How the Japanese view of the black belt

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PhotonGuy

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So all this means that black belt doesn't count?
No, its just that to the best of my knowledge in Japan they don't make it such a big jump to go from ikkyu to shodan (first degree black belt) at least they don't make it a much bigger jump then going up any of the other previous ranks.

In other words, with a dojo in Japan, if they are going to have the kind of requirements for shodan that you describe in post #31 then they would have the kind of requirements for ikkyu that I describe in post #36. Making it much much harder to go from ikkyu to shodan than it is to go up any of the previous ranks I believe is very much an American thing.

As my sensei was from Japan, he was born in and grew up in Japan, I would think he would do it the Japanese way at his dojo.
 

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Well a black belt is not THE goal, and by that I mean its not the ultimate and final goal in the martial arts as there is no ultimate and final goal except to just keep getting better and learning more as you can always get better and learn more no matter what rank you hold and no matter how good you are but for some people it is a goal, particularly here in the USA where we've got a culture that is very goal oriented. Setting and working towards goals is part of the American culture and part of the American way of life so it would make sense some people would apply that towards earning a black belt at a dojo if said dojo is in the USA. You said it's a step, isn't a step a goal of a sort?

The thing is, if the black belt isn't a big deal then you might as well just hand out black belts like candy at your dojo, as some dojos do. After all, if the black belt isn't a big deal there is no reason that black belts shouldn't be handed out like candy.

Of the black belt is a big deal, and if you make the black belt really hard to get at your dojo by doing so you're making it into a big deal, then it stands to reason that there are going to be people who want to earn it and there are even going to be people who are obsessed with it because that's what happens when something is a big deal. When something is a big deal the result is that there is going to be people who want it and there is going to be people who are obsessed with it.
The thing about black belts (or any other grade) is that they're a big deal until you get it

Over the years I've noticed that the more someone cares about achieving a grade the more likely they are to quit &/or stop developing once they get awarded it

Goals are good, but I feel it's best that they are technical in nature rather than about achieving a grade (or similar)
 
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PhotonGuy

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If we're only paying attention to aesthetics (which can and does affect our perception of prestige), the view of the black belt can vary by art.

In judo, the only difference between the black belt and the belts below it is the color. It's made of the same material, it's the same width, of equal stiffness (or lack thereof), and most non-Japanese judoka don't have embroidery on their black belts.

In karate, the black belt is MADE to look like a big deal. It's wider, it's made of silk or satin so that it gets a "worn" look, it's embroidered, it's stiffer, etc, etc.

It's easier to perceive a judo black belt as "just another belt" than it is to perceive a karate black belt that way.
That depends on the dojo. At my first dojo where I learned karate the belts were all of the same material and width and stiffness, including the black belts. The only difference between one belt and another was the color. At the dojo Im at now, which teaches Goju Ryu Karate, the black belts are of the same width as the other belts but they've got calligraphy on them.
 
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PhotonGuy

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I read somewhere that swimmers got colored sashes to signify ranking within a league or within the nation or something like that and the sashes were like white, green, brown, and black
I was a competitive swimmer for nine years and we never wore any colored sashes or anything else to denote rank.
 

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That depends on the dojo. At my first dojo where I learned karate the belts were all of the same material and width and stiffness, including the black belts. The only difference between one belt and another was the color. At the dojo Im at now, which teaches Goju Ryu Karate, the black belts are of the same width as the other belts but they've got calligraphy on them.
I think - I'm not sure - that at my current dojo (ISKF Shotokan), that shodan gets issued a plain black belt of the same brand and quality as the lower belts, but then a stiffer Tokaido belt with embroidery at nidan (but still cotton, still 1.5" wide - same as colored belts). I'm not sure if the plain black belt is with the understanding that if you want something a little fancier before nidan, you have to buy it yourself - or, if you're required to wear the plain belt until nidan. I've seen other people pop in every now and then with wider silk or satin belts, some Tokaido, some other brands.

Either way, if I'm required to wait until nidan in order to wear a fancier belt, I'm probably going to feel more like a "probationary" black belt at shodan than a "real" one. And I'm okay with that - because if it was that big of an issue, I could always go back to my old dojo (eff that).

Like I said, what we see affects our perception.
 
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punisher73

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I was a competitive swimmer for nine years and we never wore any colored sashes or anything else to denote rank.
Jigaro Kano, founder of Judo, is the person who came up with our modern grading system.

He took the kyu/dan ranking system from the Japanese game of "go" (Much like our modern chess has rankings to equalize competitions to make it more fair and competitive)
He saw that competitive swimmers wore colored ribbons to denote their ranking and applied the colors to the belts worn. At first the only colors were white (kyu) and black (dan). Then brown belt was added for 3rd-1st kyu. Other colors were expanded from there.
 

