Obtaining a black belt is just the beginning of studying Karate. How many times have you heard this phrase? When you get to be a black belt, then you will learn the important stuff… In some ways I do agree with this statement, but in others I don’t. How can the achievement of a black belt be the beginning when we have spent years training and mastering the basic techniques in order to get it? By saying that 1st Dan is just the beginning, shouldn’t we just start as a black belt? Or should we forget everything that we have learnt when we become a black belt? In terms of a schooling analogy should we say that attending University is the beginning of learning and forget about everything we had learnt at primary school, secondary school and so on?
I describe the 1st Dan black belt as an intermediate level, one where you have a solid foundation and can now progress your Karate in your individual way. In this sense you could say that it is the beginning of your unique direction in Karate, based on what you know you can interpret it and mould it in the way that you want.
Sometimes I listen to instructors and I get the impression that they use the expression that “a black belt is just the beginning” as justification for not teaching their students properly and trying to keep them in the dojo. I know quite a few black belts who were disappointed with the lack of progression achieved by being promoted to 1st Dan. The result was that they quit their training, their argument being that they were not learning anything new. So how can this be the beginning? There are a growing amount of instructors who have been told that after attaining a black belt they will learn more, but they never did. However, as we often mimic our own teachers, these instructors continue to promulgate this view.
In the case of my teachers, when you reached the stage of 1st Dan you are enrolled in a research programme to find your own way in Karate, experimenting with different ways of performing techniques and digging in to anatomy, physiology and psychology. A black belt in our organisation must have their own identity and should not be just a copy of his/her teachers.
In summary, I believe that a 1st Dan black belt is not a beginning, but a progression from basic to intermediate understanding, which is just a step along the long road to perfection…
About the author: Les Bubka is an experienced martial artist, personal trainer and therapist who specialises in posture, mobility and Karate. Les works with a wide variety of clients including martial artists and athletes as well as those suffering with postural dysfunction or those who wish to improve their fitness and wellbeing.