Brown going black

The Black Belt is of course a holy grail in the martial arts community. I often talk and write about it, and so does everybody else. I would like to take a moment to talk about the “space” between 1 Kyu (brown belt) and 1 Dan.

The reason that the subject came up can be seen on the photo. My brown belt student Farzad was going to compete in Denmark, and when I registered him for the event I realized it would take place on his 60th birthday! In Japan the 60th birthday is very special, and called Kanreki. You have passed all the combinations of Zodiac signs, and so you start in a new “life cycle”. We wanted to bring some sort of gift, and make a celebration. So, I made a small speech about the importance of the family, thanking the Danish federation, fighters and relatives of fighters for letting us be a part of their family (and their league), and I “promoted” Farzad to a “half black belt”.

We use these half belts for the youth normally, to let them graduate more often when they reach the Kyu grades, without going to fast on the Kyu levels. We don’t even have numbers for these levels, we have chosen to stick with the 6-1 Kyu system. I have never intended to use them for adults though, because I think it’s a sort of graduation in itself to pass a non-graduation, getting no new belt at the graduation day at the end of the semester. I don’t know if my students appreciate it, but I hope they do.

While never intending to give out half belts to adults, I was very determined in never giving out a half black belt! I was always sure that although both Kyu and Dan grades can be a bit “floating”, there has to be a certain space between the brown and the black belts. Obviously I changed my mind in this specific case, but I would like to tell you a bit about the time I think you should spend after your brown belt graduation, to prepare you for your black belt examination.

After your brown belt graduation, for the first time you are (or should be) forced to take responsibility for the planning of your practice. I don’t think “just going to class” is good enough at this point. You need to figure out what you should learn, why you should learn it, and how it fits with your general martial arts skills/knowledge/understanding, as well as how you can possibly showcase it at you upcoming black belt test.

How long should this be going on? Personally, I don’t think it’s very useful to demand a certain number of classes to take, etc. However, you need to practice, plan, practice more, scrap your plans to make new plans, practice more, make some tweaks to your plans, practice more, take away some stuff from the plans, practice some more, finish the plan, practice more according to the plan, and finally: Go for the test!

How fast can this be done? Not less than two years I say. Why not longer? You can always become better, right? Well, at this level in your martial arts journey, probably/hopefully you have reached the point where you for every technique you learn to master, you find at least one new technique that you’re really bad at. At the black belt level, you should notice that the more you learn, the further away you get from knowing at all. So, after two years, enough is enough, and you should just go for the exam! Don’t worry, you still have nine more black belt tests ahead of you…

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