What Is a Black Belt
The title “Black Belt” in martial arts has a different meaning to practically everyone, and most laymen’s perception of the term is woefully inaccurate: a person with nothing more than a distinguishing ability to cause damage. When I mention that I’m a Black Belt, the first thing I’m asked is almost always, “Can you break a piece of wood with your hand/foot/head?” or “So you could totally beat up (insert nearest person here).” And while it would be difficult to explain what “Black Belt” means to the hundreds of people who possess or covet the title, it is a great deal simpler to explain what it means to me, my school, and my style of martial arts.
A friend of mine once asked me, “Is it possible for an eight-year-old kid to be a black belt?” The answer to that question is, while it is entirely possible that he is a black belt, it is very unlikely that he is actually a Black Belt. You’ll notice that I distinguished between “black belt” without capitals, and “Black Belt” with capitals. What I mean is, while this child could possess a martial arts belt that is black, it’s doubtful that he possesses the self-discipline and morals that I think are necessary to be a true Black Belt.
I practice a Korean martial art known as Tang Soo Do (TONG Su Do), closely related to the better known, more commercialized Tae Kwon Do. Tang Soo Do is a special form of martial art that focuses on developing the whole person, not just the physical being. Children who attend my school are required to get a paper signed before each belt test, saying that they have been doing satisfactorily in school and been respectful at home. All students are also required to memorize a short by-law for each test, a sentence that states a moral that is important in life: to be truthful, just, considerate, etc. All these things are in place to help students develop into Black Belts.
To be a Black Belt you must have several qualities in addition to an aptitude for the moves. At the top of the list is passion. A Black Belt needs to have a flaming passion for Tang Soo Do in order to get the belt in the first place. One thing that sets my school apart from many others is the great amount of work it takes to become a Black Belt. No belt is ever handed to you on a silver platter, least of all your Black Belt. The only way to offset the countless hours of practice is to truly love what you do, and the only way to get past the endless repetition of basics is to see it as a means to an end, the best way to get to your final goal.
Another thing that distinguishes a Black Belt is what he sees as his aforementioned “final goal”. Too often have I gotten the question: “You’re a black belt now, why don’t you just quit?” What these people don’t understand is that Black Belt should never be the end of the journey, nor should it even really be a goal. Not even ninth degree, the highest possible rank you can earn in Tang Soo Do, should be the goal in a student’s mind. The goal, the thing a martial arts student should strive for, is perfection. And since perfection can never be truly achieved, Tang Soo Do is an endless journey. Black Belt is just a milestone in the never-ending journey toward perfection.
One of the most important things a Black Belt must possess is self-discipline, and this is one of the things that mean the most to me. Seven years ago I began Tang Soo Do as part of my parents’ attempt to teach me self-discipline, and this lesson is definitely one of the ones I value most. I have come extremely far in my search for self-control, and now I’m easily one of the most strongly willed people I know.
The last thing a Black Belt must be is a very ethical person with a good character. Tang Soo Do preaches the importance of fairness, respect, and truth, along with many other important character traits. If I were asked who impacted my character growth the most, my answer would be immediate and definite: first, my parents, and then my martial arts instructor. He has played an enormous role in developing me as a Black Belt, and a lot of that was character development. I am definitely a better person having taken Tang Soo Do.
I worked very hard to achieve my Black Belt. My test was three grueling hours long, and it demanded that I put my whole self into it, to show just how much I wanted this rank. It took a lot of will to finish, especially toward the end when I was trying to fight off two of my fellow Black Belts at once in a particularly strenuous sparring match. I have shown, through my test and through the seven years I spent preparing, that I possess the things I define as Black Belt qualities. I am good at the moves and a very powerful martial artist. I have a lot of self-discipline, a good character, and I definitely have the passion. I have wanted this since I was in the second grade, and I am very proud to say that I am a Black Belt.
As I See Things...
by R. Bowman
Featured Black Belts
Excellence in Martial Arts
Ms. Bowman's keen insight comes from her many years of study at American Karate Academy and her superior academic performance. Her articles clearly illustrate the value one gains from training in the Martial Arts.