Awarding Children the Black Belt

black-beltI found this subject being talked about here on Karateforums.

I have mix feelings about this subject. At one time, I was oppose to the idea of a child holding a Black Belt. This is despite the fact that I was a youth Black Belt myself. I know, I know, it sounded hypocritical. But the difference between me and most underaged Black Belts is huge. First of all, I trained 7 days a week, and sparred with Adults weekly. I was under my Master for 5 years before being allowed to compete at the Black Belt level, and worked my up through the ranks like everyone else (yet a little accelerated), one step at a time. And I *believed* I was of a higher skill level and understanding than most of these shopping center Black Belters. I swore at 12 years old that I would be a martial arts teacher, compete at the International level, and be known in my circles as the best at what I do… and accomplished all of those goals by the time I was 18. I’ve met other kids younger than I was doing the same thing, and compared to the McBlack Belter from the Safeway shopping center doing XMA, was light years ahead of my peers.

But, then I saw the light. And I see that this is more an issue of maturity, school culture, and teacher preference.

See, in some schools, the idea of a Black Belt is much simpler than what many of us believe it should be. I still believe that the Black Belt is not the “beginning”, but the END of a long arduous road to expertise. This isn’t to say that a Black Belter should not have more to learn, but if he decides not to continue studying and to teach or pursue other goals, his skill level should be at a level where he “has arrived”. It is more an issue of awarding deserving candidates the BB, than it is what age is the minimum age. Some teachers have devalued the Black Belt to the point that anyone who can demonstrate the forms, and have hung around long enough to learn the curriculum, and afford the testing fee can get this award. And that is just plain wrong.

But if a youth has poured years of his life into training rigorously, studying academically in the art, and testing himself over and over until his body is showing the physical effects of serious martial arts training, then why not?

Take a look at these kids.  Can your Junior Black Belter fight like that? If not, you might want to redefine what a Black Belter is. I know children, right here in America, who can probably whip these boys. But you see, the Black Belt is supposed to represent the best you can produce, and too many teachers simply don’t care to raise the bar that high for those who represent him. When I think of a Junior Black Belter, this is the level I expect. They don’t necessarily have to be the best in the world, but they damned sure better be one of them.

It’s just like the title “genius”. A kid can be smart, but he ain’t no genius unless he has proven that he’s a genius. In the world of the martial arts, a kid could be knowledgeable, a kid could be good, but it don’t mean he’s Black Belt material. I’ve had a few parents who needed to understand this…. that the Black Belt is more than a kid who can do nice forms, score points in a tournament and do the splits. There is a lifestyle, a way of thinking, a way of behavior, and a way of treating one’s martial journey that should be developed before a person (not just a child) can be a Black Belter. And it isn’t made for just anyone, and not everyone is going to be able to achieve this–I don’t care how much money or desire you have. It takes hard work, dedication and a true desire to become the goal.

When a child understands this and can make the commitment, DOES make the commitment and follows through, then we can talk about earning the Black Belt. Age at this point is immaterial. I know some very committed and disciplined 9 year olds who will make your head spin, and make some adults look bad. The key is remember that the Black Belt is an honor that must be earned through hard work and separates the accomplished from those who are mediocre. This is the only way the Junior Black Belt is to have respect and meaning.

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