The system, knowledge and the instructor is for the practitioner
The notion people in general has of a black belt is that he or she has a tremendous knowledge within its style, or rather its system. In reality it is only the beginning of the understanding of what the system has to offer. The human being is what is essential, not the system.
A system is a tool for your personal development and your talent combined with the time you spend on your training decides how good you can become. Just because Bruce Lee developed his Gung Fu doesn’t imply that everybody that follows his footsteps will become as good as he. We are individuals and should be trained as individuals. Many systems put out the appearance of containing mystique, secret moves and exertions. But martial art consists of moves and nothing else.
I want to point out the difference between a style and a system. To pick up pieces here and there and to create a “new” system of this is nothing else than the creation of a personal style. A new system takes a lot more than just being an advertised personal style. All human beings, regardless of system, have a personal style. A new system should offer something that other systems don’t, regardless if it is theoretical or physical. Different systems offer different solutions. Some specializes on grips, some on kicks and punches, and others solely on kicks or ground fight. System can be more sports oriented while others are more self-defense oriented. Irrespective of what kind of system you which to learn it takes single-minded training and understanding of moves, anatomy, coordination, timing, reactions, physical laws, mental aspects and so on.
What it’s actually all about is a profound analyzation of the execution of moves and how to develop power in different dimensions. But also different concepts, principles, theories, logic, orbits, action and reaction, directions, flow, accuracy, methods of execution of natural weapons, the understanding of how different positions can give you new solutions, and finally to be able to combine breathing, physical and mental strength to culminate at the exact time.
This understanding is not something you have in virtue of being a black belt, but it is only time and practice that gives you this insight. The reason I put my chin out in this matter is because a lot of people stop training when they have reached a black belt. Within Ed Parker’s Kenpo you say that at black belt you stop memorize moves and begin to analyze them. Furthermore, you cannot be 35-40 years old and think you’re some kind of master. Instead the life of martial arts is a constant search for new solutions and truths which can be adapted to you or your students. So the answer to the question whether you are fully trained at black belt are a definitely no. Different belt grades could be compared to a thermometer. You begin as a white belt at minus eight and climb with the belts and years to higher temperatures. At black belt you become a first degree black belt, being plus one at the thermometer. In many systems you can reach 10th degree black belt. So in other words, when you are a first degree black belt you have come half way. I use to say that you have graduated elementary school and now you’re starting your undergraduate studies “As one gets older, he learns to become a magician with motion; there in lies the secret of wisdom over youth” (Ed Parker).
To be able to avoid a physical conflict is the solution we seek. Note that it is not the aggressor, or what he or she might do to us we that are afraid of. On the contrary, it is what we could do to the aggressor that should hold us back. It takes a lot more courage to just walk away than to stay. A good role model in martial arts is somebody who is a confident, humble person without a need to show off one-self. What is important, though, is not to confuse goodness with weakness. We still train the art of war and should be able to use if we are forced to do so. But a good instructor never has to show his/hers knowledge without cause.
To continue being active is very important. Martial arts are perishable like physical condition. Just because you were active six years ago that doesn’t mean that you have the same caliber today. You are probably rusty and timing and accuracy is long gone even though you might still be able to deal with a threat-full situation.
If martial art increases the individual’s self-esteem and confidence it’s very good. This will make them perform better in other contexts. We as leaders have a great responsibility and the power to influence other people and hopefully to the better away from all the negative things which life offer. We should be good role models and ready to listen when this is needed. To be a black belt and instructor thus offers you great demands. Wisdom can only come by time and experience. To be humble and continuing living as you learn might be the hardest. Don’t forget that many look up to you as a leader, not just students but also parents and the society in general. The instructors’ lot is to share, if not the wisdom dies with you.
As a third degree black belt you should be a fully learned instructor. When you reach sixth dan you can be considered to be of the title professor and by eight dan you are considered a master. Tenth dan is equivalent to grandmaster.
This is nothing you seek but comes with time and years. Don’t forget that it is not the belt that tells how good you are. Ed Parker said once “Although belt colors show, they are no proof that you know”. Don’t let yourself be fooled by ranks and colors. On the mat you see who is what.
An experienced and knowledgeable instructor can be pointed out immediately by showing good pedagogy and interesting seminars which gives the students something to think about and develop in order to fit it to one’s own execution. Of course there are those who gain their ranks dishonest by paying great amounts of money or claiming certain things. Yes, unfortunately these kinds of people also exist in this field. These people are never respected by those who are established and always have to defend themselves for theirs questionable upgradings. The truth remains that they can try to convince the surrounding but they can never fool themselves. In the end they are small people who demands attention and power.
An instructor should stand a question or a technique being called into question through an open discussion. Here comes yet another quotation by Ed Parker; “The man who knows how will always be a student. But the man who know why will continue to be the instructor”.
Regardless of rank you should always obtain information you don’t already posses. Especially if you get a question you don’t know the answer of. The best you can do is to say that you’ll have to come back in that matter instead of guessing, lying or make up some answer. This lies upon you as an instructor. A true instructor gives the students freedom to adapt the system to the individual and not the individual to the system. A tailor sews the suit to fit the one who should wear it. Or should everyone have the same size?
Once you see how everything fits together and works nothing is hard. As beginners we stood with our minds open to receive knowledge. The white color represents the desire to learn and purity. The black belt wears down through the years and the white color reappears. With that the circle is full and we are back being students. An instructor that doesn’t seek more knowledge isn’t a true martial artist because we always remain students. Even when we teach we learn from our students and come to insight of many things.
No matter what systems you choose don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t look at other systems. I recommend you to be versatile and try different systems. Always be humble before unknown systems. We all choose different solutions and that is a good thing. In this way we speed up the development rate and the systems effectivity and solutions. Many systems are structured differently.
For example, there are differences in structure between Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Philippine and American systems. Some are very structured whilst other doesn’t have very much structure at all. Some are very straight and strict whilst others are circular and soft. Choose what you want. Visit seminars at other systems. Martial art is about getting friends not enemies. Show your interest and humbleness and try to understand their structure and course of action. A good instructor encourages his or hers students to over the borders. This is a proof of confidence. Never forget it is the students who choose its instructor and not the other way around. Never let an instructor stop you in your quest for knowledge. Are you being stopped? Start your search for something else. Just because some instructor has chosen a satisfactory system it necessarily doesn’t have to be the right for you. In the end you train for yourself, your well-being and your happiness. There are hundreds of different systems to choose among so be finical and find out what the have to offer. A good advice when you choose a club might be that it has a big kid activity. This usually means good pedagogic knowledge. Furthermore, if they have many women it indicates good social collaboration.
But the most important thing has to be that you are comfortable with the club and the instructor. Never let an instructor cost you many and become an obstacle in your development. Personally I have traveled around the world and trained a variety of systems. In this way I have through-out the years got friends and my “family” is all over the world. Let your training give you another dimension for development, not just within martial art but also linguistic and cultural. Good luck in your quest in the infinite world of martial arts possibilities.
5:th degree black belt
Head instructor for Ed Parker´s Kenpo Karate in Sweden.