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Black Belt Standards

I was talking with an old student the other day and the topic of why black belts aren’t equal from one system to another. We also talked about if they should be and how would you accomplish that. Anyone that has been around knows that today anyone can hang a shingle and declare himself any rank/title he wants too. This is because you can no longer just go into a school and challenge them, where they would have to put up and win or close down. There are pros and cons to that approach but, I repeat you can’t do that anymore. After all we live in a modern society with laws today. For many running a school, or chain of schools is big business. Could you imagine the owner of the local MacDonald’s marching all his employees over to Burger King and challenging them to a fight where the loser had to close down and leave town? Today the way you close down a competitor and run them out of town is by out selling and out marketing them. Of course it helps if you have a superior product but, that isn’t necessary as long as you out sell them.

Some think that having government regulation will standardize the arts and eliminate frauds. I’m not a believer in that approach. After all when have you ever seen the quality and efficiency of anything go up once the government got involved? Not to mention there would be factions lobbying for control making sure they were calling the shots, making the most money and keeping anyone not in their “good ole boy” club out.

There are several governments in the far east that do have government sponsorship and regulation. This is because after the Meiji restoration in Japan Jigoro Kano created judo to preserve the martial arts and was able to get it taught in the public school system. He later helped Ginchin Funakoshi get Shotokan into the school system. An important note is that these systems were watered down from their true origins so they could be safely taught to children. In 1922 Funakoshi promoted the first Black Belts in Karate. At that time Funakoshi had no rank of any kind. It was 1938 before the Japanese government called for registration and official sanctioning of ranks. Since then there have been many organizations seeking to standardize and control ranking. The founder of Tai Kwon Do had learned karate in Japan while going to college there and bought the idea of belt ranks back to Korea. Today even some Chinese martial arts have adopted the belt system, though not many.

Now days you have different groups forming and awarding each other rank to help promote their business. After all if a prospective student doesn’t know anything about the martial arts and there are two schools to choice from. One instructor is a 1st degree black belt and the other is a 10th degree black belt, it goes without saying the ignorant perspective student will automatically go to the one with the higher rank which is back to marketing and sales.

So how is a student to choose? After all some schools don’t use rank at all. I suggest you need to go watch classes at several schools. Try a class at each school. Ask lots of questions. Do your research into the arts you are considering. Then select the teacher and art that you feel is the best fit for you. Don’t worry about fluff like belts. Belts were designed to help motive elementary students (though they are taken very seriously by some adults). They were also intended to insure that if they are competing in a sport with their peers they are evenly matched. To quote Bruce Lee, “Belts just hold up your Pants”.

Mike Murphy




Categories: Concepts & Principles
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