Certification, a rant!

The good stuff

Certification. . . This is a topic that is full to the brim with politics and more often than not a nice dose of egomania. I have wanted to tackle this topic for a while now and with its ever encroaching presence in HEMA along with the ever growing controversy, I feel it’s the best time to do just that.

First I would like to start by saying certification is a totally reasonable approach to not only giving students a goal, but to also monitor and keep track of students overall progress. However within saying that, there is also a fair amount of downsides to certification, mostly due to the individuals who implement it. Below I will detail out my own personal beliefs on how certification can be constructive and negative as well as the controversy that can surround it.

First and foremost the pros! When it comes to martial arts, usually one of the first things you are asked as an instructor is about certification, or as it is more commonly known Grading’s. So let’s take a look and see. I believe the progression to gaining the next level in a required field, to be a path one walks down. The three main benefits that make up such a path are below.



Motivation is pretty much the number one reason for having any form of certification, in my own opinion. The thought of certification motivates students to work harder and gives them a very clearly defined goal. This can help in keeping students active and productive, while they work through the curriculum.


Motivation defines a clear goal before one even starts, However seeing an endless path can be daunting without any stops along the way. Progressing to and past certification; fills the need for these stops. Allowing the student to feel they are progressing along and gaining a certain level of technical ability and expertise.


Achievement is the end goal of certification. The feeling of having walked a path and to have successfully reached its end.  To reach this stage is to have worked trained and studied hard, overcoming many obstacles and tests. Once achieved the student will most likely wish to start the journey again using the same motivation to grow and expand as a martial artist.

Through these three simple stages students gain benefits in both their motivation, attendance, work ethic and the confidence gained from working and achieving certification.

Instructors also benefit from having their students become more self-motivated as well as the clear willingness to test and expand their abilities. Certification is a really great way to monitor what works and what does not work within a curriculum.

The bad !

Now on to the cons! There are a few however I will keep to what I see as the main perpetrators.

Generally as I say again the cons follow the implementation of certification and how the implementer’s go about it.

1.Handing them out like sweet, sweet candy!

Certification can be a great tool as listen above, however the one main ways to destroy the effectiveness of such a tool, is to allow students to obtain them far too quickly and easily. This can amount to instructors looking the other way when it comes to dedication, hard work and overlooking mistakes that students make.

2.For only 2.50!

Yep it’s the age old way of getting the Mc Dojo statues!, the ability to buy your certification.

This is in fact, the best way to find out if an instructor is purely out for a quick buck. This often leads to the said individual’s schools reputation gaining the aforementioned Mc Dojo statues as well as destroying the instructor’s personal reputation among many of his peers.


 You know that one guy that has the instant air of superiority, with the incessant need to talk to you as if he was addressing a wide eye child, yes that’s the one! Simply put. Don’t be that guy or girl. Keeping the ego in check of your students as well as yourself more importantly, is something that many clubs thankfully do. However a fair share don’t. Ego and self-confidence are very different. Being confident of ones skill as attested to their ability and rank is all fine and dandy, however using the rank as a way to downgrade and often than not snub people is not.

This is simply something that is a buy product of the certification process and can easily be rectified if an instructor is bothered to keep an eye on it.

The final rant!

It is entirely understandable for students training under your school to be required to gain certification under you as they represent you and the content of your school. As a process within a school it is a meaningful method of conducting training and student progression. However where this becomes more problematic is when organisations made up of many disparate clubs try and force certification onto the instructors. This stifles creativity innovation and the ability to tailor training progression and advancement for a specific instructors skill sets and their students needs.

The reasons as to why I take issue are simple. None of the clubs involved take sole representation of that said organization, as well as this, usually the board members that make up the certification process that decide the content of such a scheme do not take their own test.

I also personally feel that no one in regards to martial arts or specifically HEMA and WMA have the right to certify other people outside of their own schools. We all started regardless of experience and years practice, in the back garden, with a friend and a book, hitting each other with a stick.  

A lot of the time this certification is needed to attend events and costs money to obtain and always strikes me as a way to gain more money and exclude schools from participation. As I say again I am 100% in favor that when you join any of the schools in an umbrella organization, than taking their particular certification test is acceptable.

Now people will be inclined to argue that this is simply a way to monitor the level of tuition that is offered from each of the schools that make up the Umbrella organization. This in writing sounds great! However with the aforementioned problems, can and often does quickly lead to ego and power games. Exclusion from events and promotions as an elitist group is formed. The main problem being that the curriculum of the test is implemented by your individuals who often do not take the test themselves instantly raising themselves above the rest with little or no work.

Schools that wish to participate should be allowed to do so, without the need for external reviewing of their instructors. It should solely be based on the schools reputation, work and performance within the field and not on the judgment of people who started their HEMA and WMA career the exact same way.  If your school produces excellent students and you as an instructor have a good reputation as a teacher and fighter than that in my own opinion is enough. You should not be required to be tested by individuals who have nothing to do with your own training, performance or school.

However the irony of this is that multiple organizations are implementing just such schemes and make it necessary to take their testing certification. I will continue to voice my protest and consternation of such things. However it is very important to note that this is just one aspect I take issue with. Many of these organizations do great work and are an excellent way to cooperate and grow as a community. It is just a pity that people feel the need to put stringent criteria in place when it is neither needed nor wanted. In the end it turns people against people.To sum it up in layman’s terms, it’s like two karate teachers both of equal skill and fame; one tells the other you can’t attend until you pass my criteria. The other protests saying we are the same in rank and skill we trained the same, I have proven myself in all regards already so why should I have to take your test. At the end of the day my big problem with this, is that it introduces politics into the organisation to the detriment of students, instructors and the art .

Thanks for reading, check back next week when I’ll be ranting about other aspects of this wonderful art, no doubt that it will prove intriguing or at least entertaining, maybe even both.