Why Krav Maga Doesn't Have a Black Belt Ranking System

Everyone knows the coveted Black Belt is the legendary status symbol of martial arts success, so why doesn’t Krav Maga Global have a Black Belt?

The black belt system, originating in Japan, was developed by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, in the late 19th century. Kano introduced this ranking system to create a clear, structured progression for students, allowing for recognition of both skill and experience. The system not only motivated practitioners by providing tangible goals but also fostered a sense of achievement and respect within the martial arts community. The concept quickly gained popularity and was adopted by various other martial arts disciplines, such as Karate and Aikido. Its widespread adoption is due to its effectiveness in providing a standardized measure of a practitioner's proficiency, promoting discipline, and encouraging continuous improvement, which are core principles valued across different martial arts traditions.

However, Krav Maga Global (KMG) is all about teaching everyday people self-defence. It’s not just about throwing punches and kicks; it’s a full-on journey that shapes your mind, body, and tactical awareness.

Krav Maga started on the rough streets in the mid-20th century, thanks to Imi Lichtenfeld. Initially a military self-defence system, it evolved for civilian use over the years. Imi set the first formal curriculum in 1964, and it got a major overhaul in 1987 by Eyal Yanilov, one of Imi’s top students. This overhaul made Krav Maga more systematic and principle-based, with a focus on real-world applications.

In 2009, KMG decided to ditch the traditional martial arts belts for grading patches. Why the change? Well, it was all about practicality and modernity. Patches can be worn on regular clothes, making them more suitable for real-life situations. They also give a modern twist to the system, moving away from the old-school belt setup. Plus, patches help KMG stand out, emphasising its unique, reality-based approach.

Whilst there is no direct connection between the Expert grades and a traditional martial art black belt many consider Expert 1 to be the equivalent of a Black belt. Although, I would suggest this is a tenuous link and direct comparisons misunderstand the effort required to achieve Expert level in Krav Maga.

Most traditional martial arts grading systems will have only six steps from beginner to Black Belt. Many traditional martial arts have now increased this by adding tabs but essentially these are handed to students without assessment. It does mean that some favouritism or nepotism creeps into the systems.

The KMG curriculum requires you to successfully complete at least ten assessments between P1 and G5. That’s a significant amount of more assessment. These assessments are not usually carried out by your instructor therefore there is a level of independent verification to the awarding of grades. By P5 you’re being assessed by your national or the global instructor team something many traditional martial arts do only for black belt and above.   

Think of the KMG grading system like climbing a mountain, as a newbie you have to arrive at base camp from there it’s a climb to the summit and mastering the system. Split into four main levels: Practitioner Levels (P1-P5), Graduate Levels (G1-G5), Expert Levels (E1-E5), and Master Levels (M1-M3). Each level of the KMG curriculum builds on the last, ensuring you develop self-defence skills in a logical and progressive manner, whilst paying close attention to the four training pillars of mental, physical, technical and tactical skills.

The Practitioner levels are where everyone starts, and they are crucial for laying a solid foundation. These levels focus on everything from basic strikes to dealing with multiple attackers, ensuring you’re well-prepared for more advanced techniques.

At the starting line, P1 is all about the basics. You’ll learn how to stand, move, and position yourself, which might sound simple but is absolutely essential. You’ll also get acquainted with basic punches and kicks, your new best friends in self-defence. Defences at this level are simple, like blocking strikes, and you’ll learn ground skills such as how to fall and get back up without hurting yourself. It’s all about getting comfortable with the basics and understanding how to protect yourself.

Moving up to P2, things get a bit more challenging. You’ll add uppercuts, back kicks, and knee strikes to your arsenal. The defences you learn will help you handle more complex attacks, like knife threats. Grappling becomes part of the picture too, teaching you how to get out of grabs and holds. And you’ll start learning how to protect others, which is a big part of Krav Maga’s ethos.

P3 ramps up the complexity even more. You’ll incorporate low punches, elbow strikes, and headbutts into your striking repertoire. Defences become more advanced, and you’ll refine your grappling skills by learning to handle hair pulls and applying neck clinches. Ground combat techniques are also honed, with an emphasis on rolling and defending from the mount. Weapon defences get a spotlight, teaching you how to counter knife attacks more effectively.

At P4, you’ll fine-tune your skills and learn to handle more advanced situations. Your striking techniques now include kicks executed from lying down positions, and you’ll learn high elbow and low palm defences against straight strikes. Grappling techniques focus on escaping chokes and using walls for defence. Ground skills are further enhanced, and weapon defences include blocking and controlling against circular knife stabs.

P5 is the culmination of the Practitioner levels, preparing you for the Graduate levels. This stage focuses on perfecting previously learned techniques and integrating them into complex scenarios. Your striking will include downward hook punches and advanced combinations, and you’ll refine your defences against high roundhouse kicks and various grappling situations. Ground combat skills are honed further, with techniques for escaping headlocks, and weapon defences include countering stick attacks and using sharp objects.

Spending time at each level before moving up might seem like a slow process, but it’s really important. This “time in grade” ensures that techniques are deeply ingrained, becoming second nature so you can react instinctively under stress. It also maintains consistency, ensuring everyone meets the same high standards. This time allows you to gain practical experience, practice under various conditions, and build physical conditioning. Plus, it helps you develop mental resilience and confidence, which are crucial for handling high-pressure situations.

After mastering the Practitioner levels, you move on to the Graduate levels (G1-G5), which focus on refining techniques and preparing you for real-world applications. The Expert levels (E1-E5) are reserved for those who’ve demonstrated exceptional proficiency and often take on teaching roles.

In the Graduate levels, you’ll dive into advanced tactical training, learn to lead in group scenarios, and develop strategies for dealing with armed and multiple attackers. The Expert levels are all about mastering Krav Maga. Training includes high-stress scenarios and tactical simulations, preparing you for real-life situations. Expert-level practitioners also often become teachers, passing on their skills to the next generation.

The KMG grading system is designed to take you on a journey from basic self-defence to advanced tactical proficiency. Starting with the Practitioner levels, you build essential skills and move through increasingly complex techniques and scenarios. The switch from belts to patches reflects KMG’s modern, practical approach, making sure you’re ready for real-world situations.

By the time you reach the Graduate and Expert levels, you’ll not only be a skilled practitioner but also a confident and resilient individual, capable of handling any self-defence scenario that comes your way. So, whether you’re just starting out or looking to advance your skills, the KMG grading system provides a clear, structured path to mastery.