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tiyler_durden 07-05-2004 05:25 AM

The black belt Issue (thoughts)
Hey All,

At the moment I am having a similar discussion on another website but I am truly interested on your opinion.

Now I hear all over that people say that you do not start learning until you are a black belt!

Why is this?
I know that you have to promote the black belt and its elitism but I cannot get my head round why!
As I have now studied Aikido for some time and think that I will never stop learning so why should this be different if I have a black belt?

I can understand from the teaching perspective but what more?

Someone please shed some light...

Thanks you kindly


PeterR 07-05-2004 06:05 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
Hi Tiyler;

Shodan (1st Dan) means beginning level. The idea was that at this level you reached the point where you understood a core curriculum and could do or be done relatively safely. That is why in Japan, with a certain intensity of training you get there in about two years. Less intense - longer time. Aikido is about free expression of your technique - something you can only begin to do once you are past the hand here foot there stage.

Why in the West we've gone up to in some warped cases to 10 years to Shodan I'll never know.

Ian Upstone 07-05-2004 06:25 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
Ironically enough, students may decide to stop learning when they reach shodan as they now know it all! :)

To sound horribly uncommitted to a strong opinion, I would say the phrase "you do not start learning until you are a black belt" has plenty of meanings depending on how it is said, (and who it is said by!)

In one respect, in many places you are not considered a 'serious' student until you've put in the time to get the coveted grade, but as an artificial measure of ability that can vary widely - I'd take that statement with a pinch of salt. In this context it also has an air of elitism about it, almost like saying "I'm better than you!"

The other meaning I'd say is that at shodan, you would have a grasp of the syllabus and techniques, and start to understand underlying principles and more subtle points that go beyond a set list of techniques.

Another thing that happens is the sudden awareness (and horror!) that you may be now setting an example - this (self imposed) awareness does bring about a change in attitude - for better or worse, which is in itself a form of learning I suppose!

I'll go back to the safety of lurking now..

happysod 07-05-2004 07:02 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
With the other two posters - I think it's a miss-applied phrase that only makes any sense in context.

While it's not one of my favourites (in fact, it's up there with it takes x years to master y) I've always understood it to mean that it takes you until your black belt to realise just how little you actually know. A bit like completing any course in absolutely anything, you need a certain level of competence before you can tell how woefully inadequate you truly are.

Peter, not warped, just slightly bent (guilty of taken long long time to get the black belt, ok perhaps too long, but I blame the parents)

PeterR 07-05-2004 08:32 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

Ian Hurst wrote:
Peter, not warped, just slightly bent (guilty of taken long long time to get the black belt, ok perhaps too long, but I blame the parents)

Ah Ian - that's just circumstance. Now if you were instructor and proudly proclaiming that your guys are the absolute bestest and meanest and and ...... as for proof well we take ten years of hard training before we can even consider reaching Shodan. Then we could have a discussion. :grr:

happysod 07-05-2004 08:38 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
Peter, aahh, understand your ire. I'd consider anyone promoting the need for 10 years of hard training to reach shodan just proof of inadequate teaching methods and a misunderstanding of what constitutes progress :D

tiyler_durden 07-05-2004 08:55 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
But what if you are like me nad do not want to grade nad just learn as i see it this way!

I can do Aikido all my life, yet will be labed "That Guy" if I never get a black belt?
Or does it mean that i will never truly learn Aikido if i never get a black belt?

happysod 07-05-2004 09:14 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
Tiyler, nope, at least not to those who should matter - you and your regular training partners. The actual belt colour (or lack) is often only used as an obvious marker by organisations to denote where someone is in their hierarchy. As such, it only denotes your competency in aikido if you accept the ranking system in the organisation you belong to.

Now if you never actually grade, one of several things may happen.

1. You get mugged by your association into grading
2. You get given the grade despite your best intentions
3. You sort of drift out of aikido if you have no other goals as "getting better" is often a bit too nebulous to normally stimulate learning.

Seen all three, done two of them and am currently trying out option 4

Ian Upstone 07-05-2004 11:56 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
Peter, I see where you're coming from, but I still think I'd be more suspicious of a shodan grade after one year than one after ten years! (not that it took me ages, ahem) :rolleyes:

Ian, Ok, now I really do need to know what option 4 is.

