Saturday, March 19, 2016

An Average Person's Black Belt

A great question, and something on my mind since I saw it and posted on Facebook a week or two ago.

First of all, let's be clear.  Black belt is a fairly recent invention in the martial arts world.  Dr. Jigoro Kano introduced a belt system for Judo in the early part of the 20th century, to help create fair competition.  Judo is an Olympic sport and includes weight classes in addition to belt ranks.

Traditional Japanese martial arts had a few key milestones in training including Menkyo Kaiden (免許開伝), which usually involved a revelation of the secret teachings of the school.  In many cases, a scroll of the school's techniques (essentially a Bible) was given so that the practitioner could go and open a new school somewhere else and keep a reference manual of the school's teachings.

In traditional schools, until a certain level (1st Dan black belt equivalent) a student was not even registered at the school. Technically they did not even exist before black belt.  These days we see 8 year olds get awarded black belts, and there seem to be dozens of black belts in every school.  For most, it seems like an every day thing or, even worse, the end of the journey and time to move on to another hobby.  Most people stop at 1st Dan, when in reality they have only finally learned enough to start their real training.

As a basic example, even among the black belt ranks, in a 10-grade Dankyu system like Judo, the breakdown of titles and skills/duties is usually something like this:

1st Dan --- shodan --- beginner, familiar with the basics, now equipped with the tools to start study
2nd/3rd Dan --- shiodin/shidoshi --- able to teach beginners, still perfecting/reinforcing their basics
4th Dan /5th Dan --- hanshi/renshi ---oversees daily practice and can manage the school
6th Dan -8th Dan --- shihan, deeply exploring the system including the philosophy and strategy
8th Dan and above --- soke/founder, usually an honorific title due to advanced age

In terms of actual experience, it can differ in some cases but I am generally skeptical of anyone at 5th dan or higher who is under 40 years old, since that title usually reflects no less than 30 years of diligent training.  Shihan and above are often in their late 50s/60s or older, but in many cases legendary figures in their respective schools, or those who then go on to found their own styles.

One things is common, however.  The black belts I have met - where those belts were earned - are never "average" people.  As in the picture, average people don't earn black belts.  They quit; give up; get distracted; get impatient.  For most of the black belts I know, that milestone represents no less than 5 years of hard work and commitment, daily training.  It involves tremendous personal sacrifice and an iron will.  Most of them attend camps and seminars several times per year in addition to the training.  Nearly everyone has a "day job" and many have families as well.  When I see that belt, I understand what effort has gone into it, and it commands my respect.

Every Kali Majapahit black belt has been through the same challenges I have.
Personal challenges that push us to the breaking point.  I am immediately deeply connected to everyone I see with one of those belts/shirts, because I know how they feel, and what attributes they must possess to pass the tests as all the rest of us did.  The kasama test (red belt) is usually the first taste of how these tests go, and mine nearly broke me physically and mentally.  They have gotten harder at each subsequent level.  Thankfully, so have I.

There are so many reasons to stop training and not go all the way to black belt (and beyond).  Work is busy/lots of overtime, I have a new boyfriend/girlfriend, I hurt my leg/arm/back etc.. The list goes on. That said, the ones who make it to black belt are the ones who don't quit.  They do not accept an average or ordinary life.  They do not let external events determine their internal state.  They know they are superheroes, waiting to be born.  They forge themselves in fire because it is the only way to become unbreakable.

Statistically, it is only a few percent of the students who start that will ever make it to black belt.  Of those, even less will go on to continue to study for higher levels.  They are anything but "average". We are so lucky to have so many kasamas and black belts in Kali Majapahit - so many who stay the course and believe in themselves and in us.  We are further lucky in KM Japan to have such a number of our brothers and sisters who are already well along the path, poised to become teachers in their own right very soon.  You make me very proud.

These are people who understand martial arts training for what it really is: a vehicle to master your own life.  To develop the discipline of setting and achieving goals inside and outside the dojo.  To choose a path and follow it deliberately, taking responsibility for yourself and your journey.  Bettering yourself so you can contribute to the lives of others and inspire them.  Pushing yourself to become the person you want to be, defining and achieving your own personal success.

Martial arts training is a means to an end.  An end based on success, achievement, fulfilment, happiness, compassion.

Are you "average"?  Or do you believe you can be more??
It's your choice ---- accept ordinary or BECOME EXTRAORDINARY.

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