Friday, March 25, 2011

What is Black Belt to me?

Well, this seems to be one of those questions that has no real answer so I have decided to define what I think makes someone a Black Belt, at least for my school. 
  • Capable of self teaching (Teaching the Martial Arts by Lawrence Kane)
  • Essential understanding of:  (Rory Miller and Marc MacYoung are great sources of information here)
    • Violence
    • Basics of self defense (outside of actually fighting, things like conflict communications and awareness.)
  • Strategy and Tactics of chosen martial arts style (The Way of Kata by K. Wilder and L. Kane, Bunkai Jutsu by Iain Abernethy)
  • Basic understanding of proper fitness practices (Flexibility, strength, and endurance training)
  • Cursory understanding of how all martial arts function.  (Very basic knowledge in the areas of Physics, Kinesiology, Anatomy, etc...)
This is what I want from my students.   I am working on putting together the resources to make sure that all my students have this information.  I have a required reading list that has proven to be very helpful to my more committed students.  I do not think that walking away from my school should be the equal of a college degree.  However, to walk away from any school without notes and books to read when there is so much valuable information out there is irresponsible, in my opinion. 

Training this way should make us better students in all subject areas.  Getting to black belt does not instantly make us magical.  It does not give us the ability to walk on walls and such.  Nor should it make us dumber by allowing us to ignore common sense.  This kind of training prepares us to be a self guided student.

Ideally I would like for my students to walk into any school in the world and be able to analyze what they see and understand.  Again not magically be able to replicate it but just understand it.  With a basic understanding of how techniques work I also hope that when faced with violence the student will be capable of adapting to the situation without much down time.  To give them the tools to be creative and not just spit out what they have been taught only.


  1. My sensei has a saying: Plan your work and work your plan. Your definition of what it means to be a black belt is, to me, and example of that...

    I love how you encourage your students to read. We had a reading list as well and I consider it one of the most valuable resources available. As a matter of fact, I just got off the phone with a training partner and guess what we talked about for half the conversation? Peter Urban's "The Karate Dojo." You can't make this stuff up...

    Your students are lucky to have such a thorough and thoughtful instructor :-)

  2. This is a great list and certainly they are all areas that I am trying to involve myself in as I prepare for my black belt testing. Encouraging students to be active learners rather than passive recipients is essential for producing rounded, knowledgeable and able black belts.

  3. Great feedback, thank you. I will have to add "The Karate Dojo" to my list of things to check out.

  4. My viewpoint, is that being a student (of whatever system), after attaining Shodan, student's should be knowledgeable of the basics of the art/style that they are learning. No more, no less. With this knowledge, they should be able to evaluate what-ever information they should encounter and evaluate it for themselves(as to what's relevant). (To me) attaining a Shodan (black-belt) ranking, should only mean that they have learned the basics (regardless of the system). To often, people believe that “black belt” makes them (some form of ) an “expert”, this (warped, IMO) opinion deters them from learning the actual application of what they've been shown. Providing those student's with the information (to judge for themselves) to evaluate the (further) information that they encounter in the future, is just as important as what is shown them while learning the kyu rank requirement's in the system they study.

  5. Openhand, very good points. I agree that they should have a functional understanding of the basics. However, as mentioned in a round about way in my article. I think they should also be given the tools to evaluate anything they see. From both within the from outside the style.

    Kinda like by the time you finish middle school each student should have the basic tools they need to assimilate and manipulate new information.

    My biggest frustration is that most schools in my area teach their students in a certain physical performance level and require memorization and little else. Looking at Blooms Taxonomy, remembering is the lowest level of cognition. It is a step in learning but is not enough in my opinion.

    I want my students to be able to travel all the way to the top of the taxonomy with the material I teach. Everything from analysis and synthesis to creativity.

    Probably should have included that in the post somehow. Oh well.