Wednesday, 12 November 2008

What is a Black Belt in Martial Arts

Whilst on a martial arts forum I came across the thread “What is a Black Belt and who deserves it” The thread author answered his own question with,

“To me a BB [black belt] is a representation of knowledge over application. That may seem strange considering that I have stated in other posts that I adhere to the "Smash Mouth" MA dictionary. However, my argument for this is simple. To say that all BBs must be able to physically defend themselves not only against common assailants but also dominate lower belts, is to diminish the BB to nothing more than a fighting title. There are those out there, who due to injury, age or other ailment can no longer perform at this requisite BB ideal. Now while it is fair that they lose sporting titles, I hardly believe it constructive to the progression of MA to also take away their BBs. “

Some of the answers which where given include,

“A black belt means fighting ability. Ask 100 people on the street and I guarantee 99 of them will tell you the same thing.”

“To me a black belt means "mastering" basic skills, not mastering the martial art.”

“A bb doesn’t matter much in a matter of self defence if the other guy is 10+ feet away from you and has a revolver.”

“A black belt is just rank in a specific art, in the old days they didn't even have coloured belts, they all started out white and changed colour from the dirt and blood from fighting. Someone who deserves a black belt should be in great physical condition and should know the art like the back or their hand, I don't think its so much about kicking ass more than the actual art, unless its kickboxing or something specifically used for combat only."

As you can see, people have different opinions about what makes a black belt. Further opinions are that wearing a belt is just a piece of clothing to keep your gi top secure and that it has no relative meaning. Others believe that you can only gain a black belt by winning a certain amount of fights in competition or by teaching martial arts classes.

There are also schools which adopt written as well as technical examinations similar to a school qualification, involving questions and a certain pass mark must be achieved.

It would be interesting to find out other opinions on this subject so please feel free to leave a comment.


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Anonymous said...

getting your black belt is like finishing year 6, the real learning begins. in the karate world there are to many wally's who get there black belts and think they are master's and want to be big dick sensei's.
p.s being a black belt has nothing to do with fighting, if you follow the do in Budo you'd understand

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the previous reply: any good teacher will tell you getting your black belt means you’ve just mastered the basics (hopefully) and you’re ready for the more advanced stuff and especially studying and practicing the techniques, applications and tactics to a level where they’re pretty much instinctive, spot on and effective. As a brown belt training for first Dan I find that instead of being close to mastery in my art I’m just beginning to scratch the surface of it: at times and especially training one-on-one with sensei I feel like a beginner all over again, except now I’m not bewildered by the technical aspect and the physical hardships of training but more by the underlying principles and especially the spiritual side of it all. I do not get people who actually think they’ve mastered their art or sport completely: there’s always something new to learn and they are always people who are better than you and from whom you can learn. When I see my current sensei at work or training with him every time I stand in awe of his knowledge and ability and he’s always training and improving (exploring other arts besides perfecting his original one) so obviously he’s not at the top of his game yet and realizing it too. My old sensei (a then 8th Dan, retired now) used to say that ju-jutsu never stops, that it is a lifetime endeavor and while perfection is the ultimate goal it can never be achieved in reality. These words came from a man who had over 40 years of experience in the martial-arts and an 8th dan in ju-jutsu. Such humility is admirable and a sign of a true master.

For me personally a black belt stands for technical expertise, practical fighting skill, courage, respect, humility and maturity. You should be proud when attaining your first Dan (it means you’ve worked hard and learned a lot) but at the same time you should take it for what it is and that means not thinking you’re invincible now or ready to teach on your own. One who does not understand the technical aspect of the art he’s training in does not deserve a black belt, nor one who only display’s fighting ability but has no clue about what the art’s really about, nor one who is rude, disrespectful, dishonest or violent.

Just a few thoughts on the subjects,


KarateStudent said...

KarateStudent("KS") on the Black-Belt.

KS agrees with Marks 100% with a only slightly different shading on the applied fighting side.
KS also think that the anonymous and Zara's comment are all valid and accurately descriptive.

KS's Perspective Using Karate: Karate makes you a stronger person; you don't have to use that strength to fight. This kind of ideal karate connotes a character trait. MARKS highlights above.

An especially good ideal use of the Black-Belt is teaching. To stress the point, KS has worked closely with instructors who are lackluster fighters, yet very focused on training throughly and sensitive to the training needs of the students.

However, given that the applied goal of karate (See Lyoto Machida post?) is overcoming your opponent in a physical confrontation, ie. fighting; realistically, striving to be a 'good' figher should be a part of the curriculum.

KS favors TSD because of the recognition of fighting ability. KS's TSD school requires sparring as a part of all belt-rank tests. KS thinks this wise practice and the testee must make a meaningful effort during the test. What passes as 'meaningful effort' is left to school policy and the testing instructor's discretion.

KS believes one can rightfully hold a black-belt and contribute to karate without fighting or being a 'good' fighter. On the other hand, a karate school that is turning out large numbers of black-belts that can't competently apply their karate in a competitive environment of some kind; we have to question is this karate--a martial art, or something masquarading as karate?

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