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The Karate Black Belt Lesson

Teachings of a Child

by Hal Evan Caplan
April 13, 2013

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The Karate Black Belt Lesson

My teacher is my son. He does not go out of his way to teach me life's lessons, the lessons just happen. These lessons remind me of things I should do in my daily routine, but forget to. That is why he is so good at being my teacher. I never know what to expect with these lessons or how they will come about. The only thing I do know is that he will teach me on a regular basis. That is why I am the student. And just for the record, I love learning from him.

One of my teacher's passions is Karate. He has been taking karate since he was in kindergarten in the Chito-Ryo Yoshukai discipline style of Karate. This discipline is similar in style as Taekwon-Do. If one watched both disciplines it would be noticeable that the base moves are similar.

My teacher expressed early on that he wanted to get to the level of a Black Belt. I remember a conversion when he received his Blue Belt, which is only two steps up from a beginning White Belt, where he expressed that he really wanted to be a Black Belt. I informed him at that point that it would be a long and difficult journey and that he would need to put in a lot of hard work towards training full time. I also explained that this was not a practice here and there kind of thing. I brought to his attention that it would not only command a commitment from him, but also my wife and I as far as getting him to and from classes. He was all in and said he would do it.

I know the belt levels/colors earned are ranked differently in karate disciplines, but the same idea applies. Once a student feels they are ready for the next belt and when the testing is offered, during testing the students must prove that they know the material and can perform the varies kata's (a specific set of karate moves for the given name of the kata). I believe a good example for illustration purposes would be a comparison to dancing. Dances like the Hokey-Pokey, Macarena or Breakdancing have specific moves associated with the names of the dance. Kata?s are the same thing, but different. Anyway, during belt testing, if a student not only showcases that they know the moves, but also without error, they are then awarded the next level belt.

In the Chito-Ryo Yoshukai discipline, the Brown belt is just two levels below the Black Belt. When my teacher was at the Brown Belt level he really started to show signs of being "burnt-out" from of all the karate he had done over the years. He also made several comments to both my wife and I that he was ready to walk away from karate altogether. My wife and I talked to him and encouraged him to continue. We emphasized that he was so close to reaching his goal and to think how it will feel to put the Black Belt on. We also reminded him that once he had earned his Black Belt, he would be recognized and welcomed by last name each time he entered the floor of the Dojo. I think that did it.

A light bulb went off in his head. He then realized what that meant and described it to me, even though I knew. He explained that at the beginning of each class all of the Black Belts have their own area off the floor where they stretch together. Then, just before the start of each class, the Black Belt students are called out by name on an individual basis and welcomed onto the floor for training. That did it. He expressed that there was no stopping him now.

My teacher did reach his goal and was awarded his Black Belt. He was so very excited as were my wife and I. As a parent I cannot describe the feeling I had not only watching 3.5 hour testing, but also seeing the authentic certificate and belt placed in front of him indicating that he had passed the test. I am embarrassed to say that it appeared my wife and I were more emotional over it than he was.

The 3.5 hour Black Belt testing was broken down into several sections. During the first hour and a half, all students testing for their Black Belts had to participate in an organized set of Kata's lead by the instructor. Then my teacher had to perform 13 kata's in a row. Next he had to perform 10 weapons kata's which included Nunchaku - often pronounced "Nunchucks" in English, a Bo (or Bow) staff - which is basically a long stick, Tonfas - which are similar to a billy club, and Sais - which are 3 pointed metal prongs with pointed tips. Then my teacher had to spar in several different matches against other students. Finally, and the most difficult to watch was the concentration portion of the testing. During this portion, each student chose a Kata they wanted to perform in slow motion while the instructor would hit their arms, legs, stomachs and backs with a bamboo stick for 45 seconds straight... and not lightly I might add. Again, the purpose of this portion of the test was so the students would not break their concentration while performing a mind over matter exercise. Yes, most of the parents had a hard time watching this, including me.

After all of this, the students were told to line up in rows in the middle of the Dojo floor while all of the instructors went back behind closed doors to compare notes and make a collective decision as to which students passed and which students did not. Talk about stress, wow! Finally the Instructors emerged from the room with their decisions. With each student, now on their knees, the Instructors walked down each row and placed a Black Belt and certificate on the ground in front of the students who passed. If a Black Belt and certificate was not placed in front of a student, then that student did not pass and they were eligible to test the next time around.

My teacher opened his eyes and there before him was a Black Belt and authentic certificate. Each time a student passed as a Black Belt or higher, three certificates were made. One certificate went to the student, the second certificate went to the Dojo and the third certificate was sent to Japan to the Chito-Ryo Yoshukai records office.

My teacher had a smile from ear to ear at the site of the two items placed in front of him. The instructor congratulated the group that passed and shortly thereafter dismissed the students so they could meet up with their parents before the official photos would be taken. This also gave the new Black Belts time to switch out their old belts before the picture session.

He picked up his new Black Belt and certificate and ran over to where my wife and I were sitting. My wife and I expressed how proud of him we were. I know I was at his Black Belt testing, but I had no idea that I was about to be in the middle of one of his lessons.

"Wow!" This is so amazing. I expressed.

"Dad, I am so pumped up that I don?t even feel tired." He exclaimed.

"I bet, but that was a long and hard test." I pointed out.

"I know, but still I?m not tired." He replied.

"But you know what?" I started.

"What?" He asked.

"Mom and I are sooo proud of you. Do you know that?" I gleamed as I bent down to give him a hug, then my wife did the same.

"Thanks Mom and Dad. Check out this cool certificate." He continued as he placed it in my hands.

"And your belt... you have a Black Belt now!" I exclaimed.

Like in true form of the teacher he is, he brought the lesson home.

"Dad, I don?t have a Black Belt now, I EARNED my Black Belt." He clearly stated.

"Aren't you happy that you didn't walk away from Karate when you felt a little burnt out?" I asked.

"I am very happy I didn't stop, but do you know why I didn't quit?" He started.

"Okay, I'll play. Why didn't you quit?" I muttered.

"I didn't quit because this was my goal, to earn my Black Belt. I was not going to stop until I did it." He concluded.

"Well, again, I am so proud of you! But I have a question for you." I began.

"Yes Sir." He said with a puzzled look on his face.

"Should I be concerned that you might walk away now that you earned your Black Belt?" I questioned.

"No way Dad, NO WAY, because my new goal and next goal is to earn my second degree Black Belt!" He voiced.

"Awesome! Just awesome!" I encouraged him.

"I look forward to you accomplishing that goal, too." I expressed.

"Oh, I will!" He predicted. The really great thing about his new goal is that I know he will accomplish that goal as well.

In a nutshell, the lesson that I was reminded of that day was:It is important to not only set goals, but to know when you work hard towards your goals, you can achieve them.

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Teachings of a Three Year Old... Turned Tyke
Published September 28, 2010

A father learns from the wisdom of his toddler.

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