Friday, March 1, 2013

Earning a Black Belt in Martial Arts in Arizona

Most novices and martial artists (deshi) in Arizona think of black belt (yudansha) as a symbol of the highest level of martial arts. But, it's simply another step some people reach in martial arts training in Arizona and only represents a beginning – meikyo okuden – of the entrance to the secrets of martial arts. For a martial arts instructor (budo sensei) it is a time of joy as we reward a martial artist for their commitment and accomplishments; but at the same time, it is a very sad time.  As instructors, this is also a time we say goodbye (sayonara) to many martial artists as we may never see them again.

The black belt represents a quandary to the awarding martial arts instructor (sensei). What will be the path of this student in the upcoming days? Will they decide to end their path in martial arts? It is a real problem because most people quit at this point, yet they have only reached the beginning in their martial arts training.

In legitimate martial arts schools, one does not buy a black belt. However, there are many mall-type schools that require a contract guaranteeing a black belt rank at the end of the contract. In traditional martial arts, one must earn rank - not buy it. One of my students recently told a story about a student who signed up for karate. This student was surprised he could just buy a black belt (yudansha obi) at the local martial arts school. When he inquired about buying one, he was told that he would have to fight the head instructor. It sunk in - he would have to train like everyone else to be certified as a black belt.

The amount of time it takes to earn a black belt depends more on the individual. Some can earn the rank in 2 years, others could take as much as 5 years or more. So one must be dedicated. But not only is it a great workout, it also leads one to develop skills for self-defense and positive thinking.

Unfortunately, the shodan (1st degree black belt) certificate often comes with invisible “STOP” sign to signify the end of a person's martial arts training. But this is not what it is suppose to be, it is suppose to be the beginning.

Martial arts should be a lifetime investment. Even at the 3rd and 4th degree black belt level, one still has much to learn. When one reaches Shihan (master of martial arts) level at 5th and 6th degree, one becomes smart enough to recognize they have a lot to learn: at higher levels you start to grasp how much you don‟t know.

"There is no end to learning martial arts - only a beginning".

We all know someone who was awarded a black belt and we see them for one or two more classes before they disappear. For those of us in Arizona, we've seen too many examples. It's such a problem that I even know of one major martial arts association that now provides expiration dates on all black belt diplomas simply because they believe a person cannot be a black belt unless they are training and/or teaching. I don't believe this is the answer. The answer lies within.

Some estimates suggest handing out a black belt certificate ends a career of 50% of all martial artists – it's a disease. The cause of this I believe occurs when one sets a goal to “earn a black belt” . This is a ticking time bomb to end a martial arts career!

"There are many paths to the top of Mt Fuji, but it only has one summit"

As a youth, I was completely bored in school. So bored I accidentally stumbled on a method of affirmation and goal setting. I would stare out the classroom window all day and day-dreamed about doing things, being someone. As you can imagine, I ended up on the teacher's naughty list with grades reflecting a lack of interest. I would place myself in imaginary roles. It was the only way I could get through the suffering of boredom. By the time I got to high school, some of my daydreams began to lead me by the hand.

My 60s rock n' roll band
The Beatle's invaded America: I imagined myself in a popular rock n‟ roll band. Another week or another day, I was an astronomer investigating the universe. I signed up for karate lessons and while bored in school, I dreamed of being a martial arts instructor. In these dreams, I was a 3rd degree black belt (sandan) (this was because my first two instructors were sandans). In other day-dreams, I was a prospector who explored old mines and ghost towns. It was the typical dreams of many kids, but the difference - I was so bored that my dreams came back every day as an escape, and slowly developed into affirmations and life long goals without my realizing it. They gave me a direction.

Later in life, a friend lent me some tapes entitled “Investment in Excellence”. It was a self-help program for goal setting. What I had done throughout public school was exactly what this person was promoting as goal setting. I had set up positive affirmations of what I wanted to do and these affirmations and visions worked their way into my subconscious until they actually starting guiding me towards those goals. I had accomplished essentially everything I wanted to accomplish in life because of the day dreams.  I became a professional musician, an astronomer, a writer, a geologist, an artist, a public speaker and a martial arts instructor.