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It may also be worth pointing out there is a large difference between a kid who made black belt in 2 years in a McDojo, and someone who worked daily for 12-14 years to become a black belt.

I know it is controversial, but most style of martial arts are putting a slightly different spin on the same series of techniques. That is NOT a bad thing at all, but rather, it shows the instructor becomes the important part of the equation.

The average person has no idea when they walk into any martial arts school what rank the black belt is, and aside from asking they have no way of knowing. With the advent of students, and even Dans who "promote" themselves when they go from one school to another (or open a school), it is more important than ever parents and prospective students study and look around before deciding on a single school.
 

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It may also be worth pointing out there is a large difference between a kid who made black belt in 2 years in a McDojo, and someone who worked daily for 12-14 years to become a black belt.
If this is happening in the same art/same style, then one of those kids got screwed. And although it could the one who got the black belt in two years, it's not necessarily so.

If you're talking about two separate arts/styles, then you're comparing apples and oranges.
 
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PhotonGuy

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I think - I'm not sure - that at my current dojo (ISKF Shotokan), that shodan gets issued a plain black belt of the same brand and quality as the lower belts, but then a stiffer Tokaido belt with embroidery at nidan (but still cotton, still 1.5" wide - same as colored belts). I'm not sure if the plain black belt is with the understanding that if you want something a little fancier before nidan, you have to buy it yourself - or, if you're required to wear the plain belt until nidan. I've seen other people pop in every now and then with wider silk or satin belts, some Tokaido, some other brands.
It depends on the dojo, different dojos have different types of belts. In some dojos the black belt that you start wearing at shodan, aside from its color, is no different from the other belts, and you keep wearing it no matter how many dan ranks you might go up. In some dojos the black belt for shodan is stiffer and has embroidery. In some dojos as you point out, you might get a stiffer belt with embroidery at nidan. Some belts might be wider, ect. As I said, it depends on the dojo.
Either way, if I'm required to wait until nidan in order to wear a fancier belt, I'm probably going to feel more like a "probationary" black belt at shodan than a "real" one. And I'm okay with that - because if it was that big of an issue, I could always go back to my old dojo (eff that).

Like I said, what we see affects our perception.
At some dojos they've got junior black belts. For instance, at my Goju Ryu dojo you have to be 18 or older to be eligible for the black belt. If you're under 18 you can get a junior black belt which is distinguishable by having a brown trim. I once knew of a kempo dojo where they had junior black belt levels that all students would go through before getting a full black belt and the belt had a white stripe through the center. That's what I would see as a probationary black belt.
 
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PhotonGuy

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Jigaro Kano, founder of Judo, is the person who came up with our modern grading system.

He took the kyu/dan ranking system from the Japanese game of "go" (Much like our modern chess has rankings to equalize competitions to make it more fair and competitive)
He saw that competitive swimmers wore colored ribbons to denote their ranking and applied the colors to the belts worn. At first the only colors were white (kyu) and black (dan). Then brown belt was added for 3rd-1st kyu. Other colors were expanded from there.
But Jigoro Kano was a Judokan not a swimmer, at least I don't think he was a swimmer.
Are we talking about Judo or are we talking about swimming? Judo and swimming are two different things.
I was a competitive swimmer for nine years, the only thing you would wear when you swam would be a bathing suit and goggles if you needed them. You wouldn't wear anything else such as ribbons, they would slow you down.

Now if you're talking about the ribbons you would get for winning, blue ribbon for first place, red ribbon for second place, white ribbon for third place, the same kinds of ribbons you get for running or for just about any racing sport, that's a different matter but you wouldn't wear those ribbons while you were competing.
 
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It may also be worth pointing out there is a large difference between a kid who made black belt in 2 years in a McDojo, and someone who worked daily for 12-14 years to become a black belt.
How often did the kid who made black belt in 2 years train? How many hours per week and how many weeks per year?

How often, how many hours per day, did the person who worked daily for 12-14 years to become a black belt train?
 

isshinryuronin

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Making it much much harder to go from ikkyu to shodan than it is to go up any of the previous ranks I believe is very much an American thing.

the belts were all of the same material and width and stiffness, including the black belts.
Considering that 1st degree is only 1/8th up the ladder to the elite levels of black belt, it is not that special when taking long view, which Orientals typically do. Nearsighted Westerners, however, view a black belt as the end-all, usually blind to the tremendous amount of knowledge and understanding that comes post black. Or, at least, they're unwilling to reach any further and often stop at that point.

