Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Meaning of a Black Belt

"A Black Belt only covers 2 inches of your ass.  You have to cover the rest."
-Royce Gracie

    For many neophyte martial artists, attaining the mystical "black belt" is the goal for their studies.  Often, a martial artist receive their new black belt and then disappear, never to study again.  Or worse yet, stay in the system, and assume elitist position, and assume they are now the shit.  This goes against the ideas and ideals of  martial arts.  Some martial arts don't even have a belt system.  From my understanding, most of the kung fu systems, and the really traditional Japanese systems don't use the kyu-dan method of ranking.  Some of them are starting to for commercial reasons.  The colored belt system itself is relatively new.  Kano Jigoro was the first to use it in Judo, roughly a century ago.  So there is not historical throwback to antiquity in this.  We'll discuss the myths of being a black belt in a different post, but first, a little education on the terminology from Japanese martial arts.
    Again, I don't know enough  about other martial arts system (my personal ignorance, that I am working to fix), so I can only speak about the terminology for the majority of Japanese/Okinawan  systems.  A person shouldn't properly be called "black belt" as if it were a title.  The belt is the piece of clothing.  It would be the equivalent of saying "You know, Joe is a Hardhat," when you mean he's a construction worker.  It sounds wrong to our ears, and calling someone a "Kuro Obi" sounds wrong Japanese ears.  Even calling someone a Shodan has a weird sound.  Shodan literally means "1st Rank."  When talking about some one's title, a better word would be Yudansha.  It means "someone who has rank."  It is a generalized term that says this person has entered the dan ranks (someone who has a black belt).  Consequentially someone who's working towards their dan rank is called a Mudansha (A person without dan rank.)
    Every martial art is a system.  Because of the nebulous realm that is human intraspecific physical conflict, some sort of organization is required for beginners to start to learn the particular theories and principles that work in the certain circumstances relevant to the origination of the art.  The system is a really a just learning tool.  A pathway to learn enough that someone can then apply the theories and principles.  In most systems, a rank of shodan means that you have passed through that system to learn the basics well enough that you can now work on learning the application.  That's all.  You now know enough to start learning.  I've heard it said that earning your shodan is the equivalent of graduating high school.  Or in an even more demonstrative statement, Allen "Big Al" Carroll says in Xing Yi "Congratulations, you just graduated kindergarten."
Martial arts is also useful for when Ninja try to steal your car
    The other side of the coin is MY black belt means a lot to me.  I've put in blood and sweat into my art to make sure I could learn enough.  I've consistently shown up, trained hard, and learned the presented material.  It is an important step in my life.  My belt is a symbol of all that I've put into my art.  Nobody else in the world should care about my belt.  To belabor the point, I had my equipment bag stolen from my car.  In it was my gi, hakama, and obi.  I know I could replace the physical belt, but I was upset that my belt was gone, because of what it symbolized.  Also, I know that all the contents of the bag were completely useless to anyone else in the world.  I'm short, the gi and hakama probably wouldn't fit anyone else anyway.  Fucking thieves... But I'm not bitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment