13 posts / 0 new
Last post
Les Bubka
Les Bubka's picture
"Black belt is the beginning" Is it?

Hi all

My thoughts on phrase "Black belt is the beginning", what do you think? 

https://shinaido.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/black-belt-is-the-beginning-is...

Kind regards 

Les

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi All,

Good article and very true. The beginning is the beginning :-)

I think the reason most people say, “black belt is just the beginning” is to remind folks that black belt is not the end. It’s not the achievement of “mastery” where there is nothing else to learn.

As I see it, there are three main reasons why folks may not get this:

1 – The uninitiated may still buy into the myth that black belts are close to being invincible superhumans (not as widespread as once it was).

2 – A person may let ego / arrogance run away with themselves and feel that now they are a black belt that they have nothing else to learn.

3 – They may be right in thinking they have nothing else to learn if the syllabus they are learning / testing under is very shallow such that people are just repeating what has already been learnt after black belt without really going wider or deeper (a point well made by Les in the above article).

Number 1 largely finds its origins in movies. Number 2 largely finds its origins in individual arrogance. Number 3 largely finds its origins in poor instruction / people running groups before they have the depth of knowledge to really do so. The phrase “black belt is just the beginning” is a simple way for those not influenced by 1, 2 or 3 to correct the fallacies of 1, 2 and 3.  And while it is effective in doing that, as Les points out, it throws in another myth which infers everything leading up to black belt is meaningless.

A look at the kanji for first dan (shodan) can be helpful:

初段 = “Shodan”

段 = “dan” meaning “level” or “stage in a process”

初 = “sho” meaning “first time” or “initial”

So achieving “shodan” would mean we have taken the first step. A beginner is yet to take that step, so it would be inaccurate to say that “black belt is just the beginning” (that would be white belt) … but we could say that “black belt just means that the first significant step has been taken” or “black belt means the very first stage of the process has been completed”. That would get us away from the above misunderstandings and yet still not diminish the importance of the “first step”.

As Les says in the article, a black belt is “a step along the long road to perfection”. That makes it a road without end; so while black belt does not represent an arrival at that destination, it does mean a significant first step has been made. No more. No less.

All the best,

Iain

Jeremy McLean
Jeremy McLean's picture

Number 3 was the scenario I was in. There are cases where either the syllabus is shallow or the teacher refused to teach past a certain point. It wasn't until after I got to shodan in my original dojo that I branched out to other styles and realized just how little I knew.

Les Bubka
Les Bubka's picture

Thanks Iain, 

very detail analysis, all very true,

Jeremy, great that you had open mind, I know so many people who are not willing to look and admit that they are stuck and not learning.

Lots of people have fear of change - work , training or relationship. They ratether be stuck in bad, than take the risk and start again. 

Kind regards 

Les

Chikara Andrew
Chikara Andrew's picture

I find myself using many of the points made in the posts above but I would add that I often use a quote to sum up my thoughts on the black belt. This one comes not from the martial arts but from Churchill:

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

I must confess to often paraphrasing this, and indeed I had to go and look up the full, correct quote, however it sums it up quite well I think.

"Now this is not the end." As pointed out above black belt is not the superhuman level of mastery, although many students come to realise this on their journey. Some sadly do still see it as the pinacle of acheivement and therefore it is useful to remind them of this.

"It is not even the beginning of the end," It can be daunting to realise this, and indeed I don't think I realised it myself until at least 2nd Dan. But once you start to set goals beyond black belt it all becomes part of a well rounded development.

"the end of the beginning." This is the key part, you learn an awful lot on the way to black belt and to say that that then is the beginning is harsh and potentially detremental. There are many texts that refer to Shodan and having gained a proficiency in the art, and this I think goes well with that.

Shodan represents the end of your initial training and a solid foundation and which to build and go forward.

Regards, Andrew

Les Bubka
Les Bubka's picture

Andrew, I like that quote it sums it nicely. Thank you kind regards Les

Michael B
Michael B's picture

The day you earn your black belt is something to look forward to and strive toward. It is something to celebrate once it is accomplished. It is something to look back upon with pride. But, in the final analysis, it is just another day of training. 

