Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Making The Grade


Only One In 10,000 Make It To Black Belt - Be That One! This is what I read in a flyer that I saw at a local karate school recently. One in ten-thousand - does that sound right? That's what I'd call lying with statistics! If we're talking about the total number of martial-art students who enroll in a school, I'd say one in about two-hundred eventually succeed in achieving shodan (1st degree black belt). Even so, one-half of 1% is still a pretty small slice of the pie, which puts the Black Belt Club in an elite group. An instructor of mine once commented that becoming a black belt is an honor that exceeds that of becoming an attorney or a physician. I don't have any figures available, but I'm guessing that far more than 1% of prospective lawyers and doctors pass the bar and graduate from medical school respectively.

The martial path is real tough in the right school, and the black belt test is far from a shoo-in, even for the qualified candidate. Chuck Norris failed his first attempt at black belt. One young man I knew who was testing for shodan quit midway through the sparring portion of his exam. He was fighting well through several matches when he inexplicably threw in the towel. In the weeks leading up to his test he had gotten so worked up that when the big day finally arrived, his fear of failure became a self fulfilling prophecy. Fortunately, one of the senior instructors had a talk with him and was able to bring him back out onto the mat to finish and pass his test. It ain't over till it's over.

If you've managed to stay with the martial arts for just a few years you're probably in awe of the fact that so many people come and go. The martial arts are not for everyone, and as a result there's a revolving door at most schools regarding students. But you never know who has what it takes, and sometimes the most unlikely trainee will fool you and go the distance. The martial arts are about transformation. As somebody once told me, you don't get a black belt, you become one.

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16 Comments:

Anonymous KFG said...

'The martial arts are about transformation. As somebody once told me, you don't get a black belt, you become one.'

Absolutely love that. I think that the 'journey' is different for everyone - some people take what they need and move on without going on the full trip, which is also OK. They learn what they need to at the time. Only this morning I saw the most amazing story on the news. A woman of 60 has just made her black belt in Karate (not sure which style). She started at 55 because the conventional 'keep fit' things were not working for her. She was soon hooked and has now achieved black belt status. I think this is amazing and just goes to show that it's never too late to do a Martial Art and that every journey is individual. What an achievement. It's all about transformation - she really demonstrated for me that the transformation never ends.

3:32 AM  
Anonymous Dave Shevitz said...

"You don't get a blackbelt, you become one..."

That's a great phrase, with a whole lot of truth behind it!

For my part, I'm one of those "unlikely" folks who have kept at it these dozen years or so. I remember well when my teacher noticed I had stayed 6th kyu for over a year due to inconsistent training... He said "So... you actually going to do aikido or not?" Somehow, I read that as a challenge, and I've been training ever since...

9:47 AM  
Blogger Charles James said...

Hi, John

My limited experience especially with some recent promotions I was a witness to I would say they are cranking out a lot of black belts now-a-days.

I witnessed a black belt promotion that was mostly a test of endurance vs knowledge and abilities. This person received their black belt.

There is a Mac-dojo I am aware of that requires a specific time of practice and a fee. As long as you do something and improve a little, pay the fees, and do the time you WILL RECEIVE a black belt.

Now, the significance and meaning behind it may not exist and one must understand that it comes from within then they have earned it.

Another issue, the dojo I have been witnessing of late are serious in their practice and promotions yet they just don't have the corporate knowledge to make it what it should be. After all, it the Chief Instructor was not trained and does not know then they can not carry it forward.

So, in the end we have a lot of people wearing a kuro-obi while only a few actually wear a Sho-dan.

My two cents...

10:25 AM  
Blogger Miss Chris said...

I'm always surprised at the number of students who quit karate at an advanced level before achieving Black Belt. (other than those injured like myself). I think it's part fear and part laziness. Fear of being pushed beyond what you think you can do and being too lazy to work that hard to get there.

11:48 AM  
Blogger lizzie said...

Many people don't like to work hard and put forth the effort. They look and take the easiest route.

5:54 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Thanks, KFG:

A woman of 60 has just made her black belt in Karate. She started at 55 because the conventional 'keep fit' things were not working for her.

I remember years ago an elderly woman went on The Tonight Show who just earned her black belt and demonstrated board breaking with some kicks. There really is no age limit for the martial arts.
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Thanks, Dave.

For my part, I'm one of those "unlikely" folks who have kept at it these dozen years or so.

As KFG was saying, some people take what they need and move on. But it seems to me that in order to do the long haul requires one to teach. I think you'll agree that in teaching others, we teach ourselves.
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Mr. James:

I witnessed a black belt promotion that was mostly a test of endurance vs knowledge and abilities.

I have to confess, that was the deal with my first black belt test. There was little emphasis on bunkai and the like in my first school. Eventually I caught up, but it took time. The technical aspects of karate seem to be glossed over in some schools. I've met Isshinryu instructors that don't even know Shimabuku's original 15 basics.
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Miss Chris:

Fear of being pushed beyond what you think you can do and being too lazy to work that hard to get there.

Most people don't even realize that they really do have what it takes. Whether it's fear or laziness, some students just underestimate themselves, which is really a shame.
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Lizzie:

Many people don't like to work hard and put forth the effort. They look and take the easiest route.

Sometimes the hardest part of the martial arts is just showing up to train. It's never easy, and yet I've never done a class that I've regretted attending.

8:51 PM  
Anonymous blackbeltmama said...

Nice post. My daughter and I started with six other white belts. We're the only ones still there.

On the other hand, it amazes me how many people make it to 1st or 2nd kyu and decide to quit then. We have a ton of them at our dojo.

