Really good Karate Black Belt holders are some of the best, toughest, and hardest leaders and trend-setters I know. They are often ambitious to the core, with incredibly high levels of stamina, and the ability to endure the most extreme of physical, mental, and emotional pressures. By the 1st Degree Black Belt level after 3-5 years of regular training, the new expert will have overcome a myriad of challenges at all levels; from total intellectual and emotional confusion to physical injuries of various kinds and varying degrees of seriousness.
The romance and the mystic of the Karate Black Belt lies in the legend that one who wears it has defied death; he/ she will live forever because they have mastered, or are working towards mastering, the art of life protection, as well as extension. They have theoretically been taught how to kill with bare hands almost instantly, but sworn to loving life and the living.
Through the game of death encountered every training session, active Karate Black Belt holders over time become superlative teachers and mentors. They become acutely sensitive to conditions of the less fortunate, the vulnerable and the weak. Many senior Karate Black Belt holders are renowned philanthropists, freedom and social justice fighters and propagators. They are also most likely to be well-read and highly educated. Depending on age and life experience, many will also be found at some of the highest echelons in their careers and/ or professions.
To a non-oriental mind and body type, learning Karate from scratch can be an all-round daunting experience. From the word go, Karate training goes against everything one previously knew or understood of movement, rhythm, balance, and coordination; from the unusual stances to punching and kicking techniques through to kata (choreographed fighting sequence) and kumite (free fighting/ sparring). Then there is the terminology, and the attendant initially seemingly outlandish Oriental Philosophy dogmas with the strangest metaphorical imagery. Bring in the martial discipline and the corresponding hierarchical structure often lacking in democratic processes familiar to a Western mind, and then total confusion is guaranteed.
In modern Karate practice in the Western world and culture, it’s the hard discipline and the tough training methods, which form the metaphorical representations of death. In practice, Karate training can break down the ego of the strongest man or woman, making the person confront his or her darkest sides, as well as his or her greatest fears.
The various gradings (belt change tests) from the novice White Belt to expert Black Belt level are designed to give the student a chance to demonstrate the degree to which he or she has mastered the theory and practice of the metaphorical game of death. The higher the grade or belt level the more the quantitative and qualitative challenges, with the highest demands and most intense pressures from the 1st Degree Black Belt test. I have over the years seen the latter test being conducted so hard that many a testing candidate simply collapsed, cried, and withdrew. Those who persevere and pass the test and receive their first Black Belts have therefore defied the symbolic death threat represented by and through the test there and then. But essentially the death threat looms all the time in an active practitioner’s life, becoming more and more complex the higher the Black Belt grade. It’s in the Black Belt grades the real fun begins; and the mystical, as well as the legendary become more profound.
6 Dan Black Belt Karate Master, Independent
August 24, 2011