Grading Syllabus

We utilise a system of nine coloured grades (arm sashes) up to black.

Depending on how hard and regularly you train, you can expect to reach 'black belt' level around three to five years after starting training.

If you are at university for three years and train regularly and hard, including over holidays, you can achieve black by the end of your time at Sussex. Interestingly, this was the original meaning of 'black belt' when the concept was created in Japan at the beginning of the last century. It was precisely the level of expertise that could be achieved while training consistently and hard over the course of a University degree.

The system allows instructors to make sure students get a balanced coverage of different striking and grappling skills while training with the club and provides motivation for students to concentrate on different core skills as they progress. Achievement of black indicates the authority to teach Integrated Martial Arts, competence in a full range of self defence relevant skills and the basis for building on those skills in any gym in the world.

You must:

  • train for a minimum of 14 lessons between gradings for the first three grades: red, yellow and green
  • train for a minimum of 19 lessons between gradings for the two purples
  • train for a minimum of 24 sessions for the browns and for black

For each grading you must also have attended a seminar by our visiting instructors. Always check with an instructor before grading to make sure they say you are ready. If you have not trained in martial arts before you will need more than these to be ready to grade. The syllabus may be revised from time to time.

PLEASE NOTE: In addition to the technical requirements, we also expect - for all gradings - that you are a safe and courteous training partner. This means we expect you to correctly apply the principle of progressive resistance, do not risk injury to yourself or your training partner, hold pads correctly and safely, and demonstrate control and good measure in all drills and techniques.

See below for the requirements for each grade:

Red Belt syllabus

Impact with pads

  • Jab, cross, hook
  • Elbows, slaps
  • Front kick, roundhouse kick, side kick individually


Locks and throws

  • Hip throw (O Goshi)



  • Lower wrist grabs – wedge defences with extended/compressed frame
  • Extended/compressed frame defence to push & swing


Exchange drills

  • Palming and countering jab
  • Front kick exchange



  • Bicep tie with arm drag/rear naked choke and Russian tie
  • Swimming



  • Escapes from mount


Break falls

  • Side break fall, forward roll, back break fall, backward roll


Click for a walkthrough-video for this grading
Yellow Belt Syllabus

Pad work

  • Jab, cross, hook, uppercut
  • Jab, cross, hook, elbow
  • 2x front kicks
  • 2x roundhouse kicks – same and alternate sides


Ground work

  • Escapes from side control and scarf hold



  • Defences against the six wrist grabs, second set (including extended/compressed frame)
  • Extended/compressed frame defence against swing and follow-up


Locks and throws

  • Shoulder throw (Seoi Nage)
  • Bicep tie with pressure-point Arm bar, Hammer lock, Sankyo wrist twist


Exchange drills

  • Hook exchange drill
  • Roundhouse exchange drill


Click for a walkthrough-video of this grading
Green Belt syllabus


Impact with forearm pads

  • Neck clinch knees – front & side
  • Non clinch straight knee
  • Jab – left hook x2 (low high)
  • Jab – left hook – cross


Locks and throws

  • Leg trips – inside & outside



  • Defence against push, swing, collar grabs, kick, headlock
  • Defence against low threatening knife



  • Submissions from mount / side / scarf (including Arm bar, Americana/Kimura, Arm triangle)
  • Sweeps from guard


Exchange drills

  • 3x straight punch exchange
  • Neck clinch control and escapes (with knees)

Click for a walkthrough-video of this grading
*Also make sure you have watched our Basic Guide to Knife Defence for this grading! 
First Purple Belt syllabus

 Impact with forearm pads

  • Jab, leading leg front kick
  • Jab, cross, back front kick
  • Jab – cross – roundhouse
  • Jab – cross – jab – roundhouse


Locks and throws

  • Body locks (front, side and behind)
  • Single leg take-downs



  • Submissions from guard (bottom position), including guillotine, triangle choke and arm bar
  • Passing guard



  • Defences against the five most common male-on-female attacks


Stand up

  • Back leg thigh kick, grab and kick standing leg



  • Swimming with arm drag, duck under, and slide-by


Click for a walkthrough-video of this grading
Second Purple Belt syllabus

Impact with forearm pads

  • Jab, spinning side kick
  • Jab, spinning back fist
  • Spinning back fist one way then immediately the other
  • Spinning elbow


Locks and throws

  • Achilles tendon, heel hook, toe hold, knee bar
  • Scissor takedowns
  • S-shape lock
  • Double leg take-downs


Stand up

  • Straight punch exchange drill with closing to clinch



  • Sweeps from half guard (bottom)
  • Submissions from half guard (bottom)


Click here for a walkthrough-video of this grading
First Brown Belt syllabus

Impact with forearm pads

  • Jab, cross, left hook to body, right hook to head
  • Body lock to lower back, knees to either side of rib cage
  • Back roundhouse x2, cross, switch, roundhouse, cross