Tyler, if grading and ranks are what are required where you train then go with it, and just treat it as part of your own progress without reading too much into it! Going to extremes - either obsessing about promotion by making it your only goal, or at the other extreme - boycotting it by refusing rank don't make for good long term training in my opinion.

Jorge Garcia 07-05-2004 01:19 PM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
I have always told my students that to be shodan, you must know and be able to perform all the basic techniques of aikido competently and be able to teach them to others. Prior to that time, you are learning aikido. After that time, you are practicing aikido. That has been my experience. I was learning the basic techniques through practice but after shodan, I began to understand their relationship, flow and connectedness better and I began to practice the art without worrying if I was doing it right or wrong. I began to just train. I still learn and I always practice but ideally, shodan is a line that you cross that says you are knowledgeable and comfortable with the basics of the art and are ready to practice what you know.

Jorge Garcia 07-05-2004 01:34 PM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
When a person gets the black belt and what criteria organizations use to give it is another matter altogether because that involves human judgment and some measure of politics. I don't think wearing the black belt or whether you even have one is a measure of my comments in the previous post. Those comments are based in a ideal situation. The human factor messes up the theory somewhat. The fact is that you will be competent in the basic techniques after a certain amount of time and that will be different from person to person. It will depend on the learning ability of the individual, the quality of instruction, the opportunity and the benevolence and attitude of the governing organization. Only God and you (in your heart) will know when you were really a shodan. The world will find out when they see your arts or when you wear that belt. Some people have a black belt that don't fit the profile and for them, shodan is a "legalized fiction". It should be our goal to truly be the rank we possess but even more than that, we should strive to be the "lessons of aikido". If we are that, it will be good enough. I have many memories of sempai senior students who never made shodan but were my superiors in every respect. In my mind and heart, they will always be true shodans.
Best wishes,

aikidoc 07-05-2004 02:39 PM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
I agree with Jorge on the basics element. To me, shodan is at a level of consciously competent with the basics-i.e., they probably have to think somewhat about most of what they do but understand the core techniques (basics) well enough to assist lower ranked students and teach them. They have the foundation to start opening and developing their training. They can watch technique and reasonably model the technique shown since they understand the core movements inherent in the basics. They also can recognize their weaknesses and grasp the necessity for continued development and training. Their future training becomes refinement oriented. They also have a strong enough foundation to connect the basics with more advanced movements and techniques. I use a question regularly for advanced techniques-how might you go from this basic technique to a more advanced technique (I tell them the technique I want). With a solid foundation, the shodan (and the upper shodan in training kyus) can actually get pretty close. If you understand kihon (tai sabaki, footwork, etc), the principles for advanced techniques are the same-the application or movement patterns just become more complex. Their basics are solid enough to allow them to explore and develop more freestyle movements. I do stress however they must continue to not only learn but to learn to learn.

aikidoc 07-05-2004 02:43 PM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
P.S. I have seen some pretty cocky black belts who have decided they know it all :rolleyes: . Although humbling them is pretty easy, it is often a fruitless endeavor since they have stopped learning. I try to get my students to train with the attitude they will learn something every time they step on the mat. I do each and every time, since I have trained myself to expect it. Even if it is a distinction in a technique I had not thought about before.

aikidoc 07-05-2004 02:50 PM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
That should have read shodan level black belts.

PeterR 07-05-2004 07:37 PM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
Ditto on the Shodan after one year - ah where is the happy medium?

Personally I'm not too happy with those that disturb the wa of the dojo by refusing to grade in a dojo where grading is an integral part of the learning process especially if by doing so they imply they are taking the purer path <---utter bullocks alert.

I don't think rushing up the grading ladder is a good idea either.

SeiserL 07-05-2004 09:13 PM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
I certainly didn't get it until I got there.

IMHO, up to black belt its only learning the basics. Shodan and Nidan are polishing the basics. Sandan is learning the concepts behind the basics. After that, I hear its all about getting out of the way of all the training you did in basics.

aikidoc 07-05-2004 09:14 PM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
Although I have had friends who preferred not to grade, I too am of the opinion one should grade if this is dojo practice. Although there are several reasons for this, one key one is to perpetuate development of future instructors. Grading is part of the process.

