The last couple weeks have been busy with belt grading at our dojo.
Just as with belts themselves, I have mixed feelings on formal testing. Some are positive, some are negative.
It’s done for a while, likely quite a while. My Sensei doesn’t believe in rapid ascension through the ranks. It occurs to me that part of the journey with him is that of humility. He decides when, and if, people test for a belt, and there is no automatic time frame or schedule. This may not be the best business model for profit, but then again, he isn’t in it for the money. Years ago, he moved away from having a commercial dojo. He now has a small group of dedicated students and he teaches on his terms, which is fine with us lucky enough to call him Sensei. While we are associated, or friends of, larger schools, his standards are his and his alone, and they’re high.
Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way. You work for it, through blood, sweat and tears. No student in our dojo ever need feel that they haven’t earned a ranking.
I share my teacher’s belief that your motivation shouldn’t be a ‘shiny new belt’. In fact, we trained with no belt colour for the first couple of years when I returned to him. It wasn’t until he decided to take on a few select students that rankings of any sort were added.
Here’s the conflict – from time to time students do want to be recognized for their study. It’s really a non issue while we’re actually in our dojo, but that little hint of ego (is it ego?) can pop up when visiting other schools or attending seminars or demonstrations.
I’ve had the opportunity to attend quite a few great seminars or events with martial artists from a variety of different styles and schools. It doesn’t take long to get to know the ‘regulars’. From personal observation, I’ve seen a few of these students who have a higher belt each time I see them.
I’ve seen one martial artist who I met as a white belt that has climbed 6 belt colours (in his belt system) since the last time our Sensei did a grading. This isn’t to suggest that he didn’t deserve them or work hard for them (we are talking years here), but it’s interesting none the less.
Some students can have trouble dealing with this situation, feeling that they ‘deserve’ the next level. They would probably not last in our dojo.
There are valuable lessons to be learned here, such as humility as previously mentioned, and patience, and discipline.
One of my loftier goals is to never be touched by ego. While I aspire to be completely free of any desire for the next level, I wouldn’t be completely honest if I didn’t say that, over the years, on occasion, I’ve coveted the next level, rank or designation.
There are a couple reasons:
The first one I’m ok with. Having a visual indication of experience automatically puts you ‘at the grown up’s table’. In mixed groups, you are usually paired by belt or dan groupings. It’s always a pleasure to train with experienced people from different styles. You can learn just as much from working with newer people, mind you, but in some situations, (such as a seminar) working with similar ranks can maximize your learning while minimizing the chances of unintentional injuries. Simply put, you can go harder and faster in the short time you are there.
The second isn’t quite as altruistic. Ego can rear its ugly little head from time to time. While I think people naturally like to receive praise or be recognized for their accomplishments, it should be by your skill level and attitude, not by the colour of your belt.
I don’t know if I’ll ever completely banish any inkling of ego, but I am working on it. I know this is part of my journey. It’s one of the main reasons that I ditched any and all belts from my meandering martial journey and started over when I re-connected with my Sensei several years ago.
There will likely not be another grading in our dojo for several years. I’m ok with this. It keeps ego at bay, teaches humility and patience, and removes the pressure and distractions of prepping for a test.
This style or timeframe isn’t for everyone, and it’s not the only way to go. Some schools or styles promote their students more quickly than others. The requirements of the teacher for different levels can vary greatly. Some schools may promote to black belt in two or three years of dedicated study, some may require ten or more at minimum. Neither is necessarily right or wrong, they’re just different approaches. As long as you’re always striving to do better and to keep learning, it probably doesn’t really matter how long it took you to get to a certain 'recognized' level.
At the end of the day, it only really matters what you think and what you know. If you are not confident that you can apply what you’ve learned in a real life situation or violent encounter, it doesn’t matter one bit what colour your belt is. Ideally, this should be the only measure of success or progression that you need. In reality, this is often easier said than done.
I may post soon on some of my thoughts on the actual grading, but for now, I’ll let my body keep recovering from the pounding it took…
Food for thought.
Train well with a beginners mind.