Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Do You Want To Be A Black Belt?

Following bow out at the senior classes Shihan usually takes a little time to give out any notices about upcoming events, to comment on how he thinks the class went and to generally talk about any points he feels need to be raised.

Recently one of this chats turned to higher gradings and what’s expected of people once they reach that level. Shihan went on to mention that once me and the other highest grade in the club (Louise) had reached 1st Kyu (hopefully by the end of the year) he would be talking to us both and asking us if we wanted to consider beginning the process to grade for black belt.

Wow. That gave me some serious pause of thought.

My initial response was “Why would he even need to ask that?” The more I thought about it though the more it made sense that he would ask. Agreeing to start Black Belt training is obviously a big commitment…but not only for the student. It’s a big commitment from the instructor team aswell. It’s additional training (black belt specific) every week. It’s a great amount of stuff in the syllabus to be covered. It’s help with research, with presentations, with overall fitness and endurance (as well as karate fitness), help with mental preparation for the grading. Any of you who’ve been reading Sue’s blog about her upcoming Shodan test will know what kind of commitment is required from students preparing to grade so thinking about that level of requirement and the amount of time and effort you’re asking the instructors to invest in you as a student then its easier to see why the question would be posed.

So then. Do I want to train for Black Belt?

Big question.

Immediately the answer for me is YES.

Then the brain checked into the argument.

Am I doing myself and my instructors a disservice if I answer “Yes” without giving it some serious thought? I think probably ….yes.

So another question raised then. WHY do you want to train for Black Belt? Maybe the more important question, and definitely one which requires some serious soul-searching.

Firstly, I have to say that the very act of even being in a situation to be asked to this question still occasionally baffles me! It’s strange for me to think that 2 years ago I had no interest in martial arts whatsoever. I do still sometimes think someone is going to come in and declare it’s all a big mistake and I can’t possibly have my purple belt and take it back! LOL. Yet despite the occasional mental wobble here I am, knocking on the door of 2nd kyu and giving this whole black belt thing some serious consideration.

Why? Why do I want to be a black belt?

Clearly it can be seen as a logical progression. You work hard up through your Kyu rankings. Gaining knowledge. Building on the foundations of what you’ve learnt. Expanding your experience. It’s a long road to travel and being a journey it must be perceived to have some sort of final destination. So, is that it? Is it the final destination, the ultimate achievement of ones journey? The end of the road?

Well, no. I don’t believe that at all. From all I’ve come to learn over the past two years Black Belt to me seems the very opposite of that. It’s not the end at all. It’s the beginning. It’s the START of a martial arts journey.

It’s “I’ve read and understood the handbook”.
It’s “I’ve passed the driving test”.
It’s “I’ve achieved my qualification, now give me a job!” ;)

It’s the beginning of being able to really explore karate with the solid foundation you need to understand it. So that’s part of the reason. I can begin to see the start line lingering on the horizon. I want to make it there so I can move on with the big karate journey I’ve begun.

Now I’m going to back track a little. I’ve said Black Belt is only the beginning and that’s true. However, that’s not to say that Black Belt in and of itself isn’t a momentous achievement. It is. Probably one of the greatest of your life I imagine. When I think of how far I’ve come in the last few years I’m continually amazed at the things I can accomplish. I was a smoking, drinking, junk food eating couch potato. No doubt about it. What began with a little 8 week run/walk programme has completely changed the way I look, the way I eat, the way I live and my outlook on fitness and on life. Discovering karate has opened a whole new world of interests to me. It’s given me an awareness of self that I didn’t have, it’s made me think about my morals, my beliefs, how I treat other people, what my part in the world is. The journey this far has been astounding compared to what I thought I could ever achieve. To get to Black belt…. well….. it will certainly be something I never thought I would say I’d accomplished.

That’s not all though. There’s another element which spurs me on in pursuit of this goal. Another thing I never thought I’d see myself doing with my life. The most surprising thing that has come out of my karate journey so far is discovering that I like to teach. As a child I never harboured the “I want to be a teacher” dream. I would say I’m quite impatient by nature and I always thought I didn’t transmit information well to others. Maybe it’s my age that is the different factor now. Maybe it’s being a mother that makes it easier somehow? I don’t know. All I know is that I LOVE assisting with the junior classes. I love teaching these kids. Being able to pass on what I know. Watching that moment when it clicks with them. Struggling through those moments when it won’t click with them (oh how I know how they feel then!). So that’s something else achieving Black Belt will bring for me. It will mean I can teach. I can impart all this amazing knowledge I’ve learnt to others. I can share the karate love :D

That’s not to say that I think obtaining a Black Belt automatically means you can teach, on the contrary. I’m pretty certain not very Black Belt could or should be an instructor. I’m lucky enough that running along side my Black Belt training programme will be an Instructor training programme. Building in all the elements I’ll need to be able to take that step from Sempai to Sensei. Scary…. but uber-exciting.

A round up then.

Why do I want to train for Black Belt?

I want to pass my driving test (please God don’t let it take me as long as it did to pass my actual driving test!! Don’t ask!), I want to reach the starting line. I want to REALLY being my martial arts journey with all the tools I need firmly under my belt. I want to have that sense of achievement making it that far will feel. To be able to say to people, “Hey… I did it… you can too”. To show that you’re never too old, or too fat, or too unfit. With hard work and dedication you can get there. I want to be able to take the great gift I’ve received from my karate mentors and share it with others, so they can learn to love it as much as I do.

It’s a little while down the road for me yet, but I wanted to put this out there. I think it’ll be interesting to see if I still feel the same when I get to the point of committing to Black Belt training for real.

Shihan – if you’re reading, I guess you know my answer (for now). I can’t see it changing….unless you break me at 1st Kyu grading…. I might see things differently if that happens ;)



  1. Marie, it's like looking in a mirror when I read your posts - you reflect back the same thoughts and feelings that I have about karate training - I think we are very much in tune with each other. I do hope you take on the black belt challenge, I'm sure your Shihan looks forward to having you on his black belt team. I'm really looking forward to my post black belt training - new doors will open and new horizons will appear to be explored. I'm just itching to get through those doors...

  2. Hooray! Tossing confetti and high-fiving my 'puter screen for you :-)

    Continued success!

  3. I got my second degree just over a year ago which means that in a year, if I choose and am chosen, I can begin the one year cycle of special training as a candidate for a third degree.

    Last time I faced this decision, my sensei and I both agreed that I should wait six months before entering cycle. So I took 2.5 years between 1st and 2nd degree. I wasn't ready since I had been working through some injuries.

    The effort to get black belts in our school is more of a marathon endurance than a single big test. The decision to go into "cycle" is often postponed by our students who have too many distractions and other commitments at that time.

    I'm hoping that I'll be healthy and am to clear my schedule in 2013-14 (its around an eight month effort) for the black belt cycle but a lot had to fall into place before then in terms of my development plus my work and family.

    Congrats, great blog. Thanks for sharing.
    John, a black belt at 50 -

  4. Congrats, great blog. Thanks for sharing.

    Mr. Martial Arts