So I had a conversation a little while ago about rank. Someone was saying to me that they felt a certain dojo had too many black belts. The implication was that standards were low. I am not going to speak to standards here: the last thing the anyone needs is yet another rant about McDojos and what they are doing to the martial arts. However, the idea of a dojo having too many black belts stuck with me. If you have been training for a while you have probably noticed that not that many people stick it out. For arts that use that ranking system, just before or just after black belt is one time where you see a lot of attrition. So given the turnover, and that it often happens right around black belt, it seems obvious that a dojo with a lot of black belts is giving them out too easily. Otherwise they would be rare, since people that stick it out are rare.
But that is bad math. Bad statistics, really. How many people stick it out in general does not matter. You are not looking at the entire population of people who have ever trained, but at who is currently training in a given dojo. If a dojo is a good one, and by this I mean one where there is a solid knowledge base, good teaching methods, high standards, and a collaborative atmosphere, there should be a high percentage of black belts. If the knowledge base and atmosphere are good people will stay. Not all. Maybe not even many. But some will stay. And unless the teaching is bad they will learn. And since 1st degree black belt is a relatively junior rank, they should eventually become black belts.
People that stay learn, and are (eventually) black belts. People that leave leave, and are therefore not counted when looking at who is currently training. So at any given time only the newer members will not be black belts. The statistics are simple: in a well established dojo with high standards you should see a large proportion of black belts. If not, it means either no one is staying, or no one is learning. And that would not be a good dojo.