Many people begin martial arts with the sole purpose of learning how to
become dangerous, or to earn the famous black belt. I am going to concentrate
on the issue of becoming a black belt. Reason being, I have had numerous
conversations with people inquiring about this.
The History of Color Belts
I heard a popular story that martial arts students way back in the day
started out with a white belt. Through years of training, sweat and blood
soaked into the belt causing it to darken. When it darkened to black, you
earned the rank of black belt. My research reveals this story is probably more
of a popular myth than truth.
Research more accurately demonstrates that Jigoro Kano, the man credited
with founding the Japanese martial art Judo, created the color belt system as a
way to measure his students’ skills when paired with other Judo players. The
color belts are a visible recognition of accomplishment in the style of martial
arts. Mr. Kano created the black belt rank to represent completion of the first
step of training, which is mastering the basics. Once you earn a black belt, it
is like starting over at white belt again, but just on a more advanced level.
It is important to look at earning a black belt as reaching a destination. The
destination itself is not important; it is the journey that is important. The
journey involves becoming stronger, more flexible, more knowledgeable, and more
humble. Through the journey you will temper your steel; your
body, mind, and spirit. Chances are you won’t be wearing your martial arts
belt if you ever have to use your martial arts skills in a real life situation.
The skills you learned during the journey will always be with you. The good
news is no matter where you are in the world, your martial arts skills go with
How to Earn the Black Belt
To earn a black belt you start by finding a martial art that interests
you, and then a good teacher. A dojo located in a convenient location makes it
easier to attend regularly. A wide range of serious training partners also
helps. If you are an adult, I would encourage you to not go train with mostly
children. Children normally require more attention and have less focus. This
may slow your progress since the teacher may have to use more instructional time
helping the children. Training with teenagers can be beneficial. They are
usually in great shape and will present you with a friendly and energetic
challenge. Most importantly, you must devote yourself to training. Martial
arts is not something you do only when it is convenient. It is a way of
life—used to strengthen the body, mind, and spirit. It is a step-by-step
training process designed to take you from no knowledge (emptiness) to a wealth
of knowledge (well-rounded). It may take you a few years, or even ten years, to
earn a black belt.
There is a famous story about Yagyu Matajuro, the son of the Yagyu family
of swordsmen in 17th century feudal Japan. Yagyu was kicked out of the house for
lack of talent and potential, and sought instruction from the swordmaster
Tsukahara Bokuden. Yagyu hoped to achieve mastery of the sword and regain his
position in the family.
On their initial interview, Matajuro asked Tsukahara Bokuden, "How long
will it take me to master the sword?" Bokuden replied, "Oh, about five years if
you train very hard." "If I train twice as hard, how long will it take?"
inquired Matajuro. Bokuden replied, "In that case, ten years."
If you worry about earning a black belt, your mind is not empty. In order
for your instructor to fill your cup (brain) with water (knowledge), you must
have an empty cup. Otherwise the knowledge will go in but pour out. As stated
before, the journey is the important part, not the destination. Also, remember
what Lao Tzu said: “The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single
step.” As you approach the black belt testing day, you will realize that the
color of the belt is not as important as the lessons learned and the obstacles
overcome along the way.
Of course in LOTUS, there is a syllabus of required testing material for
you to perform and complete to be awarded your black belt. The syllabus is
important so you know what to learn in order to achieve your black belt. This
is also important to preserve the integrity of the martial art. For example, it
is not fair if one student has to complete a torturous test, while another
student in the same style gets awarded a black belt for performing a less
rigorous test. When that happens, it degrades the integrity of the style and
lessens the respect of the black belt bearers who completed the full and
Who is a Black Belt?
The martial artist, especially the martial artist who possesses a black
belt, strives to live the martial way. The martial way is a way of life that
promotes harmony, knowledge, integrity, respect, and courage.
Possessing harmony means you have conquered your inner warrior.
Confucius said, “He who conquers himself is the
mightiest warrior.” Being in a state of harmony keeps you in control. Nobody
can hurt you emotionally or anger you unless you allow them. You are not
quick to anger and you don’t feel you have to prove your martial arts skills by
beating people up or teaching them a lesson.
Knowledge is power because knowledge promotes confidence. Due to many
hours of hard training, you have learned much. You know the proper way to punch
and kick, and also the proper way to block and defend against a multitude of
attacks. Your knowledge of martial arts and the human body makes you confident
in all that you do, inside and outside the dojo.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines integrity as adhering to a strict
moral and ethical code, and as the quality of being complete. This strict moral
and ethical code is practiced by respectful traditions, such as bowing to your
instructors, students, and classmates. The bow is not a religious act, but an
act of respect and discipline. Martial arts without rules is nothing more than
violence. LOTUS black belts achieve completion by strengthening not just the
body, but also the mind and the spirit.
My college psychology professor told our class that another word for
respect is fear. There are many people who are respected out of fear, but the
black belt earns respect by showing respect. The black belt doesn’t forget that
he was a white belt at one time. A black belt strives to refrain from thinking
"I am better than so-and-so.” He knows he cannot compare his struggle or
achievements to other people. This is why a black belt encourages everyone in
the continual pursuit of improving the quality of one’s life through the martial
A black belt possesses courage. Courage is not the absence of fear, but
doing what needs to be done in the face of fear and adversity. The black belt
test is an act of courage. You are performing all your movements and having to
fight other well trained classmates in the presence of your instructor, fellow
classmates, friends, and even strangers.
not mean black belts have no faults. Black belts are ordinary people who try
harder and don't give up. True black belts strive to live the martial way by
practicing these virtues every day. Application of the martial way, in and out
of the dojo, is one of the traits that brings black belts together. As a black
belt, strive to apply all the principles you have learned in class to the rest
of your life: harmony, knowledge, integrity, respect, and courage.
Written by Tucker Axum