Ranking and Certification

We frequently receive questions about student ranking and instructor certification in Contemporary Fighting Arts (CFA). Here’s how our ranking system works and what you can expect as you train and progress in our unique system of self-defense.

Achieving the pinnacle of physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual development in Contemporary Fighting Arts does not come about through mystical transformation, supernatural revelation, or some other ineffable experience. Nor is success predicated on empty promises or glorified guarantees. Rather, the development of the true warrior is a gradual process of evolution through various levels of physical, intellectual and spiritual growth.

Contemporary Fighting Arts provides its student with all the essential knowledge, skills and attitude for achieving combative excellence. The extent to which the warrior is willing to develop, internalize and apply CFA’s principles and practices is determined by his or her individual goals, capabilities, desire and commitment.. The opportunity for advancement is there. You must be willing and able to pursue it.

Advancing in Contemporary Fighting Arts inspires a sense of personal accomplishment and responsibility. Each student becomes acutely aware of the rigorous physical and mental discipline and challenges they must exercise and confront in order to advance through the ranks. Each student of Sammy Franco must prove his or her readiness by successfully passing both physical and written examinations. The written tests are designed to encourage rational thinking, while the physical tests focus on the precise execution of CFA’s tool and techniques and real-life combat survival skils. 

As an outward recognition of each individual’s accomplishment, Mr. Franco elected colored shirts to identify each rank (intermediate, skilled, advanced and expert). At no point in the evolutionary process of CFA did Mr. Franco consider using colored belts of the traditional martial arts. Mimicking such a practice would be inconsistent with his innovative approach to the combat sciences and self-defense training. Instead, Mr. Franco strategically selected colored shirts that would symbolize the unique attributes of CFA’s ranking structure. How can colors be reflective of a particular rank? To answer that question, you must first understand some basic points about color theory.

Color is the manifestation of light. No objects possess color intrinsically. The colors we observe are actually reflected light rays. For example, when light strikes a red ball, the ball is absorbing all the colors rays except the red ones. The red rays are reflected to us, thus creating our perception of red color. There are six colors in the spectrum. Only three of them are considered primary colors: YELLOW, RED, and BLUE. They are called primary because these colors cannot be created by any mixture of other colors. White and black are neutral or achromatic. White is perceived when an object reflects, but does not absorb any color rays. Black is observed when an object absorbs all of the color rays, and none are reflected.

Now that you have a very basic understanding of color theory, you are better prepared to explore the significance of color in our world. Besides providing much of the aesthetic beauty in our lives, it has been scientifically demonstrated that color affects our emotions as well. For example, red tends to excite and energize, while blue tends to calm and subdue. On a physiological level, red has been shown to increase pulse rate and blood pressure, while blue exerts an opposite effect. The psychological and physiological effects of color have been applied symbolically as well. The familiar expressions, “green with envy”, “feeling blue”, and “he was so angry, he saw red”, demonstrate a few of these interesting associations. With this in mind, we are ready to explore CFA’s use of color symbolism within its unique ranking structure.

Newcomers to the CFA system begin with a white shirt, which signifies a “no rank” level. White is traditionally associated with the attributes of purity and innocence. These students lack CFA’s knowledge, skills and experience. As novices, they do not possess the necessary psychological preparedness, strategic development, or physical skills to deal with effectively with the tumult and horrors of violence. In fact, they may even be oblivious to the pervasiveness of crime and how it can affect their sheltered lives. The beginning student’s mind is ready to absorb the principles and practices CFA strives to impart, that is absorb some of the nuance and knowledge of combative experience and perhaps thereby reflect a new “color” of expertise.

Yellow is one of the most light-projecting of all colors. It is most often associated with brightness. The expression “see the light” refers to the realization of the truth, and to say someone is “bright” implies intelligence. Yellow shirts are worn by Rank 1 students who have successfully passed oral examination and physical performance tests. At this level, the student has absorbed the basic fundamentals of CFA. They possess a basic understanding of the system’s goals and philosophies, and they have a rudimentary but workable knowledge of its tools, techniques and tactics. Yellow symbolizes development of the mental component of CFA, and its brightness signifies cognitive illumination.

