Congratulations and Welcome

You made it over the hump. There is a saying in the martial arts – the hardest students to teach are white belts and black belts. White belts because they know nothing, and black belts because they think they know everything. If you’re taking this lesson it should mean that you’ve completed the white belt material and have progressed to the 9 kyuu level. You should have a solid base and understanding of all the concepts we already discussed during your white belt lessons, and are ready to further your learning. Remember, however, that even though you have passed all the white belt material, you will be required to continue to practice and keep your material proficiency level up, as well as increase your proficiency with your white belt material. At your next belt test, you will not only be tested on all the 9 kyuu material you are about to learn, you will also be tested on all of your white belt material. For the test, your 9 kyuu level material should be at a basic level of proficiency, while your white belt (10 kyuu) material should be at a level one step from your 9 kyuu level.

As you progress through the ranks, this same sort of proficiency checking should be occurring. Once you get to yellow belt and are testing for orange belt, your white belt material should be at a proficiency 2 levels above your yellow belt material, and your 9 kyuu proficiency at least one level above your yellow belt proficiency. However, once you reach Jun-Ichi Dan (the rank right before black belt), you will need to bring all your material (white belt on up) up to the level of a first degree black belt. The good news is that the Jun-Ichi Dan rank only has one new form to learn, so you can spend your time and energy re-learning everything you learned white belt up through black belt – this is why the level has 131 lessons in it! Most of it will be triple review (beginners are just learning, intermediate students review the material and extend on it, advanced students review even further and extend and master the concepts even further, black belts should be masters of everything). Even though the concepts in the lessons will be review for you, the material in the lesson will cover new topics and touch on points that you most likely missed when you first learned the material at the previous levels.

The History of Belt Ranking

In Japan I had the honor or studying traditional Kyokushin Karate under a very traditional sensei. In the traditional arts, there really aren’t belt ranks. You wear the same belt from beginner all the way through master – and my belt I wore during that training is completely soiled. It wasn’t until the martial arts came to the west that belt ranking became more prevalent in the systems. Even though martial arts is ancient, the concept of colored belt rankings is actually pretty recent. In many Japanese schools (outside of the martial arts) e.g. ikebana (flower arrangement), the students were ranked according to their skill level from 10 kyuu (Juu Kyuu) the lowest to 1 Kyuu (Eee Kyuu) the highest. In the combat scene there was Sumo, where belt ranks were signs of how much you won in the tournament scene – someone who was a “black” belt in this sense, was considered the top of their system. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that Jigoro Kano devised a colored belt ranking system to show rank between junior and senior students. Before then you were either a beginner, non beginner or hanshi/shihan (instructor or master instructor). However the adoption of colored belt ranks was slow across most martial arts.

There is a myth behind the belt ranking colors. At the start, you were like a virgin parchment – clean, unspoiled, and blank with your new white belt. After some time and hard work, your belt would start to discolor and the sweat would eventually turn the belt yellow. Because you were working so hard, you were also bleeding, and your belt would turn orange. The purple, blues, and greens were because the belt was starting to get moldy. Brown belt came because the belt was so soiled that it was darkened with all the hard work. After years of effort (and lack of hygiene) your belt was so soiled it became black. How much truth there is to this remains to be seen, most of my “traditional belts” went from white to brown, and never got to black because they would be so frayed by that time that they would be grayish along the edges – or they would just fall apart.

So, lets imagine you were studying martial arts under a school in the early 1950s – most likely you would have white belts and black belts, and really nothing in between. Your instructor would teach you material as they saw your progress, until eventually one day, half a dozen years later, they decide to give you a “final test” and promote you to black belt. For most serious students this was not a problem. But for the casual student, the psychological commitment of not seeing any “progress” was a big issue, and as a result, many early schools had very few students.

Enter the belt ranking system. It gave students a goal to work towards, and allowed them to see their individual progress and be rewarded for their long term efforts. Granted, some schools turned this into a money grab and charge the student every which way, but the concept of the belt ranking system is sound. Psychologically, speaking the graduated rewards (ala. skinner box), ensures that the students are more motivated and more likely to stick with the program. It also allowed the instructor to tailor the curriculum in such a way that it could be standardized and repeatable across generations of schools and students. Instead of the instructor giving out parcels of information as he remembered it (back then martial arts instructors were all male), and having your white belts learning all different sorts of techniques at all different times, the progress and formalization of the system ensured that students were learning along an optimal pathway.

Your Beige Belt and You

During ranking ceremonies after testing there are a couple of things I like to do for the students. At the end of the testing I have the students take off their old belt and place it in front of them, I have their new belts behind me as I sit facing the students. I’ll read the students the information off their belt certificate and give them their new kenpo creed and charge them to forever uphold the standards set forth in the Kenpo Budokan Karate system. I’ll then tell the students to meditate on everything they have done up to this point, and if they fully understand the responsibilities that come with the new belt rank they are achieving. After giving them ample time to think it over, I allow them to go get their belt – I never tell them, nor indicate they should go grab their belt. They have to take the initiative and get the belt themselves. Before they do I grab their wrist or stand up and get up in their way and ask them one final time, are you sure you are ready for the new belt. If they say yes, they can get the belt and put it on, if not, then they will remain a white belt (or their previous rank), until they have the courage to accept the new responsibility.

That you have taken the step and answered yes shows that you are ready for all the challenges you are going to face during your journey as a 9 kyuu, and are prepared to face it with all your might. Again congratulations and welcome to the 9 kyuu level. Remember, as you go forth the kenpo creed and continue to live by its auspices and its ethos.

“I come to you with only Karate, empty hands, I have no weapons, but should I be forced to defend myself, my principles or my honor, should it be a matter of life or death, of right or wrong; then here are my weapons, karate, my empty hands.”

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