I've just started training in this new (well, new to me) thing, this Shotokan Karate, an art about which I know next to nothing. So, as I commence with my customarily obsessive research, I keep coming back to the whole Black Belt thing.
The Black Belt.
What the heck does that mean? I know that in Japan, it means just about nothing, other than that its wearer is a student of some form of budo. But I remember thinking as a kid that a black belt was some kind of badass. It was the black belt, after all, that gave Chuck Norris his badassery.
Don't get me wrong. I don't want to minimize or denigrate your (or my) black belt. But what does it really mean?
In the US, or in a dojo or training system that promotes like American schools do, the black belt does have a meaning. It means that you never gave up, that you trained harder than others and achieved something that most people never do.
My first sensei said it like this (more or less): In the first ten years his dojo was open, he estimated that a thousand people had shown interest in signing up. That counted all those who wrote or called or emailed and expressed an interest. Of that thousand, maybe 100 had actually come to see a class and had decided to progress further and actually get on the mat. Of that hundred, I think fifteen had gone all the way through the colored belts (white, yellow, green, purple, and brown) and had been awarded a black belt. My buddy Chris was the sixteenth and I was the seventeenth. I might have my numbers wrong, but it was something close to that. So the percentage of people who'd expressed an interest in training that actually went all the way to black belt was less than two tenths of one percent.
So what's the difference? Money? Time? Physique? No, no and no - at least, in my case. It has a lot to do with interest, but there might also be an argument for being born to it.
Couldn't a person just be born to do this kind of training? I'm nowhere near rich, I'm always pressed for time (working two jobs), and I'm a three-hundred pound man, so physique is out (and I do NOT look particularly good in a gi). But consider this:
Above, I mentioned that I've just started this karate training. My new karate sensei wanted to see my black belt certificate from aikido, which is generally customary for a sensei gaining a new (but experienced elsewhere) student. When I brought it in for his perusal, he said, "I don't really need to see that, I can see your black belt in how you train."
Seriously, my sensei said that to me. Aside from being one of the coolest things another dude has ever told me, it really got me to thinking: What is it he sees that's so different from a non-black belt? My black belt is in aikido; I don't know any karate. So is there really something in how I train that shows that I've already been down a similar road?
What is it about a martial artist that shows like that? Is it just in how one approaches the challenge? In how one directs his or her energy toward this particular endeavor?
Has this happened to you? Has another martial artist noticed something in you and mentioned it? Have you been 'recognized' as a black belt, or as some other form of experienced martial artist? And, at the end of the day, is that what the Black Belt means?