Friday, February 24, 2006

What does the Black Belt mean now?

A Fighting Arts.Com essay by Jonathan Maberry seeking to debunk the belief, now not-so-common, that someone who wears a black belt is a "master". My take is that a first-degree adult black belt has shown serious commitment, no more (usually).

In this age of six year-old second and third degree black belts, I think most Americans no longer even hold the black belt in much esteem anymore, but it wasn't always so. Unfortunately, the popularization of the martial arts by movies and cartoons have made martial arts seem like soccer to many parents, and has definitely "watered down" the meaning of the black belt, and even more, the white belt (which I think is more important). The popularization of "karate" by the movies led to many cashing in on the fads (Ninjas, Kung Fu, Brazilian Jujitsu, and now MMA) by awarding rank at a as fast as the testing checks can clear. Judo, which started the color belt system, and other early followers, used to have only 5-8 underbelt (before black belt) grades, then black belt degrees up to seventh or eighth. To achieve higher, one had to be either the founder or head of the entire system!
Not anymore. Most schools don't hold the requirement that a black belt be sixteen, and even award degrees to pre-teens. I've personally known three kids younger than twelve who are either second or third dan (degree) , or getting ready to "test." I also know of a good number of "masters" that are sixth through eigth dan, and aren't even 35 years-old! I last tested in 1994 for 3rd-dan, and haven't done so since because I haven't seen the point. When I know that a ten year-old is probably fourth dan in his third year of training, what does it matter? Sad...

That said, do I still wear my black belt much of the time because of what it represents to me personally, and because I am proud of the achievement. I am also proud of those whom I have promoted to black belt. All of them know that they earned it, and were given nothing. I have also trained and worked with many fine black belts whose achievements I hold in high esteem.

Despite this, I will probably test again with a reputable organization at some point, just to have the credential, but as you can tell, it's not a priority.


Not even close. A first-degree black belt is a very advanced beginner student. The belt signifies his passage from the ranks of those students who are still learning to the ranks of those persons who have now learned how to learn. This is a significant difference.

... A black belt should be able to genuinely grasp the concepts upon which the martial arts are based, which is far more important than his ability to perform any given technique.

Does this mean that the black belt is an expert? Well, my colleagues in the martial arts are fairly evenly split on that point. One point of view is: Yes, the first-degree black belt is an expert on the basic gross motor skills necessary to perform martial arts skills. The other point of view is: No, a first-degree black belt is not an expert but is rather a very advanced beginner who is just grasping the concepts he will need in order to become an expert within a few years.

Most of the traditional instructors I know maintain that a person becomes a true “expert” of the basics of their martial art by the time they reach third degree black belt, which is for many arts the point at which that person is allowed to begin teaching.

In modern times, especially with rapidly growing chain schools, first and second degree black belts are often assigned to teach classes and many are even called “sensei”. This marketing procedure greatly confuses the issue -- and confuses younger students -- who then equate anyone with a black belt with instructor-level


Dr. Stupid said...

Great blog! I will read it carefully tomorrow. I am a second dan taekwondo black belt.

Anonymous said...

TOTALLY agree with you. It is ridiculous, watching fighters these days. From laughable point-sparring matches to poor form and power, TKD has been greatly watered down.

Even been watching a ridiculous sparring match and been tempted to jump in the ring and show everyone what fighting is all about? :D

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I was the anonymous poster. I meant to say 'ever' not even.

Nathan Teodoro said...

Thanks for the kind comments. I share the temptation. I actually did jump in and compete in an open tournament (point) a couple of years ago, after 10-15 years away from it, and with primarily muay thai and combatives training for several years, and lost in the heavyweight finals. I was almost disqualified a couple of times for hitting after the point and contact. It was frustrating getting scored on with an untenable technique, then landing a power shot that doesn't score. I hate it now. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

i was wondering have u ur self got a black belt and if u do in wich martial art

Anonymous said...