Saturday, December 15, 2012

What Does A Black Belt Mean?

The final two questions in my redesigned theory grading are:(a) what does a black belt mean to you?, and (b) what does a black belt mean for Kojutsukan (me)? I put these questions to two shodan candidates. Their responses demonstrated that this question - what does a black belt mean? - is a very important and revealing question.

One of my more popular posts concerns this issue with reference to Jan de Jong's shodan gradings. In that post I refer to a number of authorities who describe the black belt as the beginning of the study of that martial art. That a minimum proficiency is gained prior to shodan and then the study really begins.

I recall a senior instructor of De Jong's (who now has his own school) telling me how his 'eyes were opened' when he trained shodan. Why were this instructors 'eyes opened' by the shodan gradings? Because he was learning the 'patterns that connect.'

When I discuss this issue with the abovementioned shodan candidates, I will explain that up until the shodan gradings they were 'trained monkeys.' They know some 'tricks,' otherwise known as defences. Shodan teaches them the patterns that connect so that they can see a system rather than a collection of techniques.

The difference in thinking is between analytical thinking and synthetical thinking. Analytical thinking involves identifying differences and learning single defences. Synthetical thinking involves identifying similarities and learning a fighting system. Remember, the core of all learning is the identification of similarities and differences. The kyu grades are about differences, analytical thinking. The dan grades are (or should be) about similarities, synthetical thinking.

It has been said that with analysis you gain knowledge but with synthesis you gain understanding. The dan grades should be about gaining understanding.

The mon grades that De Jong developed and installed at the front of the kyu grading system introduced the student to a synthetical view of his jujutsu. They offered the potential of gaining understanding through their study. These lessons were lost on novice students. In fact, the lessons were lost on many of the shodans and instructors as well. Possibly they were lost on the novice student because their instructors had not gained the understanding offered by the mon grades.

The consideration of the question, what does a black belt mean?, raised a number of issues. The abovementioned former De Jong senior instructor with his own school has dropped the mon grades from his grading system. He explains that decision as going back to the original Tsutsumi Hozan ryu jujutsu. The issue of original or Tsutsumi Hozan ryu is another issue, but, was dropping the mon grades a good thing or a bad thing?

You could argue to train in the traditional manner. Teach the monkeys tricks in the kyu grades, then teach them to see the essence of the system in the dan grades. Whether or not the dan grades of most martial arts teaches the person to see the essence of their system is another matter.

Should you be teaching analytical and synthetical thinking from day one? Another interesting question. My approach is to teach a person to 'think' and then teach consistently using this way of thinking. This produces efficiencies and efficacy. Rather than giving the student a fish, this approach teaches them how to fish.

My theory grading goes beyond anything ever produced in the martial arts. It could be used to understand and study any martial art, and would produce greater insights into those martial arts. If shodan is the beginning of a student's study of their martial art, should this theory grading be distributed over a number of dan grades?

It was often suggested that most martial arts consider shodan to be the commencement of a student's study but the De Jong shodan signified mastery. That was because the shodan grading was one of the most comprehensive in the martial arts world and focused on a systems view of his jujutsu (although the latter was not explicitly appreciated until now). If this view is adopted, then my theory grading should be retained in the shodan grading as it provides a way of thinking and viewing not only the martial art being studied, but all martial arts.

It could of course be argued that this level of understanding is not required at shodan, but can be gained when studying higher dan grades.

'What does a black belt?' is a question that raises a good many questions. There are no right or wrong answers to this question, only the opportunity of gaining a deeper understanding of a martial art being studied.

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