Locks and throws

  • Swimming with Harai Goshi / Hane Goshi
  • Finger locks (index finger lock, ring finger lock, thumb compression, high five)
  • Bicep tie with Ude Gaeshi (shoulder lock/throw) and Kote Gaeshi wrist twist



  • Ground and pound (TOP, guard, half guard, side, mount, knee on belly)
  • Ground and pound (BOTTOM), escape to feet or submit


Stand up drills

  • Hook exchange drill with clinching (and takedowns)
  • Kick exchange drill with take downs


Click for a walkthrough-video of this grading
Second Brown Belt syllabus

Impact with forearm pads

  • Jab, neck clinch same arm, elbow
  • Jab, cross, hook, clinch, elbow
  • Jab, clinch, knee to body or head
  • Foot sweep (Ashi Barai), (same leg) roundhouse and/or cross



  1. Person A trying to just stand up, person B close to clinch and trying to keep clinch
  2. Person A stay on feet, person B try to take to ground and keep it there
  3. ground to stand-up transitions: One person in top position in guard, half-guard, side control, knee on stomach, mount. Bottom person try to stand up, top person try to pin.
  4. Both in clinch. One person try to take it to ground, one try to keep to stand up.


Self defence

  • Responses to: half/full nelson, both wrists seized from rear, single/double shoulder grab from front/rear, garment pulled over head, hammerlock


Free play

  • Clinch, any tie
  • Stand up
  • Ground (from kneeling)


Third Brown Belt syllabus

Impact with forearm pads

  • Two minute Tabata protocol



  • From each of:
    Mount (top), guard (top and bottom), scarf (top), side mount (top) try to apply a submission, other person try to avoid submission


Knife defence

  • Defence against stationary threatening knife



  • One person work one of the following and opponent another: bicep, neck, over-under clinch


Stand up

  • Only: a) straight punches, b) circular punches, and c) knees + kicks against opponent free to use any stand up weapon


Free play

  • Stand up, clinch and ground separately and together


Black Belt syllabus

A black belt indicates competence in all the ranges of self defense, and a sufficient technical understanding to be able to teach and run an IMA club. It represents a minimum of 3 years hard continuous training in an IMA club. An IMA black belt now has sufficient understanding to truly begin their lifelong learning of martial arts.

Shadow boxing

  • Shadow striking and grappling, including your five favourite stand up combinations



  • Hitting the pads with 4 minute Tabata protocol



  • Describe the 10 techniques you think you are most likely to have to defend against on the street, and demonstrate your favourite defence to each. The demonstration should consist of partner work and also you linking the moves together as your own personal solo form.


Knife defence

  • Defence against moving knife and surprise knife attack


Free play

  • Stand up, clinch, and ground


Second Black Belt syllabus

The second black indicates personal development in a roughly balanced manner. It shows not only substantial improvement from first black in a number of ranges of fighting, but the capacity to take responsiblity for one's development as a martial artist.

20 points are needed for 2nd black, i.e. 10 points is equivalent to a minimum of a year of training.

Minimum requirements: 2 years of regular training/teaching; one year teaching in an IMA club; and some points in at least three of the first 4 categories below.

Points are obtained by achievements in:

  1. Striking
  2. Stand up grappling
  3. Ground
  4. Self defence specific: (pressure points, gouges, small joint manipulation, soft tissue destruction; pre-fight negotiation, SPEAR, Functional Edge etc)
  5. Conditioning (development and technical development in aerobic, anaerobic, strength, flexibility in a way that could contribute to regular club IMA training); maximum 3 points
  6. Weapons

2 points for winning a match under competition environment against an opponent whose experience/grade makes them equivalent to 1st black IMA (i.e. 1-2 years regular training in their sub-discipline)

Points can be obtained by grading in another system so long as 1) the grade takes one to above the level of the equivalent of IMA 1st dan; 2) the training for the grade occurred after one got the IMA 1st dan (i.e. not just resting on one's lauryls). The points equivalent is decided by the amount of time it would take to go from the belt corresponding to IMA black belt to the belt awarded (e.g. if it would typically take 2 years regular training to go from blue belt BJJ to purple belt, then purple belt would actually get you 20 points. That wouldn't be enough for IMA second dan though because of the need to obtain points in 3 categories). Points can also be obtained by working on a specific set of skills in a programme agreed in advance by two IMA Examiners, which amounts to the required amount of training, and which would be tested either by the Examiners in a regular grading format, or by some other means we could mutually decide (e.g. approval of progress by a third expert).


IMA Examiner

An IMA Examiner may grade a person to first black belt; two Examiners together may grade a first black to second black; and three Examiners together can approve a second black becoming an Examiner. The decision is based on sufficient development as a martial artist in a balanced way that a person has sufficient judgment and technical knowledge in all areas covered by the IMA syllabus that they have the authority to examine.