Rupert Atkinson 07-06-2004 12:25 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
In Asia grading to Shodan takes only one or two years and Asia is where the saying that shodan is just a beginner comes from. Simply, they know all the forms but are often not that good at them. In the West it can take from five to ten years in some schools - even though they probably knew all the forms in outline after their second of third year. For example, one of my aiki-orgs in the UK typically had one grading a year. Obviously then, in the West, a serious student of five to ten years who gets their shodan is not really a beginner in the Asian scheme of things. But it is a good idea to think so since it encourages further development.

tiyler_durden 07-06-2004 01:45 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

But I truly do not want to grade! I just want to practice and learn!
You say that I will either be given it or drift away...I truly can't see that as I drifted once but won't do it again as i see Aikido as something that fate gave me!
you say Shodan is where you should know the basics, I am now getting to know the basics and also learning a lot more...this does not make it that I should go and take an exam!
Why, when I don't want to! I see the grade and black belt test as nothing more than a belt and another person who thinks himself superior to others!
I have seen and still do people who should have never been give the titel most days in my dojo...
I do not want to be one of them!
In my dojo there is a very humble lady who has been doing Aikido for now 20 years and has never once graded, her tecnique is second to none and only 3 people know she has been training this long, myself included.... has she walked away from the art...NO
Has she been given the titel...NO...why because the others are too busy mixing up in polatics and all the rest of the dojo strugles that go on day after day...

I am sorry to sound so negative but this is how I feel and what I think!


happysod 07-06-2004 02:49 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
Hi Tiyler, I always like to hear such devout and heartfelt views held by someone who posts what intially seemed such an open and interesting question and I'm really pleased the experiences/views offered by others are of such small interest. Go for it and let us know how you get on in a few decades.

Ian Upstone 07-06-2004 03:01 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
Ian, you are a mind-reader (perhaps it's a namesake thing?). I was going to say the same thing, only a badly written version of it. I still want to hear about option 4 by the way. :)

Tyler, just a thought here: if you see examples of bad black belts, why not do your utmost to become an example of a good one and set the record straight?

I often read posts where folk go to great lengths to prove how little something matters to them. I think they doth protest too much. ;)

PeterR 07-06-2004 03:14 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

Tiyler Durden wrote:
I have seen and still do people who should have never been give the titel most days in my dojo...
I do not want to be one of them!

Ah the seeds of arrogance.

ian 07-06-2004 05:46 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
Aikido is about blending. Many other martial arts contain similar techniques to aikido. At dan grade you could be expected to be able to know almost all the techniques on your syllabus, and therefore you can focus on what aikido really is: blending. Before dan grade much of your time is taken up learning or internalising techniques.


PeterR 07-06-2004 05:56 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)

Tiyler Durden wrote:
Or does it mean that i will never truly learn Aikido if i never get a black belt?

I'll take another stab at this because, much as I want to :rolleyes: for the reasons given, the question is actually a good one.

I think it is possible to train and progress without having to worry about ranks but in dojos where testing is part of the process it is self defeating. The kyu grades are as much an ever increasing bar as a series of techniques and generally you see a strong improvement prior to the test and a growing into the grade afterward. If that mechanism is in place and you choose to stay outside of it - you will not reap the benefits and your Aikido will lag.

Dojos which don't use the kyu/dan system have other mechanisms. For example a student will train only in one set of techniques until it is decided by the teacher that he is skilled enough to progress to the next set. A kyu or dan rank is not awarded but the effect is the same. No mechanism - well the student and perhaps the dojo itself can only coast. There will be progress in the beginning but how long can it be maintained.

Low kyu ranks are not political they are measures of progress. If you don't wish to be measured fine but you have no basis to say your Aikido is better or worse than one who has. To do so is the height of self absorbed arrogance.

akiy 07-06-2004 10:13 AM

Re: The black belt Issue (thoughts)
Hi Tiyler,

My very brief thoughts on this subject that people who refuse to grade due to not wanting to "care" about ranking are as caught up in the ranking system as much as those who just pursue ranking; the person actively avoiding rank, in my mind, places far more importance to them than those who just move up the rankings appropriately.

I personally don't see any reason why one couldn't keep practicing and learning while moving up the ranks. To say otherwise is insulting to all of the rest of the folks in aikido who do just that.

I've put a couple of good articles regarding testing in the articles section of this site:

-- Jun

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