A common misconception is that earning a black belt is a status symbol and an end objective of study in Karate. While this may be true in some martial arts, it could not be further from the truth in traditional Karate. In fact, a more accurate description is that obtaining a black belt in Karate is an indicator that a student is finally ready for the real lessons ahead.
When a student is granted their Shodan (1st degree black belt, literally translated as "Beginner Level"), it is a big accomplishment and not something to be downplayed. It is not, however, an award, but rather an invitation to further learning. It is an acknowledgement that a student may have the pre-requisite skill, work ethic, persistence, character, and responsibility necessary to continue with their practice. A black belt cannot be bought, but must be earned through years of dedication and regular practice. This is a journey of a duration that varies from student to student.
When is a black belt not a black belt? There are several situations when a person is not a black belt, even though they may have passed a test or have a certificate of rank.
1) The student has passed a test, but no longer continues to train. There is no difference between a white belt that has quit training and a black belt that has quit training. Both are no longer karateka.
"Karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool."
2) The black belt was not granted by a reputable martial arts organization. There are many organizations out there that are, simply put, belt mills. These are organizations that monetize the belt promotion process at the expense of developing student competency in their art. These organizations often have very frequent belt tests where all students attend, vastly more belt levels than other schools, and accelerated programs to get belts quicker...all at great expense to the students and parents. To contrast this, PoCo Karate has six kyu (colour belt) levels before black belt...which is standard for traditional Shito-Ryu karate styles. Students can often take more than a year between levels, depending on their individual progress. Our style, Shito-Ryu Satokai, is registered with Karate Canada (the national sports body for Karate in Canada), and all black belt (dan) gradings are recognized by Karate Canada as having met a high standard.
3) The individual has parted ways with the necessary good character associated with being a karateka (student of karate). Even if the individual is very skilled physically, they must also maintain the benevolent attitude and character traits that are central to the "Do" (道: Way or Journey) in traditional karate. Karate is about seeking perfection of the mind, body, and spirit. If we depart from this journey, we are no longer karateka and no longer uphold our responsibilities as a black belt.
As you can see, while becoming a black belt is a great accomplishment, it is primarily a granting of responsibility to a student that has demonstrated a high level of commitment to their training and development of their character.
Think you have what it takes? Reach out to us!