While obtaining a black belt in the martial arts is a huge accomplishment, the recipient is not a master of the art. In fact, the rank is just the beginning of the journey towards mastery.
In many styles of martial arts, it takes four to five years to obtain the rank of black belt, which in Japanese is called “shodan.” This translates to “first step.”
If you examine the Japanese kanji for shodan, the left side of the symbol for “sho” means clothing. The right side of the symbol means sword or knife. When making clothes, the first step is cutting out the material. Therefore, the kanji translates to “begin.”
The right side of the symbol for “dan” means action or movement. The left side of the symbol means ability, skill, grade or rank. Together, the symbols for “sho” and “dan” represent the first senior rank a student achieves in martial arts.
In the Korean martial art Tang Soo Do, students are promoted to a navy blue/midnight blue belt instead of a black belt. The reason is because the color black does not change when more color is added to it; it stays black. However, more color can be added to midnight blue to make it darker—just as more knowledge can be added to a Tang Soo Do practitioner’s repertoire. He or she never stops learning, practicing, or improving their techniques.
A student who earns a black belt has learned their basic blocks, kicks, and punches. He or she has become proficient in the self-defense aspects of the art in which they practice. Yet, there is still much to master.* Just like a student who graduates from high school, additional training is needed to gain a more in-depth understanding of the subject.
Children and adults of all ages have obtained the rank of black belt. In 2009, a five-year-old Indian child named Varsha Vinod became the youngest girl in the world to achieve the rank of black belt. She began studying Bunjinkai karate at the age of two. It’s impossible for anyone to be master a martial art after just three years of training, particularly one who is so young. Mastery is defined as having “a comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment.”
Vinod may have had a firm grasp on executing her style’s techniques, but that’s far from knowing everything there is to know about karate. It takes years to grasp many of the nuances in martial art techniques. In addition to being able to skillfully perform various stances, blocks, attacks, joint locks, etc., you need to know each and every application. You also need to learn the history. All of this cannot be mastered after just a few years of practice.
Training doesn’t stop after achieving the rank of first-degree black belt. Many students work their way up to a second-degree black belt, third-degree black belt, and so on. They recognize that there is still much to learn mentally and physically even after they first tie their black belt around their waists.
By Noelle Talmon, contributor for Ripleys.com
*This writer is a fifth-degree black belt in Tang Soo Do, having achieved the master instructor rank after 20 years of training. She also holds the rank of first-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and Chon-Tu Kwan Hapkido. She is still learning.
Yes I am A 5th Degree Renshi the problem I have is that you should be a junior black belt until 16. Then you test for ur solid first degree black belt again this time more experience. Also if the 16 is not mature to go further you should not certify one that doesn’t expect full black belt certified. It’s a culture not a hobby or something giving. It’s earned. Some martial arts give certified black belts to 14 and younger for money or persuaded too. I do not agree with giving a kid or teenager a certified black belt because they know all the katas. Gotta be mature and able to teach what you was taught. But great article also karate is way different then taekwondo
Or other non self defense more competition activities to just ask a parent for over a hundred a month to earn the money. I respect this post.
I studied under master Chun sick kim in Monroville Pennsylvania he is now a grand master, when I moved I stopped taking lessons I wished I could of continued practicing tang soo doof but I’m probably to old now at 63 he always said when you become a black belt it’s like being in first grade, before was like kindergarten, now you’ll start to learn lessons.
My algorithm messed up half of my spelling it is chun sic kim and it’s tang soo doo