What being a Black Belt means
So, you’ve become a black belt, what next?
A black belt is known as Sho-dan, literally ‘first level’. It’s the beginning of your life long study in karate and martial arts. It’s an achievement that you should be proud of, however nothing changes. You’ll step on the mat with your new belt, feeling proud as it's a symbol of your efforts, and undoubtedly your training will start with Junzuki (front punch), the very first technique that you learnt all those years ago. Nothing changes however you will have changed during the process of earning it.
It took me just over 5 years to earn my black belt in Wado Ryu. I use the word ‘earn’ purposely, as it was earnt and not given. At the point of earning my black belt I really started studying karate. My training up until this point was learning how to move my arms and legs through the variety of techniques listed in the syllabus, as well as the how, why and underlying principles.
Why bother working towards a black belt then?
If your only focus is on obtaining the belt, the piece of cloth that you put around your waist to keep your gi in place, it’s highly likely you’ll stop training soon after in the pursuit of something new and different. However, if your focus is learning and understanding the what, why, how, then you’ll reap many benefits, physically, mentally and personally.
Progressing to black belt requires commitment, dedication, perseverance, listening, tenacity, and a willingness to learn. How many times have you included these words on your CV to demonstrate your character for potential employers?
Training karate teaches you many skills; respect for others, discipline turning up for training regularly, self-belief in that you achieve anything if you’re prepared to put the hard work in. These traits are required throughout life, at home, school, work and in personal relationships.
What does it represent?
As mentioned earlier, a black belt is a piece of cloth tied around our waist, it’s a symbol or title that at that particular time physical techniques and drills were demonstrated to a sufficient standard.
Due to work and personal life changes I stopped training for 10 years, and when I restarted it was a different discipline to Wado Ryu. During the induction I was told I’d start at white belt and work my way through the grades, that my black belt wouldn’t automatically progress me through quicker. I didn’t have an issue with this, as whilst I’m proud of being able to say ‘I’m a black belt’, I hadn’t been training for 10 years and was very rusty! What was more important to me was being able to show that I had learnt and retained ‘black belt attitude’. The ability to commit, persevere, train alongside my colleagues, pushing myself, encouraging them, to set and achieve goals.
Having a black belt doesn’t make you better than anyone else. The translation of ‘Sensei’ is often misquoted as teacher or instructor, it actually translates into ‘one who gone before’. An important principle for us all to live by I believe.
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