Red is perhaps the most vibrant, dynamic color in the spectrum. Psychologically, red is exciting, intense and passionate. It is bold, attracts attention, and tends to be preferred by extroverts. It is also a very “physical” color. It has been proven to stimulate and increase energy levels, restlessness, and activity. The red shirt appropriately symbolizes the actualization of the physical component. Although outwardly impressive, red shirts may still tend to lack the refinement, precision, and strategic application that distinguishes them from the higher ranking students. Overconfidence (sometimes cockiness) may precede analytical thought, which may seriously compromise the overall effectiveness of their skills. Progressing to the higher rank is predicated on the Rank 2 student’s ability to temper and discipline and harness their physical skills and attributes. This is accomplished through practice, experience, more knowledge and respect for the higher ranks.

Blue is the antithesis of red. Whereas red is a “warm” color, blue is always “cold”. When red excites, blue tends to calm. Blue is associated with truth and loyalty as in the phrase “true blue”. A student’s progression to Rank 3 signifies proficiency and successful integration of CFA’s mental and physical components. Rank 3 students demonstrate the highest degree of loyalty to CFA and its doctrines. The Blue Shirt symbolizes the student’s internalization of Sammy Franco’s vision of “combative truth.” The Rank 3 student conducts himself purposefully and with exceptionally measured restraint. He no longer feels compelled to prove himself for the sake of self-glorification. His tools and techniques are determined and precise, and his self-possessed manner reflects confidence and mental composure. The Rank 3 student’s loyalty and commitment to Contemporary Fighting Arts becomes solidified, and he aspires to the ultimate level of combat mastery as a CFA expert.

The privilege and honor of wearing a black shirt is solely reserved for the warrior who has earned the expert status in Contemporary Fighting Arts. Ascending through the ranks to the level of expert is not a function of time, money, or opportunity. There are no secret formulas. Once a decision is made to pursue this goal, your success or failure depends solely upon one thing: Your complete mastery of CFA.

The Black Shirt symbolizes the total integration of body, mind and spirit. Essentially a black shirt “walks the talk.” Remember, black is a total absorption of light. CFA’s physical, mental and spiritual components can be compared to rays of light whose complete absorption within the soul of the warrior renders him worthy of expert status.

This ultimate level of proficiency, however, must be combined with heartfelt commitment to the CFA system. As an expert you represent Contemporary Fighting Arts and everything it stands for. You assume the responsibility of personifying the dream that Sammy Franco made into a reality. You must be prepared, at all times, to cope with speculation and dissension from those who choose to follow other paths. Through it all, you must affirm and uphold the principles of Contemporary Fighting Arts.

I have described how each CFA rank reflects different levels of the student’s proficiency. It is no accident that the colors YELLOW, RED, and BLUE were chosen to signify Ranks 1, 2, and 3. They are the primary colors, unique in that they are the basics from which all other colors are made. Similarly, Ranks 1, 2, and 3 represent the three core components of CFA – the vital essence from which the true warrior emerges. White and black are achromatic, and complete opposites. Whereas, no rank students have not yet acquired CFA’s knowledge and skills, the expert signifies total absorption and internalization of CFA’s combat knowledge and truth.

There has only been one Black Shirt ever issued in the CFA system, awarded to Mr. Carl Sosebee.

Ascending through the ranks of Contemporary Fighting Arts can be compared to climbing a mountain. There are no shortcuts to the top. You must progress one ledge and toe-hold at a time in order to safely and successfully reach your destination. Skipping steps or moving too fast will cause you to fall. Each step along the way is firmly connected to the step below and the step above. They are dependent upon each other for strength and support. The proper approach to your ascent guarantees the skills and foundation needed to reach the top. Whether you reach the summit and view the world from new heights – or whether you fall – depends entirely on you.

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