I don't mind that black belt tests are especially hard at most Western schools. It's an initiation like high school graduation, signifying one is ready for advanced study - so I think getting a first degree black is something special - but one must keep it in perspective:

White----1st Black-----3rd Black----------5th Black--------------7th Black-------------------9th Black/Red

Having a different kind of belt (thickness, calligraphy, etc.) when one first gets black is OK, but I don't see the need - just look at the timeline above. I got a nice embroidered belt from my sensei when I got 5th degree but wear it only on special occasions. Traditional masters in Japan usually wear a plain black belt devoid of rank markings - modesty is always in fashion.
 
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PhotonGuy

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Considering that 1st degree is only 1/8th up the ladder to the elite levels of black belt, it is not that special when taking long view, which Orientals typically do.
From what I've seen it's usually 1/10th up the ladder as many styles go up to 10th dan.
Nearsighted Westerners, however, view a black belt as the end-all, usually blind to the tremendous amount of knowledge and understanding that comes post black. Or, at least, they're unwilling to reach any further and often stop at that point.
It's just the beginning. Although I do know cases of people who don't pursue rank after making 1st dan. They keep training and they keep wanting to get better, they just don't care about going up in the dan ranks.
I don't mind that black belt tests are especially hard at most Western schools.
Well if it's going to be hard then the ikkyu test should be hard too, it should be almost as hard as the shodan test as its just one rank below.
It's an initiation like high school graduation, signifying one is ready for advanced study
High school graduation can be easy, there are people who graduate high school who can barely read and write, and today getting a college degree is like getting a high school diploma 50 years ago.
White----1st Black-----3rd Black----------5th Black--------------7th Black-------------------9th Black/Red

Having a different kind of belt (thickness, calligraphy, etc.) when one first gets black is OK, but I don't see the need - just look at the timeline above. I got a nice embroidered belt from my sensei when I got 5th degree but wear it only on special occasions. Traditional masters in Japan usually wear a plain black belt devoid of rank markings - modesty is always in fashion.
Again, it depends on the dojo as to whether or not the black belt is thicker than the other belts and/or has calligraphy. It's just one of those fancy things that some dojos do and some dojos don't do.
 

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From what I've seen it's usually 1/10th up the ladder as many styles go up to 10th dan.
An old 8th Dan swordsman once told us that grade progression is not linear.

Draw a line on a wall at head height. Call that line 8th Dan. Then draw a line halfway down to the floor. That is 7th Dan. Divide that height by half and that line is 6th Dan etc an exponential increment. This explains the big difference in ability between the upper grades and the much smaller differences at lower grades.
 

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Again, it depends on the dojo as to whether or not the black belt is thicker than the other belts and/or has calligraphy. It's just one of those fancy things that some dojos do and some dojos don't do.
I think it goes a bit deeper into the psyche of some people. Some higher ranks just want other people to know theyre higher in grade and in the absence of the ability to change colour at Dan grades, they try all this thickness/embroidery/strips stuff! Its an ego thing.

By way of clarification, by thicker belts, do you mean wider belts? Otherwise I have visions of black belts like a bicycle tyre around the midriff宇hen a car tyre and then a truck tyre and finally, a tractor tyre!
 
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PhotonGuy

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An old 8th Dan swordsman once told us that grade progression is not linear.

Draw a line on a wall at head height. Call that line 8th Dan. Then draw a line halfway down to the floor. That is 7th Dan. Divide that height by half and that line is 6th Dan etc an exponential increment. This explains the big difference in ability between the upper grades and the much smaller differences at lower grades.
To the best of my knowledge 5th Dan is the highest rank that is attained by skill in the art. The ranks of 6th Dan and above are not attained by skill and are not awarded by an instructor but rather by your peers. It's your peers that promote you to 6th Dan and above and promotion at those ranks is given based on factors such as your teaching ability and how much you contribute to the art, not on your technical skill the way the lower ranks are. At least that's how it is with some styles such as the first style I started to seriously train in.
 
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PhotonGuy

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I think it goes a bit deeper into the psyche of some people. Some higher ranks just want other people to know theyre higher in grade and in the absence of the ability to change colour at Dan grades, they try all this thickness/embroidery/strips stuff! Its an ego thing.

By way of clarification, by thicker belts, do you mean wider belts? Otherwise I have visions of black belts like a bicycle tyre around the midriff宇hen a car tyre and then a truck tyre and finally, a tractor tyre!
Yes thicker would mean wider which would mean, as you point out, eventually the belts would become really wide around your waist but if you could do other stuff, such as put stripes on your belt, if you want to show your rank and your belt is not going to change color. As for me, I don't really care about showing other people what my rank is, the important thing is knowing that I earned the rank and that I attained the skill to earn it, I don't really care what other people think.
 

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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.
The saying I heard is that black belt is viewed not as the end or goal, but rather as the beginning of the true journey of exploring karate. Until then everyone is just aspirants.
 

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