Black belt, at least in the collective conscious is synonymous with ninja-level, take down samurai mastery. But in reality to the true martial artist, a black belt is nothing more than a symbol of one mastering basic concepts in that art! It takes on average 4 years to get a black belt in karate. When one achieves that level of skill, the enthusiasm about acquisitions of belts nearly always fades away.
Belts are something that mean different things to different schools of martial arts and even different dojos, let alone different styles. Hence a black belt in one may not translate to a black belt to another. Hence, the universal consensus among the martial arts is that the black belt is the mastery of basic level of mental and physical attitudes, technique, strength, and knowledge much like a bachelor’s degree or an apprenticeship. The sole exception, is Brazillian Jiu Jitsu. A black belt is notoriously difficult to achieve with an average time to the black taking well over 10 years. A black belt BJJ practitioner is someone truly dedicated to his/her art, and definitely someone you wouldn’t want to mess around.
The black belt isn’t the end, as one is perpetually a student regardless of rank. However, the dan system allows grades above the black belt. A brown belt (1st kyu) after sufficient prep is graded to the 1st dan black belt. Rather than the kyu system where the student works to achieve the first rank (1st kyu or the final brown belt), the dan system ranks with progressively higher numbers, the first dan graduates to the second dan and so on. Some karate schools have ranks that go up to the Judan or the 10th dan, reserved for only the most senior instructors! Upon graduation, a new black belt is bestowed, one with slightly different embellishments to visually denote the dan.
With the Kimekai-style of karate, there are several dan levels that one may graduate to. These levels are collectively known as the yudansha realm.
A true black belt understands that knowledge is gained through experience often carries the greater benefit and that concepts and theories are best tested through intense and regular training. Together with fine tuning of techniques comes analysis of behaviour and thought patterns, aligning with the many masters of the past and present, gradually a black belt begins to look at everyday life through the eyes of a warrior sage. Contemplating daily events and ensuring that actions are that of a black belt Karate-ka. Together with a sense of achievement and respect a black belt has a new commitment towards setting a good example to junior students as well as maintaining the high reputation of the dojo.
Black belts have the responsibility to uphold the etiquette and true spirit of Karate-do and hence must maintain a high level of expertise as well as displaying motivation, discipline, respect and courtesy. You should by now realize that Black Belt is but the beginning, with the basic knowledge you have now gained you can embark in the journey of the Karate-ka in search of knowledge and personal fulfillment.
All Black Belts must attend the annual Kimekai Black Belt Challenge in order to qualify for grading. The following is a brief outline of the requirements for Dan grading. After reaching the required level selected students will be guided towards the necessary training to prepare physically and mentally for the many challenges of Yudansha status.
Shodan 1st Dan
This level is the confirmation to yudansha status. Over 12 months of regular training is both expected and required to achieve this status with competency in one advanced kata (pre-arranged set of movements).
Nidan 2nd Dan
Only granted after attending regular training sessions for 2 years while demonstrating improvement and leadership qualities while regularly instructing students of lower levels in order to further understanding of basic karate technique. In all executed techniques, the nidan level student demonstrates stability, balance, power and understanding of the mechanics of movement.
Sandan 3rd Dan
For over 3 years, a nidan must train diligently to graduate to the sandan, gaining greater understanding of karate techniques as well as displaying competence in teaching and providing a positive influence to other students. This level requires one to teach karate on a regular basis, while simultaneously improving their own technique.
Yondan 4th Dan
A minimum of 4 years is required from sandan level. This is a senior instructor level and very few people reach this stage, being successful at this grading will require practitioners to be fully dedicated to the practice and study of karate.
Godan 5th Dan
This is the “Master” grade reserved only for the very dedicated Karate-ka. Normally requiring more than 20 years of practice and an in-depth knowledge of all aspects Karate-do including the major kata of the Kimekai style.
Hence, upon receiving the first dan black belt, one may take well over the minimum 10 years to graduate to the yondan senior instructor level. For the dedicated karate-ka overcoming obstacles and thoroughly preparing one’s body and mind takes precedence over the hype around the black belt. Those that have stuck out that long, or perhaps even longer, generally have achieved the maturity to realize that the black belt isn’t the completion of one’s karate education, but rather the beginning of an introspective journey of his/her own personal growth in the discipline.