Combat Ju Jutsu
Black Belt - The Ultimate Prize?
By Kevin O'Hagan
When I first started my journey into the martial arts some 22 years ago, I firstly wanted to be like the legendary Bruce Lee.
I remember reading the first ever issue of Kung Fu Monthly magazine (remember the one that always opened out into a poster) and was amazed at the things this little guy could do.
I promptly enrolled in one of the then many 70's Kung Fu classes and away I went. Some 22 years on and with a lot of training under my belt I realised I wasn't going to be the next Bruce Lee, after all there's only one!
But back then my other burning quest was to achieve the coveted black belt, I believed by getting this it would make me the fearless, invincible fighting machine I craved to be! I imagined it would dispel all my fears, worries, and uncertainties away, also that the bullies, the trouble makers and various other monsters of this world would go scrambling for cover and out of my life forever (how naive could I be).
When I did finally achieve my black belt, it was a proud moment for me, but inside me I still had my demons, they hadn't magically gone, but you try to deny this and pretend that everything is fine. I now realise a long way down the road and owning a 5th Dan black belt, that belts are only a measure of your experience in the martial arts a marker for how long you have trained and for knowledge you have amounted, it still doesn't mean you are that deadly killing machine.
You could still be beaten on the street by an opponent who has never been in a Dojo in their lives or ever slipped on a Gi, but is born to fighting like a duck to water. Or you can also be beaten by one of your own students in a sparring session. The black belt status is sometimes used as a comfort blanket or a safety net to hide the truth.
I now, after many years, don't hold any such illusions, I don't see myself as some Master or superior to any other. I will tell you my belt grades denotes certain achievements and knowledge and I am willing to pass that on, but I will not pass myself off as some god as others do. I do not take myself too seriously, unfortunately some instructors I have encountered do, and their ego is a massive weight to carry around with them.
You can't fail to miss it coming through the door with them, wherever they go. These people seem to think the grade they hold means they can talk to others like subordinates or small children. Or it ;means they can strut right past you without acknowledging you or looking at you as if you are something the cat has just dragged in. I could tell many a story but I know that these people would be deeply wounded (shame).
The top notch martial artists and instructors l have met that l honestly rate and respect are the most humble of people you could wish to meet and also the most down to earth. They have all the time in the world to speak to everyone and anyone on their seminars, sign autographs and pose for photos without a moan or groan, these people are true martial artists, they have long ago disregarded their egos along the path of their martial arts quest.
The black belt doesn't make you a superior person to anyone else and you can't treat or instruct people like dogs. In your class you will have lawyers, doctors, top class business people, experienced men women with children, people who have traveled seen much of life. They have come to you for martial arts knowledge, so you don't treat them like simpletons because they are a novice in that particular field. If somebody wants to learn the workings of a strike, a certain throw lock or groundhold I will teach it to them, most certainly but if they also asked my advice on how to change a washer on a tap, bake a sponge, change an oil filter on a car or knit a jumper, I would send them to somebody who could do these things but not me.
I have people who come to train with me eager for my knowledge of martial arts and show me great respect, yet these people are experts in their own field of endeavor and I will treat them accordingly. At different times I have taught self protection courses for different groups, of people, e.g. companies, disabled groups, over 50 s classes, etc. If I had taught them like a group of nursery children I know for a fact I wouldn't have been asked back.
As a black belt or instructor you must never assume anything until you have made an educated opinion on it, not just a snap judgement, let me give you two examples of this to explain the point. When I was involved in Aikido, the Japanese Federation I belonged to had the traditional belt system. You wore a white belt until you reached black. Now even within this known structure of gradings when I paired off to practise with a black belt when I was a Kyu grade some would still talk to you as if you had arrived from another planet.
Explaining a certain technique to you with a note of superiority in their voice, not realising I had already been practising for five years. Once you administered a crunching wrist or armlock they soon changed their attitude.
Another example was when I was teaching on a seminar once where there was a mixture of various martial artists. I showed a flow of Kempo striking techniques and asked the class to have a go. A certain Kempo instructor, who will remain nameless, partnered off with a smashing lad who was an ex-pro boxer and in his time had been in the ring with the likes of ex-world champ Tery Marsh.
He was not a martial artist and had great difficulty learning the moves, but was a very willing guy. Well this Kempo instructor patronized him and spoke to him like he was an imbecile. He was not aware who he was, his ego immediately assumed because he wore no Gi or belt he knew nothing. I had no doubt in a live situation this boxer would have destroyed him but he humbly just took the stick.
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