A few weeks ago one of my Internet acquaintances, Mr. James Bullard, was inspired by a mutual online acquaintance (Jackie Bradbury) to think about what it means to be a black belt – most likely he’d read Jackie’s article, “I’m Really a Black Belt!“.
James Bullard wrote a wonderful post on Google+ expressing his thoughts about what it means to be a black belt. I’ll include the last few sentences of his post here…
“I’ve spent over 30 years training in martial arts, and when I look at the huge gulf of things I do not know, it seems the very definition of hubris to consider myself to’ve mastered this art.
Socrates said that admitting one’s ignorance is the beginning of wisdom. If this is true, then perhaps I have BEGUN to acquire wisdom, but I certainly cannot yet call myself wise.
My Journey continues, and I hope that it will continue to do so for the rest of my days.
What about you? What does a black belt (or any rank, for that matter) mean to you??”
I came up with a one-sentence reply to his question. Of course James Bullard proceeded to challenge me to look deeper. That’s what good teachers do, right?
“You’re currently a 7th kyu [author’s note – I’ve since been promoted]. When you envision yourself reaching Shodan level, what does that mean to you? What is it about Shodan White that is different from who and what you are today??”
It took me a few days to fully respond to these two questions via Google+. It took me more time to re-format and polish my thoughts for this blog. The first things that popped into my head were practical – the day to day things that I will have to deal with.
As Shodan, I will have taken our organization’s black belt oath immediately after passing the test and I’ll be held accountable. Really there’s nothing in the oath that I’m not already practicing. I’ve heard it twice now, and black belt testing is only once a year, so I’m pretty fuzzy on the exact details of the oath. There are some moral things mentioned, and one practical thing. I will be required to get permission from the head of our organization in order to teach Karate. I’m sure one of many reasons that restriction is there is to keep new Shodans from “teaching” (read: showing off to) their cousins at the next family gathering. I don’t do that anyway. But I suspect it’s more to show that the head of our organization endorses the newly-minted black belt’s qualifications and recognizes her/his efforts to support whichever dojo s/he cares to tackle.
I plan on at the very least being a co-instructor or a “helper” at the two dojos closest to me. We have three degrees of brown belt before black, and during those years I will be an assistant to at least one Sensei. Once I’m Shodan, if the chief instructor of any given dojo tweaks his elbow or if he has a business trip and can’t make it to class, I will be able to step right in and substitute teach. At Shodan, I will also be one step closer to “inheriting” at least one dojo because I live ten minutes north of one and ten minutes west of another. The current Senseis of those dojos live further away. I applaud them for making the commutes, but if they ever get sick of driving and they think I’m ready, I’ll be willing to serve!
As far as teaching goes I’ll have all the joys, frustrations, triumphs, and tears that go with the territory. I’m pretty sure I have a good map of what this territory is! Due to various circumstances, I’ve recently been given teaching responsibilities at two dojos (yes, at 6th kyu – desperate times call for desperate measures). I home schooled my two children from Pre-K through 10th grade for one and 7th grade for the other. During those years I learned everything I could about how people learn. I have taught third grade Sunday School. Going further back, as a teenager I taught numerous “try one Karate class for free” people and brought many others up to speed to join class, plus helped out in a little kids’ class. Conservative estimate – I taught Karate basics to 75 people by the time I was 18. I’m pretty sure all this life experience plus the “on the job” training I will receive as a brown belt will ensure I’ll be up for teaching 🙂 That said, there’s an aspect of teaching that will likely be new to me as a Shodan. I’ll have to deal with “stuff” from parents and from students. Yep, that goofy kid who needs to wash his gi, the guy who hits on me (and I don’t mean punching), and the helicopter mommy.
Speaking of dealing with stuff, there’s another thing that will probably be new to me too as Shodan. However, it will be nothing new to me as a person who has been involved with various human institutions throughout my life. Namely, there will be friction and politics among my peers and superiors. It’s human nature. It’s present in any office, any church, any sports team. Enough about that – the benefits of being part of the organization far outweigh the pitfalls, and that’s something I will keep in mind as I navigate the new waters I’ll be treading as Shodan.
And yes, I’ll have to deal with “stuff” that is dished out by whatever facility the dojo “inhabits.” Don’t get me started on that one. I deal with it now mostly because I choose to, partly because everyone in my dojo deals with the “stuff.” I could walk away from arranging for extra time for belt tests, from getting our equipment out of storage, and all the little things I do that put me square in the cross-hairs of the facility’s rifle. But when I’m a black belt and really and truly an instructor, this won’t be an option – it definitely will be my job.
OK, enough negative. I can’t not acknowledge it, but I don’t have to dwell on it. And that will probably be key to my survival when it’s my job to deal with it 🙂
Feel free to burst any bubbles that might need bursting 🙂