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Now That I'm A Black Belt, I Know Everything, Right.....Right?

Updated: Jul 9

When I first began my karate training, way back in the early 1980s as a rambunctious young child, the thought of becoming a black belt seemed, at least to me, to be the pinnacle of achievement and the end of the journey of a martial artist. Back then, it didn't occur to me that as a black belt, especially a new one, there is so much depth of knowledge to learn after the black belt goal has been achieved. Let's dive into what comes next, once you've attained your black belt goal.

Becoming a Black Belt is no small task...

The hours of dedication and training that are part and parcel to achieving the black belt cannot be understated. There is a lot of patience, hard work, focused dedication, and knowledge that goes into the realization of the black belt goal. To be honest, most who begin their martial arts journey don't make it to the black belt level due to many different factors ranging from other obligations, job and work location changes, and goal fatigue. Achieving a black belt takes long-term dedication, which requires consistent long-term action toward the goal. Ultimately, many just don't see it through, which is an unfortunate reality in this day and age.

This is also why those who are able to do the hard work, stick it out for the long haul, and pass the black belt exam should be extremely proud of their accomplishment. Especially in a traditional karate dojo which requires increasingly difficult standards and proficiency before leveling up. Our dojo, for example, will not even consider someone to be eligible to challenge the black belt exam for a minimum of 3 years; and that's just a minimum. On average 4 to 5 years of training (depending on a student's consistency and attendance over the course of their training) is needed before being invited to challenge the exam.

I once heard a fellow martial artist compare the journey to black belt as the filling of a tool box. During that time the student is learning and gathering knowledge and the life experience needed before challenging the exam. They compared the achievement of the black belt as having a toolbox full of tools, that one must now learn to use so that a level of accuracy and proficiency can be achieved for every skill in the toolbox. This is a great way to visualize the journey to black belt. It's the process of filling your toolbox so that when you go on the job you have everything you will need to face whatever challenge might arise.

I realized my black belt goal in 1989 and I can honestly say that although I was quite proud of my accomplishment (rightfully so) when I consider what I knew as a new black belt to what I know now, there's simply no comparison. My years of training and learning after having achieved the black belt have created a wealth of understanding of body mechanics, proper breathing, proper execution of technique, how to use my own balance as a tool to overcome an opponent, and how to learn to 'read' a person's movements to anticipate their next move. All of this cannot be fully understood prior to black belt because during the years leading up to black belt a student is mainly focused on trying to learn and remember moves, proficiency and understanding comes much later.

Sensei John Ingram

My own students are often quite surprised when I mention that I still meet up with my Senseis to train and learn, to improve and hone my skills, and to develop an even deeper understanding of my art.

I'm often met with, "You have a sensei?!" once they learn that I spend quite a bit of time training with my senseis (which I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to do).

Sensei Cindy Ingram

Sensei Sheri and I spend a few hours a week training under Sensei John and Sensei Cindy Ingram to ensure that we are all on the same page and all continuing to push the limits of our knowledge so that we can help our students along on their journey as well.

Sensei John Ingram and Sensei Cindy Ingram have been my sensei since my first day of karate and it's their guidance and leadership that has given me a deep appreciation for Isshinryu Karate. They have always placed a high value on the continuation of learning and developing new skills and for that I'm eternally grateful.

In my opinion, there's a difference between having a black belt, and being a black belt. Having a black belt means that there has been a journey toward a goal, and an achievement of that goal. It means that a person has received a black belt. However, being a black belt means a student must now reorient their goals and personal standards to include the evolution of proficiency and skills, the understanding of how to use those skills, and the humility and courage it takes to lead by example. In addition, being a black belt means training even more so that lower ranks can trust your knowledge, it means setting higher goals so that students can internalize how important it is to continue to grow and build skills, and it also involves giving of one's time and knowledge to help someone else realize their black belt goal.

Miyagi Chojun

This is why in most traditional dojos there will be multiple levels of black belt, which are called Dan Ranks (pronounced Don Ranks). These after black belt levels are meant to help new black belts set new goals and reach toward a higher understanding of their art. Many years ago, on the island of Okinawa (where karate originated), Master Miyagi Chojun was opposed to the idea of having black belt ranks. He was concerned that a person might place a higher value on what rank they are instead of valuing knowledge and growth. Belt Rank is often confused with knowledge and this understanding is something a new black belt must realize as they progress beyond black belt.

The truth is there's no end to learning, even as a black belt. Much of what I learned as a new black belt paved the way for the deeper understanding I have now, and I don't doubt as I continue to train and expand my knowledge and skills I'll look back on this moment and realize just how far I've come once again.

My advice to all who have accomplished their black belt goal is this: keep training, challenge yourself to step into new endeavors, and don't be seduced by the idea that having a black belt means you've reached the end. Black belt is just the beginning....

Happy training!

~Sensei Jen Davenport

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