How the Japanese view of the black belt

PhotonGuy

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From what I've heard and read about from multiple sources, is that in Japan they don't make a big deal of the black belt. That the Japanese see the black belt as simply the belt after brown, if the system has it so that brown comes right before black as lots of belt systems do. For them the jump from brown to black is not a big jump and they don't put the black belt on a pedestal the way Americans often do.
 

hussaf

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you mean the way Americans who don't train in martial arts view the black belt? I don't know many Americans I train with who view shodan as anything more than signifying a person is serious about their training and has an understanding of a systems basics.
 

Steve

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I don't know whether I buy that America is any different than the rest of the world in this. People who train tend to have a realistic impression of what a black belt mean within their chosen style. However, that will be very different from style to style. It will even vary from school to school within a particular style. In BJJ, a black belt is definitely valuable. Black belt means something different in BJJ than it does in other styles.

All of that being said, I think that throughout the world (America certainly included), there has been a systematic PR campaign to promote the nigh-supernatural abilities of a martial artist, and the black belt is the symbol of mastery within the art. In the 70s, 80s and into the early 90s, a black belt was just a few steps short of a super hero.

While the UFC, MMA, and the internet have notched that down a few steps, to the lay person, black belt still equals "martial arts master." And, after a decades long campaign in that vein, why shouldn't it?
 
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PhotonGuy

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In many of the American dojos, they make a big deal out of the black belt and the black belt test is much harder than the brown belt test. As for a black belt in BJJ being valuable, the Gracies are originally from Brazil but no doubt they've been influenced a lot by the USA as they've had much interaction with the USA growing up and throughout their lives, and as I know it, some of them now live in the USA. The Americans tend to make a big deal out of anything they consider a "crown achievement," and another example would be Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts. To get to the rank of Life Scout, the rank right before Eagle, a scout must earn five extra merit badges that he doesn't have. After making Life, to get to the rank of Eagle, a scout must earn ten extra merit badges, twice the amount that he earned to get to life, as well as do a community service project and some other stuff. So they make a big deal out of Eagle Scout and going from Life to Eagle is a big jump. Although there are some people who might say that Eagle Scout just signifies that a person has a basic understanding of outdoor and survival skills and is serious about learning more of it.
 

arnisador

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You often get titles or rights/responsibilities to teach with a black belt that are substantively different from what an underbelt would have. I personally don't give out rank until first degree black belt for precisely this reason--it simply doesn't matter until then--but I teach college students so I can do that. (If an underbelt is leaving to go somewhere where they can continue training I'll do a colored belt ranking for that person.) I don't know if it's different in Japan or not! What happens in Judo--where all this really started?
 

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The Japanese people who train in martial arts don't view it any differently than the ways the USA (or the rest of the world) view the rank of Shodan. It's a style-specific rank, and that even within the style, it can vary from dojo to dojo.

The most common view (as Hussaf stated), regardless of the nation, of what a Shodan is, encompasses the belief that someone of that rank has demonstrated a reasonably good proficiency in a required core of fundamental techniques, and that they're ready to take on the more advanced training. In the end, it's up to the chief instructor of the dojo to decide how he wants to award rankings. If, for example, he decides that you have to be at least 21 years old, and have trained for 10 years or more, then that's his choice. While doing such a thing may lead to a more polished "average" Shodan in a dojo, it's not without its drawbacks. It comes down to what works best for your school.
 
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PhotonGuy

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Goal setting and being goal oriented is very much an American thing. In the orient, they just expect you to be patient and wait for stuff. From what I've heard and read from martial arts magazines, the Japanese see the rank of shodan is simply the rank after brown belt and the rank before nidan or 2nd degree. And translated, shodan literally means "low man." So it is not some big crown achievement as the Japanese see it. As for age requirements for black belt or anything else, I think that by having other requirements you wont need age requirements.
 

jezr74

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Goal setting and being goal oriented is very much an American thing. In the orient, they just expect you to be patient and wait for stuff. From what I've heard and read from martial arts magazines, the Japanese see the rank of shodan is simply the rank after brown belt and the rank before nidan or 2nd degree. And translated, shodan literally means "low man." So it is not some big crown achievement as the Japanese see it. As for age requirements for black belt or anything else, I think that by having other requirements you wont need age requirements.

I don't think being goal orientated is reserved just for Americas. I'm crazy competitive (but quietly), and goal orientated not only in MA but life in general, with some goals bigger than others.

I think your observation is anecdotal anyway, so there is no right or wrong answer. I'd suspect if it truly was the case, they would scrap the belt system and level of competency would be implied right?
 

wingchun100

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I don't know what the Japanese view on the black belt is. I know people who are SERIOUS about training know the first level of black belt, while important, doesn't mean they can win every fight they are in. People who DON'T train in martial arts think that is what a black belt means. Then if they see a black belt get beat down, they laugh and say, "Ha! You see? Martial arts don't work in a real fight!" Ignorance is NOT always bliss.
 

