The aim of most karateka is to reach the level of black belt. For some, this is seen as the pinnacle of their training. However, what does a karateka do when this goal is achieved?
Typically attaining a black belt is seen by many as being an indicator of mastery of one’s art. In my opinion, this is wrong. Rather, a first black belt (shodan) should be seen as an indicator that a karateka has learnt the basic techniques of their style to a high enough level. However, there is always room for improvement. In many styles, a first black belt is seen as an entry-level to learn more advanced principles/techniques.
New black belts can be regarded as advanced beginners. It is at this level that new black belts begin to open their minds to learning new ways in which to extend basic techniques. They are also introduced to more complicated techniques and principles.
It is at this level that a karateka really begins to consolidate their knowledge about their chosen art. For many, this is where the real journey into Karate begins. It is no longer enough to just train at the dojo. New black belts must be willing to do a lot of supplemental training on their own. This is where new techniques learnt are consolidated with existing techniques. Also, existing techniques need to be refined and the core principles behind them fully understood.
New black belts also need to understand their role within the dojo. As senior students, they help to form the standards that lower grades will be following and striving to achieve. They will help with teaching lower grades basic techniques. Hence for the need to fully understand the principles behind these techniques.
Sensei Lara Grant, from the Kodokan-Seiler Dojo, has written a great article on her journey as a black belt. In the article she has the following quote:
It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts
This quote encapsulates what I believe is at the heart of attaining your first black belt. A black belt should not be the pinnacle or crowning glory of a karateka’s training. Rather, it should be seen as the beginning of an exciting new journey.
The journey should begin with the refinement and consolidation of existing techniques. It is not enough at black belt level just being able to perform techniques. At this level, it is important to understand the principles behind the techniques, and know when to use them in the appropriate situation.
Being a black belt is about self-discovery. It is a journey about discovering more about yourself in relation to your chosen art.