Why I Quit Charging Belt Testing Fees

martial arts belt testing fees

To fee or not to fee?

After much deliberation, I recently decided I would no longer charge testing fees at my school.

Why? I’ve seen way too much abuse of this practice in other schools, and decided to implement a “no testing fee” policy as just one more thing that sets our school apart from other schools.

However, my students will still be responsible for paying the retail cost of their belt at the time they are promoted (about $7).

Should It Even Be Part Of Your Income?

Now, I know that martial arts belt testing fees are a considerable source of income for many martial arts schools. But you have to ask yourself what kind of message it sends your students when you’re basing a good deal of your budgeting on income that comes from bumping them in rank.

I think it’s pretty obvious… there’s a subtle message there that says, “If you pay me, you’ll get your belt.”

Maybe you started it because you needed the extra money, maybe everyone else in your organization does it so you feel obligated to toe the line… or maybe you’re the type of school owner that runs a belt factory where you attract students by charging half of what the other schools do, then hit your students up for sky-high belt fees every couple of months or so to make up the difference.

A Revolutionary Concept?

Now, I know that many of you out there are very attached to those “promotion and testing” fees… Well, here’s a thought; why not just charge enough to cover your expenses and salary in the first place?

Whatever the case may be, I think you are doing yourself and your students a major disservice by continuing to charge promotion fees. It cheapens the relationship between the student and instructor, it invites in all sorts of temptation (like scheduling a belt grading everytime you’re short on money), and it degrades the value of the rank you award.

You may disagree with me, but personally I like how it feels to test a student when we both know that the only thing influencing my decision is their performance on their exam.

Mike Massie is the author of Small Dojo Big Profits and runs a martial arts business coaching website for new instructors and small school owners, MAbizU.com.


  1. Gary on January 15, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    I think this is an excellent idea. I know that I have been in a position where I had to flunk a student from one of my classes. This student showed me that he knew the form, could do the one-steps and was fairly proficient in sparring. When he tested, he couldn’t do anything. I had to choose to keep his money and let him retest, give him his money back or pass him. I chose to give him his money back and told him he can test next time. Well, he left because he was frustrated. I think I will raise my monthly fees (calculating in the test fees I would otherwise earn)and let them know that there are no additional fees, except the cost of the belt.

    Thanks for the idea

  2. dale miller on January 16, 2009 at 3:19 am

    I charge for testing fees for my students. I have considered merging the fee for testing into the standard tuition fee but have so far decided not to implement it.

    I know plenty of people who put students in to test when they are not ready as they want the money. As im not reliant on the school for my income im in a good position to not have to worry about putting people in when they arent ready just to pay for my own food and rent.

    My students are never entered if they arent ready. The children also have a requirement where they need to be behaving in class, at home for the parents and at school and I speak to each parent before testing to make sure of this.

    I have failed students in the past (and my students and anyone who examines under me knows this), but the way I see it 99% of the time if a student fails its because they werent ready and thats the instructors fault as they shouldnt have entered them into the test. There is the additional 1% like the student Gary had who was fine to be entered for the test but didnt perform on the day. Im quite happy to fail students in that situation but I have a policy that if I fail a student then I then work with them and work out a plan on getting them ready to pass in their retest.

    Thankfully the only students I have failed have stayed and have gone on to pass their test.

  3. Brent on January 16, 2009 at 9:48 am

    I was just commenting on this idea on another site. I think that it is a great idea for students who are not likely to be involved in large organizations (as they tend to have higher testing fees). But for black belts, I would prefer to keep the fees in place. But that is just for our school.
    Thanks for the challeneg to re-evaluate our practices. It helps!!

  4. Luis A. Melendez Jr on January 28, 2009 at 4:19 am

    First, great site & great info. I agree that alot of schools go crazy with belt exam fees, but i also understand that it is an extra source of income. It’s a great idea to add these fees to your tuition. My thoughts on students taking an exam is this, if they are ready & know their curriculum then let them test, if they fail due to nerves, what i do is give them a surprised exam, meaning let them take the exam without them knowing ,grade them and let them know at the end of class. this eliminates the nerves factor and also lets them know you must be ready at all times.Second, I use exam fees to motivate instructors to teach better classes because the instructor will get a percent of the exam fees if the student passes. If they fail the instructor does not get anything and is re-evaluated on their teaching methods. We as martial arts educators must remember that we must teach effective self-defense, build character and enpower our student’s lives. I believe our students are our product, and that says alot about our teaching and our art.

    Your Martial art brother,
    Luis A. Melendez Jr
    Prestige Martial Arts Academy

  5. Brian Diamond on August 27, 2012 at 11:57 am

    At the Dojo I attend, we still charge for Dan ranks but not Kyu. It is a source of income but I beleive it is earned. (By the way I do not receive any of the testing fees.) First the applicants get more instruction from my Sensei and some of the other senior students to make them more polished and ready. There is more individual time spent with them. Also they get a decent quality belt plus certificate. As far as people failing due to nerves, that is part of the test. How do you react to stress and nervousness? Imagine the pressure in a real situation. I don’t believe in testing people without them knowing about it. Part of advancement is controlling oneself.

  6. Jeff on May 25, 2018 at 10:34 am

    I have a new school less than a year old, and this is one question I asked myself. When I was coming up, the testing fees were $45-$60 for kyu, and other than the belt and a 25-cent piece of paper, I didn’t understand the justification except pure profit. I have nothing against pure profit, but I have decided to have testing fees only for certain ranks, to cover the cost of equipment the student will need for the next rank (a bo staff or nunchaku, for example). This is mainly to ensure the student starts with new equipment that I have already tested and approved, rather than tell them they can’t use a broomstick or frayed-cord nunchaku bought at a garage sale. I would also charge a testing fee to cover the cost of space rental (since I don’t have a dedicated dojo) for longer tests for higher ranks. My previous location charged $50/hour for the space for use outside contracted class time. I don’t charge fees for lower rank testing or intermediary ranks where no extra equipment is required.

  7. Mike Massie on July 18, 2018 at 6:53 am

    This seems like a reasonable thing to do, Jeff. I used to charge a $25 fee for kyu/gup exams, then I rolled the fees into our tuition. It takes extra time to run an exam, and extra work as well. As long as you’re not gouging people, I don’t see a problem with charging a small fee for an exam.

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