We don’t make them available to anyone, and as our guidance constantly re-affirms, it’s a method of grading that should be held in reserve, for the instances in which no other viable option remains on the table. Our preference will always be to receive confirmation of an in-person Dan Grading awarded by an instructor or examiner known to the person in question. Vocational gradings should be held in reserve as a final measure for progression when all other in-person opportunities have been exhausted.

Possible Scenarios

Here’s just a few of the scenarios in which we’ve accepted a peer-reviewed vocational black belt grading;

Located in the highlands of Scotland and holding a 3rd Dan in Karate for more than 9 years, Kerris had been trying to grade under her prior NGB. Unfortunately their only examiners were based in Cornwall and Birmingham. A round-trip would have cost the club in-excess of £400 in hotels and travel without the £250 in-person grading fee. This sadly stifled the club’s ability to bring in 2nd Dans and led to a number of senior grades leaving classes.

Chris spent 12 years within an association. He didn’t register students and did not want to participate in annual ‘Awards & Dan Grade’ galas. Unfortunately this led to him waiting 6 years for an opportunity to grade to 2nd Dan, despite having practiced daily for the required techniques and Katas.

A Husband and Wife team desperately wanted to undergo assessment for their 4th and 5th Dans respectively, but could not find enough suitably graded fellow instructors to facilitate the grading. Associations offered ‘Dinner and a Dan Grade’ type progressions for ‘time served’ but failed to offer a valid in-person opportunity to move the club’s senior instructors forward.

Checks & Balances

We’ve been vetting instructors and black belts upon joining our organisation for a decade now. Unfortunately we’ve seen far too many poor quality ‘in-person’ assessed Dan Grades. Many have been issued for absurd sums of cash, others for time-served or contributions to the club, and more and more often we see ‘Dinner and a Dan Grade’ type events hosted by associations. Whilst some in person examinations are robust and properly overseen, many are of a poor quality. Our vocational gradings offers a reliable, trustworthy runner up option for those who may otherwise fall into the ‘time-served’ trap of a dan grade progression in exchange for joining an association.


We have only issued 12 Dan Grades since forming in 2012. We don’t take the responsibility lightly which is why we’ve spent the past 2 years building a reliable, stress-tested process through which we can offer our members a fair option to progress their grades when an in-person alternative is not possible. No grading is ever without it’s floors. For every grading that can be assessed ‘up close’ to check joint manipulations, the next will be conducted from a seated position facing the back of the student at 30 feet away. We’re not suggesting Vocational Gradings are a silver bullet, but we do believe it offers an escape chute for instructors and clubs otherwise left to stagnate at a grade to which they are drastically over qualified to hold.

To learn more about our vocational grading process, please click here.