Hello, fellow humans!

Not much has gone on this week. I’m starting to get used to my new schedule of having no free time and I think my previously “smashed foot” may in fact be a broken foot, but only time and a trip to the doctor will tell. So instead of giving a play by play of my life this week, I’d like to talk about what a black belt means, and what it means to me. This will also serve as a preliminary draft for my eventual essay, “What Karate Means to Me.”

First off, I’d like to explain my black belt status. When I trained at Dynamic Arts, I did complete a black belt grading. I believe I was 13 at the time, and at the black belt presentation ceremony, I received a solid black belt with a white stripe running down it’s length. This is a junior black belt and the belt I currently wear. The policy at dynamic arts was that for students under 16, they could not receive a full black belt. They completed the same grading, but were officially junior black belts. I was preparing for my second degree black belt when I left dynamic arts, so I do refer to myself as a black belt.

Once I received my black belt, however, I was hit with a bad case of black belt envy. This is a condition that predominates in the West, as telling somebody you’re a black belt in such and such a martial art will invariably be met with “So I better not mess with you, eh?” or some variant thereof. We expect a black belt to be a master of their martial art, and many act as though they are. However when a student feels that a black belt should symbolize mastery, but they don’t feel they are a master yet, they begin to question whether their belt actually means anything at all. The original designation of black belt, however, did not mean mastery, rather it meant mastery of the basics. So a black belt knows how to kick and punch properly, and their training can now advance further. They can begin to learn subtleties and nuance which are much more powerful than kicks and punches. They can begin to understand the true philosophy of martial arts; ideas that can topple empires and raise people from the brink of defeat.

Alas, I spent a great deal of time feeling that my belt wasn’t worth very much and that my training was in many ways deficient up to that point. This is part of what made it so easy to quit Karate when I was younger. Ironically, it wasn’t until training for another black belt that I realized the value my first held. It symbolized perseverance and discipline. It symbolized four years of training to get it and two years of training with it. It symbolized a strength of character that, when I began to compare my belt to others’, I lost. It did not signify I was a master of Karate, and truly no belt ever will. Gichin Funakoshi (the founder of Shotokan Karate) said, “The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.” To me, a black belt means one has developed the skill and discipline to begin training seriously. That is the only, even remotely standard aspect of a black belt. All else is up to the practitioner. If you had to climb a mountain to get your black belt then it symoblizes everything that went into climbing that mountain. If you had to dedicate years of your life to your black belt then it symbolizes those years of your life. My belt in Goju-Ryu will symbolize my entire journey as a Karate-ka.

It will symbolize my first class where I could barely do a push up, my first grading where I advanced to a new belt and my first failed grading where I remained at the same belt three times longer than my peers.

It sill symbolize the day I was asked to join the demo team, the day I began learning to teach younger students, and my preparation and grading for my first black belt.

It will symbolize landing a kick wrong and damaging my knee, a year of physiotherapy, and learning to do that kick better than I did before.

It will symbolize the day I left Karate.

It will symbolize having the courage to start over at a new dojo under a new Sensei, learning to become a better teacher, and learning to see more in Karate than techniques.

It will symbolize millions of punches, hundreds of thousands of push ups sit ups and squats, tens of thousands of hours of training, thousands of repetitions of kata and sparring matches, hundreds of Karate-ka training with and being trained by me, and every that time my body said no and some stronger part of me said yes.

That stronger part: that’s what makes a black belt!

Now that my self-and-small-readership pep talk is over, my weekly recap:

Monday:

  • 160 Push ups
  • 140 Sit ups
  • 14 rounds of Seipai
  • 8 acts of kindness
  • 5 km Jogging

Tuesday:

  • 140 Push ups
  • 140 Sit ups
  • 14 rounds of Seipai
  • 9 acts of kindness

Wednesday:

  • 260 Push ups
  • 140 Sit ups
  • 14 rounds of Seipai
  • 20 minutes of meditation
  • 8 acts of kindness
  • 5 km Jogging

Thursday:

  • 140 Push ups
  • 140 Sit ups
  • 14 rounds of Seipai
  • 40 minutes of meditation
  • 11 acts of kidness
  • 17 rounds of sparring

Friday:

  • 140 Push ups
  • 140 Sit ups
  • 14 rounds of Seipai
  • 40 minutes of meditation
  • 9 acts of kindness

Saturday:

  • 140 Push ups
  • 140 Sit ups
  • 14 rounds of Seipai
  • 6 acts of Kindness

Sunday:

  • 140 Push ups
  • 140 Sit ups
  • 14 rounds of Seipai
  • 20 minutes meditation
  • 4 acts of Kindness

So for Week 3 I did: 1120 Push ups, 980 Sit ups, 98 repetitions of Seipai, 55 acts of kindness, 120 minutes of meditation, 17 rounds of sparring, and 10 km of jogging. I’m low by 20 minutes on my meditation, so I plan to do 40 tonight (but we all know about the best laid plans).

Cumulatively, I have: 2660 Push ups, 2520 Sit ups, 253 repetitions of Seipai, 45 rounds of sparring, 20 km of jogging, and 91 acts of kindness. Since this is Week 3 of approximately 10 weeks (little more than that) I should be about 30% done everything. Let’s see how I’m doing:

30% of Push ups = 3000

30% of Sit ups = 3000

30% of Seipai = 300

30% of Sparring = 30 rounds

30% of jogging = 30 km

30 % of acts of kindness = 150

So for everything except acts of kindness and jogging I’m right around where I need to be. The jogging I’ll try to catch up on this week (I really don’t like jogging) and the acts of kindness I should be on track with if I keep doing at least an average of 8 per day (8*7 = 56, so I was short 1 this week).

If you actually made it to the end of this post, then here’s a reward:

Possibly my favorite combat scene from any movie ever, the knife fight at the end of The Hunted.

Until next week, Cheers!

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