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From what I've heard and read about from multiple sources, is that in Japan they don't make a big deal of the black belt. That the Japanese see the black belt as simply the belt after brown, if the system has it so that brown comes right before black as lots of belt systems do. For them the jump from brown to black is not a big jump and they don't put the black belt on a pedestal the way Americans often do.
Americans may have put it on a pedestal, but they have long since torn it down, and now award Black Belts to kids for eating their lima beans. :)
 

hussaf

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I thought kids just got a stripe for that kind of thing?
 

Grenadier

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What does it mean?

From what I understand of the system (Steve can give you a more complete answer), Brazilian Jiu Jitsu doesn't award you your first colored belt ranking (blue) until you've demonstrated that you have a solid grasp of the fundamentals, and can apply them effectively. Essentially, this is the equivalent of the black belt in most other Ju Jutsu systems that use such a definition.

Someone who has his purple belt in BJJ would be the equivalent of either an advanced Shodan or an early Nidan in other Ju Jutsu systems, and is eligible to run his own dojo.

Brown belts in BJJ are the equivalent of an experienced Nidan, and closer to being an advanced Nidan equivalent in other Ju Jutsu systems.

Someone who has his black belt (Shodan) in BJJ would be the equivalent of a Sandan in other Ju Jutsu systems. That's not a rank that is given out very easily.
 

hussaf

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That's funny, that's exactly how I've looked at comparisons just from "guessing" and observing others.
 

hussaf

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some traditional JMA don't consider a person truly "Sensei" until sandan, as sandan is generally when you can promote others to shodan.
 

Steve

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From what I understand of the system (Steve can give you a more complete answer), Brazilian Jiu Jitsu doesn't award you your first colored belt ranking (blue) until you've demonstrated that you have a solid grasp of the fundamentals, and can apply them effectively. Essentially, this is the equivalent of the black belt in most other Ju Jutsu systems that use such a definition.

Someone who has his purple belt in BJJ would be the equivalent of either an advanced Shodan or an early Nidan in other Ju Jutsu systems, and is eligible to run his own dojo.

Brown belts in BJJ are the equivalent of an experienced Nidan, and closer to being an advanced Nidan equivalent in other Ju Jutsu systems.

Someone who has his black belt (Shodan) in BJJ would be the equivalent of a Sandan in other Ju Jutsu systems. That's not a rank that is given out very easily.
That's pretty much it. But, the point I was making is that regardless of what Black Belt means to a BJJ practitioner, it is different than what it means to a TKD practitioner, which is different than what it means to a Judoka... and so on.

But, yeah, in BJJ, because so much time elapses between promotions, there is a very wide range of skill levels within each belt color. There are blue belts who have trained for 1 1/2 years. And there are blue belts who have trained for 3 years... or 4 years. The Blue belt just promoted has a solid grasp of the basics and can apply them. The blue belt who is on the cusp of promotion to purple is going to be much more highly skilled. And the same goes for purple. As a purple belt with 4 years, you will be very good, but will you be as good as a purple belt with 6 years of mat time? Of course not... there's a huge range. Same with Brown belt. And of course, the same is true with Black belts. By the time you've got a good decade of training, drilling and sparring under your belt (no pun intended), you're going to have more than just a "solid grasp of fundamentals."

Does it mean your journey is over? No. My coach is a black belt who is far better than I am. But I see him roll with his coach and it's no contest... and then when Giva comes to town... that guy is on a completely different level.

But, all that said, the point isn't that BJJ belts are "better." That's a value judgement that doesn't really matter to me. It's definitely different.
 
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PhotonGuy

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Someone who has his black belt (Shodan) in BJJ would be the equivalent of a Sandan in other Ju Jutsu systems. That's not a rank that is given out very easily.

Sounds like the black belt in my dojo.
 

reeskm

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It strikes me as interesting that nobody has yet mentioned that the "sho" or "cho" from shodan or chodan translates to "beginner" - and that is the reason why in Japanese or Korean styles a 1st dan is considered a beginner, reborn.

And that might also explain why in Japan or Korea, a 1st dan dosen't have a lot of value. Now second dan starts meaning something - that somebody has stuck around to earn their stripes!
 

Chris Parker

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some traditional JMA don't consider a person truly "Sensei" until sandan, as sandan is generally when you can promote others to shodan.

And others have Godan (5th Dan)… others, when you're genuinely looking at traditional systems, don't have any Dan grades at all… a very different ranking system is in place there…

It strikes me as interesting that nobody has yet mentioned that the "sho" or "cho" from shodan or chodan translates to "beginner" - and that is the reason why in Japanese or Korean styles a 1st dan is considered a beginner, reborn.

And that might also explain why in Japan or Korea, a 1st dan dosen't have a lot of value. Now second dan starts meaning something - that somebody has stuck around to earn their stripes!

Hmm… Personally, I'm not that surprised… mainly as, well, that's not what it translates as. "Sho" (初) means "first, initial", but not "beginner"… Shodan is "first level"… beginner would be "shoshinsha" (初心者)… same first character, but not the same term. Personally, I'm not aware of any system that considers a shodan "reborn", or even what that would mean.
 

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