I read the part about the sparring part of the test and got sick in my stomach. Man, I really hope that's not me next year. I need to get rid of the self-doubt fast.

11:16 PM  
Anonymous Bob Patterson said...

Black Belt Momma and self-doubt... man I hear you there!

I'm probably a year out too. I'm ALREADY nervous.

It's heartening to hear people in their 50s and 60s doing this because I'm most self-conscious of my own age.

This silly thing is I'm only 40 and have studied other arts. Still, I have more trouble making some of taekwondo's aerial and combo kicks look as "pretty" as others half my age.

~BCP

11:21 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Thanks, Black Belt Mama.

...it amazes me how many people make it to 1st or 2nd kyu and decide to quit then.

I hear that! It really is unbelievable how many people bail at brown belt. Nothing against brown belts, but for every black belt there are probably 1000 brown belts walking around.

I read the part about the sparring part of the test and got sick in my stomach. Man, I really hope that's not me next year.

You'll do fine. I have no doubt of that.
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Bob:

It's heartening to hear people in their 50s and 60s doing this...

Stories like that are becoming more common, and I'd say it's because the concepts of middle-aged or "old" no longer applies. There are a lot of fitness gurus and such now who are really up there in age. The expression "over the hill" regarding almost anything (within reason) has become outmoded.

I have more trouble making some of taekwondo's aerial and combo kicks look as "pretty" as others half my age.

On the other hand, TKD is probably a tough style to study for the over 40 club. That's a feather in your cap, I'd say. Anyway, as you undoubtedly know, kicks don't have to look spectacular so long as they just work.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Amanda said...

I always wonder where those statistics come from. I think most of them are misleading for one reason--you're only surveying your own school.

I started training in taekwondo in one studio, then quit. Years later I restarted at another studio (I had moved out of state). When I moved from the US to Korea, right away I started at a studio here, but for a month I temporarily trained elsewhere. Same art at all four studios.

So four studios could count me as a student (though the temp studio probably wouldn't) but three (or two) would claim I never reached black belt status.

Not true.

If we could somehow survey ALL students who have ever started a particular art, then we could have some actual statistics.

9:08 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Amanda:

I always wonder where those statistics come from. I think most of them are misleading for one reason--you're only surveying your own school.

I think you may be right. And you've made a good point using your own experience with changing schools before arriving at black belt.

If we could somehow survey ALL students who have ever started a particular art, then we could have some actual statistics.

Now that would be interesting. Of course the task involved in collecting and assembling all that information would probably be next to impossible, but I really wonder what those stats would look like.

12:00 AM  
Anonymous frotoe said...

We have a woman at our dojo who is I think in her early 70's who is a Nidan. Now, granted, she cannot/will not do some of the more physically demanding aspects of the black belt testing cycle, but as far as knowledge and technique and attitude, she has definitely earned her stripes. She has an awesome attitude too.

6:14 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Frotoe:

A seventy-year old 2nd degree black belt...I'm sure this woman's enthusiasm and positive attitude inspires everyone in your school. Thanks for sharing that here, Frotoe.

8:06 PM  
Blogger [Mat] said...

one in 10 000?
More like one in 100.

Or rather that's what I could generally make out after a few years in the arts. I still have none to show for whatever efforts I have put in, for that matter. :)

It's true though. A lot just come and go. Each person finds what they need in time. Through trial and error mostly.

Even if I speak highly of martial arts everytime I'm asked to do so (or rather, every opportunity I get) in my circle of friends or family, people tend to get motivated while I speak. There's a fascination about martial arts. But it's simply not enough to make them commit themselves on their own. Although all have trained with me when in the same town. As soon as they left town, they left the art too.

So, I guess the best motivation stays the one you get from within. Every senseï helps. Every friend helps. But it all comes down to wanting to go on. Wanting to keep fit. Wanting to be active. And the martial arts are one way, as Feu Funakoshi said as he was trying to sell karate, to do that.

Strange, if not ironic, that a thing to destroy human bodies and maybe human lives is now primarily used to promote health and good living habits.

My current Senseï gave an ode to a 74 y.o. who currently studies karate. He's quite an inspiration to all who arrive in the class. I mean what do you expect while arriving in class? Some muscle-bound karate-crazy chopping guy. Then you get M.74y.o. who just does his best. That's great! It goes a long way to break the mystique. It's only a body moving. It's only legs and arms and muscles moving.

Motion.
Einstein said :
"the only constant is change"

Can motion be seen as change?

8-)

8:38 AM  
Blogger Eddie 哥哥 said...

I'm almost shodan, hopefully I will get it if I'm not too lazy training haha

Martial arts is for everyone but not blackbelt lol

woman at 60 getting a blackbelt is an eye opener!

12:22 AM  
Blogger supergroup7 said...

"An instructor of mine once commented that becoming a black belt is an honor that exceeds that of becoming an attorney or a physician."

Whoa.. what an eye opening statement.. but I can see where it's coming from.

Many people have the desire to be a black belt when they walk into a dojo, but as soon as they face the various challenges that will form them into what they were hoping to become, they decide that they would rather not walk that path. This is as it should be.. The decision to pursue a path, or to stop walking upon it is equally valid. In my opinion, there is no shame in looking honestly at oneself, and realizing that this choice is not for me. However, if one truly desires to achieve Shodan, I feel that the only requirement for success would be that they do not give up on their goal despite all obstacles. Black belt is achievable for anyone, but it may not be the achievement of everyone.

8:32 AM  

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