A letter to a friend


A letter to a friend.

A friend asked me how they could finish their black belt. He lives in the middle of nowhere, and there isn't a dojo anywhere close. To my friend, and anyone else, this is my answer.

If you want a black belt, go to Amazon, and you can buy one for ~$5.

But that's not why you're here. You see, what you're really asking is how to become what you in your mind associate with someone who wears a black belt. So let's be clear on that, a black belt is just a piece of cloth to hold your pants up and your jacket shut, there are plenty of people who wear one, but only a few have what it takes to embody what really should go into an individual who claims to be a 'black belt.'

Be forewarned; the way isn't easy; the path is steep and long. It takes as much time, effort, and dedication as you would expect from a musician or a dancer with regards to their arts. Karate is no different. The way is best traveled with friends, and preferably someone who has already walked that path. This is what the word 'Sensei' means. It literally means 'One who has gone before.' It doesn't mean teacher, coach, instructor, black belt, or anything else that commonly people think of the word meaning. Sensei is just someone who has been down the road a bit further than you.

What then does it take to be a 'black belt' as we think of it?

Time, set aside time each week to practice. Don't be a keyboard warrior; walk the walk before you talk the talk.

Companionship, find someone to practice with. You can practice punching, kicking, and throwing all you want with thin air and punching bags, but in the end, the path of the gentleman warrior is about martial skill just as much as anything else. You must find a training partner and practice with them.

Context and content. If you have the motivation and dedication, you then must have a 'what.' What do you practice, and where do you start? The best part about this is the techniques: the defenses and attacks of karate, have been preserved for hundreds of years through kata. Kata is the language of karate. Think of kata like oral history, instructions shown directly to the next generation without the means of written language. To understand the kata is to understand karate. To understand karate is to understand the art of fighting.

Kata, it's not just random movement. Many karatekas, people who study karate, only learn the kata and never learn the fighting skill associated with it. It takes some time, but when you understand the 7-8 most basic kata of karate, you will start to see the techniques in other fighting arts. It's hard to explain in writing, so go to this Youtube link https://youtu.be/juyanT_0zoM

Now, I'm not saying that to do karate you need to do full contact MMA. I'm just saying that to study and practice, you need to understand the kata and what you're doing fully. Then take those movements from the kata and practice them with a friend or partner. And believe me, THAT is the best part. I have the most fun training when I can just laugh and casually spar with a partner, learning the techniques through trial and error. I would encourage you to look closely at the following YouTube channels for a good idea of what it means to understand karate and understand the kata. If you can do that, you will embody what it means to be a 'black belt'.

YouTube Links:

Karate Culture https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCayr5nz5sJRrOPT55CzOFxw

Iain Abernethy's "Practical Kata Bunkai" channel https://www.youtube.com/user/practicalkatabunkai

(NOTE: Bunkai means "to break down" in Japanese, it's the method of analyzing and applying the kata)

The Shotokan Kata Man channel has all the Shotokan karate kata you can reference.


ALSO, for reference if you need it, you can check out my excellent blog, the link below will take you to the kata section.


Now last, and most important.

Karate, without integrity, is just fighting.

The gentleman warrior must strive to practice integrity, honesty with those he interacts with. He must strive to show kindness to others, to value life, and never to abuse it. The karate man must not regret his mistakes, but instead, learn from them and become better for it. And once you have learned a bit, been down the path a ways, turn back and help someone else along it.

And to my friend, if you learn the kata, and the bunkai, and train for a while, ensuring that you fully understand the first 8-10 kata of your choosing, and still want confirmation of that skill, I would be glad to do a belt rank exam in person or by video chat.