Teaching Karate at the University of Utah
Martial arts captured many day-dreams. I wanted to be like my instructors (3rd degree black belts/sensei). This is where I realized goal setting can limit accomplishments, so be careful of what you dream.

By placing a goal dreams of achieving a 3rd degree black belt, this provided a STOP sign that I could not get pass until I met a martial arts grandmaster while I was teaching at a university! I believe this is the problem for the majority of people who receive 1st degree black belts. Many set the goal of achieving a black belt. Once this is accomplished, they have made their goal and they done. So one must set a much higher goal - such as reaching the level of martial arts instructor or shihan (master instructor).

Karate at the University of New Mexico
After I was promoted to sandan in the '70s, I had little reason to achieve anything else in martial arts other than the dream of teaching martial arts. I taught martial arts at four universities, and it wasn't until I met this grandmaster (soke) in 1990 that I discovered I had attached a STOP sign to my goal. This martial arts instructor gave me new goals and when I was promoted to yondan (4th degree black belt) the flood gates opened. I had a new path.

The Investment in Excellence program was a method of goal setting I already had been following without realizing. Still, the program provided me a means to write down goals. When there were roadblocks I had no control over that forced me to re-evaluate some personal goals, such as my rock n' band falling apart, and later in life, working for a full-blown psychopath at the Wyoming Geological Survey. I had to change my goals (this was not easy), but I found new paths.

Is your martial arts path leading you to an open or a closed gate?
We can't always control our path, but we can create goals to help us find a path or a new path around a road block. You don't need to plan how to get to those goals, you just need to provide the point you are looking to reach and then just let your mind find the to that end point over time.

Visualize what you want to be and don't place limits. Write down your goals and revisit them often until your subconscious achieves them (it can take a year or a several years, but it will happen if you set the right positive goals).

As a martial artist, do not set a goal to achieve a black belt. If this is your goal and once achieved, your mind will think you are done. Instead visualize being a master instructor (shihan) or higher. Write down a positive affirmation such as “I am a shihan and 5th dan black belt and operate a very successful martial arts school”.

University of Wyoming Martial Arts, 1999.
Another goal you should set for yourself is to teach martial arts. You cannot even grasp martial arts until you teach them. This is a major step in martial arts education that requires one to be able to take apart techniques and understand them. It is a time of martial arts enlightenment.

Open a martial arts school. Unless you are a wizard at business, you might rent space at a local church, school, college, or gymnasium. I taught martial arts at four universities, but also taught at several gyms. Gyms are a good place to start, but there are many uncontrollable problems (as there are at universities and colleges). Most have little regard for martial arts programs and consider then very low priority. You will seldom get help from management unless the manager sees potential for bringing in new gym members. If you are at a university, you chances of survival can be good unless you find a director of martial arts clubs who loves being in control, or doesn't care about your program. No matter where you teach, it will take 4 to 5 years to build up a good group of students. After you have a place to teach, have liability insurance, and liability forms, start with 1 or 2 classes per week - don't feel let down when no one shows up – it happens. I tried teaching at Arizona State University, and found the bureaucracy was a roadblock, so I leased a building on the border of Mesa and Gilbert adjacent to Chandler and opened the Arizona Hombu (also known as the Arizona School of Traditional Karate).

When I first started teaching, there were nights that I was the only person. But it gave me personal time to train. I also trained where in gyms where there was high visibility as a way to advertise and resulted in potential students asking about martial arts. When I taught at the University of Wyoming a few years ago, I was able to build up the group to more than 150 members and received national and international awards. But this took 20 years. Offer to teach public self-defense seminars to get recognition (at a modest fee). Look for any reason to send out a press release on activities.

Build a website. Find other outlets, and don't give up. You can supplement your martial arts school with a wholesaler license from a martial arts supplies outlet. Nearly all are willing to give wholesaler discounts.

Be a dreamer!

Induction into another martial arts Hall of Fame

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