Unerstanding The Black Belt
The Black Belt Goal
The final goal of Karate is supposed to be the "perfection of human character." However, many times this goal is forgotten. If you listen to some martial arts students talk to each other, you would think the goal of the art is to make everyone a better fighter.
If a student goes to every tournament and loses every match, some may feel they do not deserve their present rank. However, a student who persists and continues to improve his or her skills, is more deserving of promotion than a superb fighter who is many times self-congratulatory and neglects others. Rank is determined by many factors, having a true "spirit" is foremost among them.
Anyone who is willing to make the commitment of time and effort may learn Karate and advance through the belt system. For some, advancement may take longer than for others due time conflicts with other phases of life, money problems, physical differences, physical or mental disabilities, or injuries. However, since belt advancement is awarded on personal improvement, anyone who preservers may reach the black belt level.
The secret to earning a black belt is simple commitment.
Colored belts signify the position/rank of each student in the Dojo hierarchy. Outside of the system the rank may carry different connotations and varied meaning. In general, however, the higher the belt/rank, the more respect is deserved.
After years of studying and training, a student may obtain the black belt level. Since rank is awarded based on tenure, performing certain minimum skills, and on making substantial personal improvement, it is more a social and psychological status than it is an indicator of fighting ability.
A higher rank many times indicates the person has higher tenure in the dojo and organization, not necessarily that the person has a higher fighting skill level than the lower ranks. Skill level does not always equate to rank. Just because a young green belt may be able to consistently beat an older brown belt, does not demean the brown belt nor raise the green belt's esteem.
In Karate, the belt serves the utilitarian purpose of holding the uniform together, but its main purpose is to document a student's progress. Just as the "The sapling is hidden amongst the taller oak trees and must fight its way upward," students must struggle to achieve proficiency.
The belt system rewards them for their struggle and perseverance and encourages them to develop their skills, discipline, and self-control so they may progress to even higher levels. The belt color denotes the proficiency level of the wearer. It is the outward expression of the wearer's inner level of confidence and wisdom.
Karate came to Japan from Okinawa in the 1920's. Until that time, Okinawan karate students did not have special uniforms, they trained in their everyday clothes. When Funakoshi introduced Karate into Japan from Okinawa in 1922, he adapted the Judo kyu/dan ranking system and a modified the judo uniform in an effort to encourage Japanese acceptance of Karate.
He awarded his first shodan ranks in 1924. It is believed that most martial art styles that have a ranking/belt color systems adopted them from Japanese Karate.
Although there is not historical evidence tradition gives a the following meaning to the colors associated with rank. When a person began the study of Karate, he or she received a white belt to hold the uniform together.
After many months of training, the white would begin to discolor and become yellowish and possibly orange. After many months of rigorous practice, many times in grassy fields, the belt would take on a green appearance as it discolored further. After several years of practice, the belt would further darken, assuming a dark blue or purple hue.
After numerous sparring sessions, the belt might develop a red or brown hue from the accumulation of bloodstains. After several decades of training, the belt would gradually turn black. If the student devoted his or her life to Karate, the belt would continue to darken, but it would also begin to fray and show spots of white from its inner core.
Gradually, most of the black would wear away and the belt would become white again, signifying that the student had come full circle and reached the final stage of enlightenment.
The color white symbolizes birth or beginning of a cycle, whereas, the color black symbolizes the end a cycle. The colors white and black are also linked to the philosophy of Yin-Yang: the theory of opposites opposing each other while still working in harmony, such as the sun and moon, day and night, and beginning and end.
Yin-Yang is the ultimate explanation of cosmic order to the Oriental mind. It explains how everything in the universe both acts and reacts to everything else. White belt students are the opposite of black belt students in Karate knowledge and ability. Yet, they work in concert to increase each other's knowledge and ability: they symbolize Yin-Yang.
The colored belts between white and black attempt to link the two together in a meaningful way. The Seven colors in our system symbolize the stages of development.
The belt encircles its wearer. The circle is a universal symbol of wholeness and harmony, and symbolizes the totality of the universe. The circularity of the belt reinforces the circular cycle of training; the fact that, after years of training, one realizes that the true essence of Karate-Do existed at the beginning.
As a practical matter, the belt holds the uniform closed, but its real significance is far greater than merely being a clasp or even a signifier of rank. The belt has symbolic meanings, both in eastern philosophy and in its color.
In eastern philosophy, the concept of trinity (heaven, earth, and people) signifies the harmony of the universe. The parts of the uniform (jacket, pants, and belt) form a trinity. The jacket symbolizes heaven; the pants symbolize earth, and the belt symbolizes the "person" that ties it all together. As stated above, the colors of the belt also form a trinity.
If you think of a human being as a trinity (consisting of a head, the body, and the extremities) then the body is at the center of a human being, and the waist is at the center of the body. Tying the belt around the waist signifies the desire to organize ones self and to unite the human trinity.
The belt helps students develop their ki/chi (inner energy) through the process of collecting and dispersing energy within their bodies. As the student puts on the belt, it encircles the waist two times and then the two ends meet at the center of the waist (tanden or hara) where they are tied in a triangular shaped (trinity) knot that denotes the oneness of a person.
The tanden, considered the source of ki/life force/vital energy, is a point about three inches below the navel and deep inside the body. It is thought to be the center of the self. As a practical matter, it is also the approximate center of balance of the body. Part of the knot usually touches the body in front of the tanden, reminding the wearer of his or her personal source of ki or power.
Thus, while putting on the belt, the student encircles and collects all energy from without and within into the tanden and locks it there with a knot. He or she can disperse the energy freely throughout the body to achieve power, harmony, order, and enlightenment while training.
Different styles of martial arts use their own method of showing rank for their students. The most common is by belt colors. These colors may vary depending on your style and school.
How long does it take to get a black belt?
It is hard to put a time limit on this goal. It will vary from person to person and it tends to take longer with those who become obsessed with the idea. Normally, It will take three years under a good instructor for you to earn your black belt.
Some people have earned their Black Belt rank in only two years and some months, but these people are extremely athletic and are very talented naturally. Also, the people who tend to do this train three or more times a week in the dojo, and train 6 or 7 days per week for at least an hour outside of the training at the dojo.
Most probably won't have this kind of time, nor will they be willing to sacrifice everything the hold dear to progress that quickly.
The rank of black belt seems to be something that just happens when you forget about ranks and belt colors and commit to learning and becoming a better person.