Friday, June 16, 2006

Black Belt Currency Inflated?

In his excellent exposition of what the black belt rank means today, veteran Kuntao and Silat instructor Bob Orlando uses the analogy of currency to explain the state of perception and reality of the rank. "No longer are the martial arts represented by the skill and power of its practitioners, but by the faces, images, and signatures displayed on "black belt" certificates," he says. He also laments the fakes and forgeries that deflate the value of the real thing, " Some other good points: many times have martial artists--black belts--heard comments like, "I'll be sure not to mess with you" or "We're all safe with you around," after being introduced and identified as a black belt? Arguments to the contrary aside, the general association of the term "black belt" with attainment of the highest level of expertise in the martial arts is a common one.

...the general public has a fairly uniform understanding what is a black belt--an expert of the highest skill--yet many parents expect their children will attain that level before they reach puberty. Inflated parental estimations and expectations aside, does anyone really believe that the local Mini Hanshi Karate-Mart can produce genuine "experts of the highest skill" before the candidates reach puberty, much less maturity?

Mr. Orlando mentions the comparison of a black belt (in the general public's mind) to the attainment of a bachelor's degree. Like him, I feel that's too generous a comparison, and I'd posit that it's closer to completing the eighth grade. Now, where I'd challenge that, in reality, are in the sport-oriented, traditional arts such as Judo and BJJ. Both seem to have pretty tough requirements, and a black belt in either style is a lofty accomplishment, and not common. This is also the case in some eclectic schools and styles, but, for the most part that's dependent on an individual instructor's standards, and not those of the organization.

For more on this subject read our previous post on the subject (What Does the Black Belt Mean Now?). Also, please check out Bob Orlando's site, and articles. He is an accomplished instructor and author.

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John Vesia said...

Rank or belt color doesn't necessarily define the practitioner; it's definitely up to the individual and certainly the instructor. It's true that having a shodan should not be equated with mastery in that style, anymore than completing the 8th grade should entitle somebody to a bachelor's degree.

Nathan Teodoro said...

Well said. I couldn't agree more.