Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Something of interest

Over a five minute lunch break today (a rare visit to the office) I was noodling through my documents and came across my essays that I have been doing throughout my training (an integral part of training at the school) and I came across a recent essay which is very pertinent to the whole idea behind the blog and is something that I think would be of interest to any individuals involved in MA training and especially those students of the Ilyokwan Academy as this really sums up alot of what Master Olpins ideas and ethos are about.

Black Belt: A beginning not an end

When I began my training in the martial arts I have to admit to not giving much thought to attaining a black belt, it seemed such a long way off and so out of reach that I just put it to the back of my mind and concentrated on the day to day aspects of my training. Seeing other students going through the process recently has focussed my attention on what you need to do to attain a black belt but also what it means to me personally if I was successful in obtaining one.
Many people perceive the attaining of a black belt in a martial art as the pinnacle of their training, being presented with the belt the be all and end all of their training.

To some this is what motivates them to train, to learn and to develop their skills during their training; however I believe that such a focussed approach and imbuing the achievement of a black belt with near mythical qualities can be extremely detrimental to the student.
For some students they get what they want from their training and they see the rank of black belt as the final stage. For some training and achieving a black belt is about personal pride, boosting confidence, getting fit and proving something to themselves with something demonstrable to show. For these students they have a defined goal and once they have achieved the rank of black belt they are left with nothing going forward. The goal of getting the belt has been their target for so long that they have neglected to think and to understand what happens afterwards. For these students disillusionment and in most cases a ceasing of training follows the high from getting their belt.
Master Olpin regularly warns students about the danger inherent in placing too much emphasis on obtaining a black belt and 'chasing belts' if your goal is to be a lifelong martial artist, it should be remembered that a black belt is just that, a black belt, a piece of material. The wearing of the black belt does not suddenly give super powers to the wearer or mean that the student has mastered all of the basics patterns and forms that form part of the training schedule to black belt status.
Watching a recent children’s film 'Kung Fu Panda' re-inforced this message, Po trains with Shifu and is taught martial arts skills, throughout his training he has believed that this will be a path that will lead him to the fabled dragon scroll. The Dragon scroll, Po believes, will provide him with the 'ultimate knowledge' that will allow him to defeat all opponents as it is something 'special'. When the time comes for Po to read the scroll he discovers that it is empty of words, merely reflecting an image of himself. When he finally realises that there is no 'magic ingredient' and that he has had the ability within him all along to defeat his opponents he is free to express himself.
This really brought home to me what I believe is core to understanding that obtaining a black belt is merely the start of an even longer journey than the one I embarked upon when I decided to begin studying a martial art. I hope in the future to go on and progress within my chosen art and move higher within the dan structure, not for prestige, but more for beginning to truly understand what it is I am training in.
I have tried to not focus too much on the gaining of a black belt but more on what I wanted to achieve as a much longer term goal. My reasons for taking up a martial art were; a structured way to allow me to maintain my health and fitness, coming together with a like minded group of people and taking part in a discipline that would allow me to test myself constantly. I believe strongly that these reasons do not change, if I am fortunate enough to achieve the rank of black belt, rather they change and adapt to meet the overall goal of keeping a lifelong interest in training in the martial arts and continuing on the journey started when I first walked through the doors of the school.


  1. I think the journey after black belt will certainly be helped by being in the company of like-minded people. This is what attracted me to the Ilyokwan BBA in the first place as it was such a different approach to that which I experienced when learning karate (not that it was specific to karate per se, but the particular karate schools I attended were very belt-focussed). I have had other similar contrasts in other areas of my life: Orchestra vs Choir, School vs University, Job A vs Job B, Church X vs Church Y. I believe now that it really matters a lot (a) what company you keep and (b) what you contribute within the company you keep.

  2. Well said John, as Rich says constantly if you surround yourself with like minded people all working towards similar goals the success that breeds feeds itself. The ego part of me of course wants the cache that comes with attaining a black belt but I never got into this just to get a piece of fabric, it was about doing something positive that can help me throughout my life.