“Fast Track To Black Belt,” by Michele

“In our dojo, I return the phone calls from prospective students. The calls vary greatly. There are some callers that are only interested in price. Some people are looking for a specific style of karate. Others are just looking for self-defense. Lately a common theme in the phone calls has been time. How long does it take to get a black belt? Is there a fast track to black belt?”

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  1. I hear you Michele. I had many thoughts while reading your essay. Can you imagine an eighteen year old going to a U.S. Army recruiter asking, “What’s the fast track to command sergeant major?” If I were the recruiter, I suppose I would say, “25 plus or minus 5 years and maybe never.” Or would I bend the truth to secure that recruit? “Soldiers have been known to make Sergeant Major of the Army in fifteen years.” An interesting dilemma.

  2. The quickest way to “get a black” belt is to go to a shop that sells them and buy one. Then you “have a back belt.”
    You can never “become a black belt” or as flying carpet because you are a human being. Who on earth would want to transmogrify into a pece of cloth?
    As for skill. Well, that takes daily input and you never really arrive, because every day the Universe shifts the goalposts.It’s not unfair, its simply a means to make improvement never ending.
    If we did arrive, what then? Eternal boredom and getting fat?

  3. I feel that although I am not in a rush to give out black belts, at the same time i dont believe in holding someone back, ie, no matter how good you are or how often you train it will take 5 years, in Japan there are university students that get Black Belt in 1 year 2nd Dan in 2 years and I have heard 3rd Dan in 3 years, now although this may seem a little fast,the philosophy is that you now have a general understanding of the basics and now you can start to learn Aikido. I find that in Europe we set Black Belt up on a pedastel, and so when students reach this point (some not all),after 4 or 5 years, we have created this, point in their Aikido, that they must attain, they feel ah at last I’ve got it, and start to trail off in their training, I feel that by keeping it attainable to all and not creating this magical myth around the Black Belt it becomes just another grading and students carry on afterwards.

  4. David DeLong says:

    “Fast track to shodan” is a long-running joke in our dojo. One night, an energetic young prospect came in and asked Kim Sensei how fast he could make black belt. Sensei asked a couple of questions, talked to him a bit, then said, “We can put you on the fast track to Shodan…”, with a wry smile.
    In addition to learning the curriculum, a student takes, say, x number of falls on his way to Shodan. So if a student wants to pack 5 years of high falls into one year, well, have at it.
    So “fast track to shodan” is a “particular type” of training, if you know what I mean…
    Seriously though, this is about the balance between “goal oriented” training and “process oriented” training.
    Shodan is considered “the beginning” of a serious student’s commitment. Generally a year is allowed between 1st kyu and Shodan.
    Each person’s progress is measured somewhat independently, an older, less athletic person is judged differently than a young, very athletic person.
    There’s a difficulty factor involved. Some people persevere more in order to make modest technical gains, and other people find the technical side to be quite easy.
    Having said that, having high standards is a good thing. A dojo with high standards is more respected than a dojo with low standards. If the standards are too high, then students may feel “becalmed” in their progresss. No wind in their sails. There’s the dojo culture to consider. Advancement is not just an individual activity, its a group activity, and one’s progress inspires and informs ones junior’s progress. Test time is a period of intensification for the entire dojo. Everyone’s development accelerates at test time, not just the candidates’.

  5. I knew a guy who trained until he got his shodan black belt, then stopped, hung it on the wall and had lots of parties where he would “casually” allow it to be noticed and then talk about himself a lot. I felt deep pity for the guy as he got fatter and more uncoordinated. He had lots of potential when he was training but he chose to pour it down the drain. You are not a beginner until you achieve Shodan. The kyu grades are kindergarten. Anyone who trains for a belt is a sad case. You can’t “hold someone back” by not giving them a piece of cloth. A piece of cloth is not a goal. Also it will not stop punches, kicks, knives, bullets unless its made from the very latest Kevlar derivatives. Even then you need to move. If a person trains just for the coloured cloth, his motives are wrong to start with and will seldom, if ever amount to much that is worth anything real such as serving as a cop or active security officer. After Godan, then we can sometimes start to notice a modicum of skill but only if achieving it was severe, hard, difficult, gruelling, demanding and severely tested by real challenges. Paper tigers and cloth chasers will never be warriors who can protect peace. The people who hearten me are those who chase real progress in skill and don’t care about coloured cloth. The real measure is provided by life when you survive the next encounter.

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