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Monday, November 2nd, 2015 10:32 pm
A question from a fellow instructor made me start thinking again about what it means to become a black belt. Not to have one, not to be awarded one, not to wear one, but to become one and to BE one.

The Japanese term for 1st-degree black belt is Shodan. My Japanese stinks, but my understanding is that "Shodan" translates roughly as "first level." As my first sensei put it when one of the students was awarded his Shodan: "What this means is that you know how to be a student. Now it is time for you to BE that student, and also to learn to become something more." Or as another said, "This does not mean that the journey is over. This means that now you are finished PREPARING for the journey. Your bags are packed, now it is time for your journey to begin."

I see this as similar to the Apprentice - Journeyman - Master system that has existed in so many fields for centuries. Up until black belt, you are the apprentice, learning the tools and techniques of your trade. At Shodan, you become the Journeyman. You have sufficient knowledge and skill to progress on your own, to grow in your own path instead of only following the path of your Master. Your particular Journey certainly might continue alongside your Master, or it might lead you down different paths from theirs.

When does one move from Journeyman to Master? I don't know. Despite what it says on my rank certificate, I don't particularly feel like that title is applicable to me. I've spent over 30 years training in martial arts, and when I look at the huge gulf of things I do not know, it seems the very definition of hubris to consider myself to've mastered this art.

Socrates said that admitting one's ignorance is the beginning of wisdom. If this is true, then perhaps I have BEGUN to acquire wisdom, but I certainly cannot yet call myself wise.

My Journey continues, and I hope that it will continue to do so for the rest of my days.

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