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Promotion to Black Belt

I am about to promote four of my students to shodan (first degree black belt). All of them train very hard and are deserving of the promotion. I wanted to take this opportunity to explain some of my thoughts about promotion. See also: Black Belt.

In our dojo, we do not promote students to shodan unless they are at least 17. That is simply the way that we handle the issue. Some dojo allow younger students to become shodan and others may require an older age. My rationale is that the usual age for shodan in Okinawa is 16. I want to be more conservative, so I made our age 17.

There are many reasons to promote a student. I know that it is time to promote a student to shodan when it seems wrong for him to wear a white belt. We do not use colored belts in our dojo to signify kyu ranks. Sometimes visiting instructors will ask me, "why is that student still a white belt?" Usually it is because of age. So, when the student turns 17, it is about time for the promotion.

We also promote students to make room for the students under them. It is hard for a student to be promoted if his senior is not promoted or refuses rank. Let's say that John is the senior and has very good skill. Sam joins the dojo two years later. Sam also develops good skills. I want to promote Sam (because he deserves it), but feel reluctant because John is still a white belt. John might not care at all about rank. But I will promote him to make room for Sam. I will promote John first to preserve his seniority.

This is funny. I was speaking to a high ranking person (I won't say the dan level, but it was pretty high). I asked him about this dan level so that I could specify it correctly in writing. It turned out that he and another instructor had been promoted on the same day. But he made a point to tell me that he received his certificate first, showing that his name should go first in terms of seniority.

He is correct, but I found it rather silly. They were promoted on the same day, probably in the same hour.

In any event, I will promote a deserving student to make room for the juniors to advance.

Sometimes a student will tell me that he does not want rank. I will always say that the rank is not for him. The rank is to enable him to help in the dojo.

Promotion is a recognition. Some students will feel higher. Others will feel like they must work harder. The latter is the attitude I encourage and respect. Remember the parable of the mature rice stalk. When it is mature, it bends (bows) under its own weight. As it becomes "higher" it bows lower. So should we. The mark of an advanced student is humility.

Shodan is like first grade to me. Sandan is like high school.

Sometimes we say that it takes 100 students to make one shodan. I think that it takes 10 shodan to make one sandan. The numbers might change a little, but you get the idea.

We also say that a student is really serious at godan.

At shodan, a student is still learning the basics. At nidan, the student can help to teach as an assistant. At sandan, a student can teach his own classes. At godan, a student can have his own dojo.

Again, the numbers might change, but this is the idea.

When I promote a student, I am always impressed to hear them say, "I will have to work much harder to deserve this."

One thing -- please do not quit when you become shodan. I always find this to be a little sad. Shodan should launch the student, not mark the ending of his Karate training.

There is so much to learn in Karate. If you train diligently, ranks and titles will come on their own. You do not have to seek them. A promotion should be a surprise. After a few minutes or hours of happiness, it should be back to training.

Finally, some people ask me why we do not wear embroidered belts in our dojo. It is simply a matter of reservedness and austerity. I do not need to have my name and the name of my style on my belt to know them. Most instructors will wear out many belts during their careers. When they get old, it is time for a new one. See Ratty Belts and Ratty Belts 2. We should not be attached to such things.

It is a little like a "Sensei" patch. If you are a sensei, you do not need to wear one. If you are not a sensei, wearing one will not make you one.

Just train hard, help your fellow students, and be sincere.

I just thought of something. When I have been promoted, I do not like to tell people about it for a year or two, just in case it was a mistake. And after a couple of years, there is nothing to tell.


Charles C. Goodin