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Michael B wrote:
The day you earn your black belt is something to look forward to and strive toward. It is something to celebrate once it is accomplished. It is something to look back upon with pride. But, in the final analysis, it is just another day of training.

When I’m conducting gradings I always consider the question of whether it looks like the person has the wrong belt on. It should look that way if they are to pass. I should see the 1st kyu testing for black belt performing as a black belt. The fact they have a brown belt on should therefore look wrong. What this essentially means is that, in terms of skill and ability, they will have been a black belt for some time. The test just confirms that. The actually wearing of the belt changes very little. They were as good at the start of the test as they were at the end. So, I totally agree with the sentiment expressed.

All the best,

Iain

Marc
Marc's picture

Good article, Les.

I think the core idea is the following paragraph:

I describe the 1st Dan black belt as an intermediate level, one where you have a solid foundation and can now progress your Karate in your individual way. In this sense you could say that it is the beginning of your unique direction in Karate, based on what you know you can interpret it and mould it in the way that you want.

That's certainly how I felt when I prepared for my 1st Dan. I was beginning to develop my individual approach of karate.

Iain Abernethy wrote:

So achieving “shodan” would mean we have taken the first step. A beginner is yet to take that step, so it would be inaccurate to say that “black belt is just the beginning” (that would be white belt) … but we could say that “black belt just means that the first significant step has been taken”

Well phrased, Iain, I like it.

Michael B wrote:

The day you earn your black belt is something to look forward to and strive toward. It is something to celebrate once it is accomplished. It is something to look back upon with pride. But, in the final analysis, it is just another day of training.

That's true. The grading should be a by-product of training. As Iain said:

Iain Abernethy wrote:

in terms of skill and ability, they will have been a black belt for some time. The test just confirms that.

I like to tell my students that we should not strive for the next belt as such. Because a belt is just that. Instead we should strive for certain skills. Setting your objective as "I want to achieve my blue belt in summer" is very different from "I want to improve my hip rotation and breathing technique until summer". It is similar to the desire to own a driver's licence as opposed to actually learning to drive. This concept is even more important when we have a black belt already. Because we won't get a new belt with the next exam.

Take care,

Marc  

Les Bubka
Les Bubka's picture

Thanks Marc

Setting your objective as "I want to achieve my blue belt in summer" is very different from "I want to improve my hip rotation and breathing technique until summer". 

This is a good way to set up goals

Kind regards

Les

Amokbelx
Amokbelx's picture

Hi Les, I personally use the school analogy when talking about this topic. My thoughts are that a black belt is synonym to finishing school and getting your degree. You achieve the first part which is learning the basics of your chosen profession. You are not an expert yet but know the base. Then as you progress in your profession you specialize in a specific field in your profession and that's where the fun begins. You use what you learned in school to develop your career and move into the field you wish. You might need to learn other skills (in our case, it would be like cross training into different arts or style), go back to school to specialize to learn a specific style or go through appretince type program to learn and work under someone you want to learn from (in our case to seek out new teachers that teach and know what you want to learn). Then dan grades would be that you attained different levels of expertise and knowledge as you grow and in your career, that could be the equivalent of getting a job promotion, get a leadership position or start your own business. That's it! That's what I wanted to share. I hope this helps in some way. All the best. Osu

Les Bubka
Les Bubka's picture

Hi Amokbelx

nice analogy I like it.

Kind regards

Les

Marc
Marc's picture

Amokbelx wrote:

You are not an expert yet but know the base. Then as you progress in your profession you specialize in a specific field in your profession and that's where the fun begins. You use what you learned in school to develop your career and move into the field you wish.

I like the idea. (I hope I understand what you are saying correctly.)

The kyu grades give you a kind of basic and general education. You learn the basics of your style and you get a general overview of the spectrum of what karate (or other art) has to offer. Then, as a black belt, you start to specialise. Which means that you narrow down on a specific part of the spectrum and study it deeply.

This leads me to the next question: Is a master of a given art somebody who knows a little of everything but excells in a specific field? Or is a master somebody who excells in (almost) the entire spectrum? - By "master" I mean a person who is worthy of being awarded a high dan grade (8th, 9th, 10th dan).