What makes a black belt? Is it the fabric that just happens to be black or blue? No. It’s a manner of carrying yourself, your comportment. It’s whether you take the time to show a little bit of courtesy to the rest of the people you come into contact with. A black belt is all of these things and more.
A black belt internalizes the teachings of his or her Masters. He or she must learn to give up the ego that plagues most of us. (Having an ego is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does affect your dealings with people.) A black belt truly BECOMES that which he or she embodies.
As a black belt, you represent not only your dojang, but also your history, your founders. You represent yourself as an ambassador. You’re part of a greater whole. It’s a collective. Martial arts has a long history. It’s one that we all represent in many ways. The history of your art, for yes, it IS an art form, is written in the sweat and blood of those who precede you. You may *think* you’re working very hard to earn something, but there are those for whom the challenge has been infinitely harder. The challenge is there for all, but only a few will ever truly embrace being a black belt.
When you test, it’s not just an ending point. It’s a stepping off point, a door is opening to continue to grow and expand. The target, while having been met once, now must be re-met in all that you do. You must decide if you are going to share your knowledge with your fellow students. The Gups will look up to you. Overnight, it seems, your status is changed from being “one of them” to being one of an elite group.
Being a black belt isn’t just “Look! I have a belt!” It’s your actions, ultimately, that define you as a black belt. If you take the time to help out in class, to lead warm ups, for example, you’re embodying what those who have come before you have taught you. If you step up and demonstrate a form or technique incorrectly, you must take the critique of that form or technique. You can’t expect to do something incorrectly and not have people notice. You actually have a spotlight on you, almost as if “black belt” is tattooed to your forehead.
Being a black belt is a mental thing. Any person can have a black belt. Some people truly LIVE as black belts. There is a difference. Those who just have the belt are more likely to be the swaggering type. The people I have met, as an example, embody the spirit of black belt. In my dojang, the people who I train with are working towards improvement daily. They are willing to answer questions and never treat you like you’re asking “stupid” questions. When I came into this dojang, I came in with the idea that I was going to advance my ranks on the same “schedule” that I had been on at my old school. What I had not counted on was the fact that I have to learn to become a black belt. I may have the belt, yes, but it means nothing if I don’t understand WHY I have the belt. It’s not all about the training. The training goes beyond the physical in the dojang (Funakoshi #8–“Do not think that your karate training happens only in the dojang.”)
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I’m taking that step. I want to learn, therefore, I attend classes (intermittently, but that *will* change!). I have found my niche. There is another saying that bears repeating…that is, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.”