The ZMA Tarnu system was first founded by Master James Swartwood as a new way to teach the Zen Martial Arts, shaping the lessons around the interests of his first ZMA students outside of ZMAINW. Over time, the system has developed into an established curriculum that offers a clear progression through five main aspects of the martial arts: general practice, presentational traditions, expressive techniques, offensive skills, and dexterous development. Students of Tarnu are invited to progress through a belt system as described below.


There is a heavy overlap between the Tarnu and ZMAINW belt systems, with the array of techniques being nearly the same but having them organized differently throughout. A practitioner of the standard Tarnu system who achieves their black belt will have covered all of the material in the original Zen Martial Arts system up to the black belt, plus any additions made to complete the Tarnu path.

Each promotion through the ZMA Tarnu system involves growth in each of the five martial arts aspects: general, presentational, expressive, offensive, and dexterous. Each belt color from start to finish represents a different step in a martial artist's journey. Follow this link to the full list of requirements for each level.


White Belt - Laying the Foundation

Blue Belt - Expanding Knowledge

Purple Belt - Developing Personal Skill

Brown Belt - Exploring the Martial Arts

Black Belt - Establishing Identity

Renshi Belt ("polished teacher") - Sharing Legacy

Kyoshi Belt ("expert teacher") - Overseeing Growth

Hanshi Belt ("exemplary teacher") - Finding Peace