North American Gasshuku, Georgetown, 2015
During the 2015 Gasshuku with Hanshi Patrick McCarthy, hosted by Sensei Tony Rampulla, our main focus was Riai Kumite, exploring combinations from the Aiki Kenpo Jujutsu syllabus and Niseishi Kata. We were also taught by guest instructors Sensei Scott Hogarth, Sensei Monty Guest, Sensei Cezar Borkowski and Sensei Ron Beer.
This year’s Gasshuku was by far the most unique with the vast scope of knowledge, experience and ideas on the martial arts taught by these highly regarded instructors. The topics ranged from Silat-based knife work, the simplicity of high block, the importance of distance and how to use personal anecdotes to teach your lesson.
With every Gasshuku, there is also a grading. Of those in attendance, many were promoted, including myself to Nidan.
When we first wear a black belt, like putting on a pearl necklace, we question whether we are worthy of wearing something of such great value.
Since receiving my promotion, I’ve been absorbed with the question of “what does it really mean to be a black belt?”
Does someone deserve a black belt out of loyalty? Should you be promoted just for skill? Is your belt equal to your attitude? Are you ranked on your ability to memorize all the drills?
I think we all have our own ideas. Promotions are based on a number of variables and the values of a specific club or style.
For me, the value of a black belt doesn’t lie in what we have done to receive it, but what we will do to represent our style, teacher and most importantly ourselves as entities that promote as Sokon ‘Bushi’ Matsumura says “virtue before vice, values before vanity and principles before personalities.”
If you have been in the martial arts long enough, you will see many who receive their black belt, then just quit.
There are some people who receive their black belt and feel like they are the new badass in town. Their egos inflate to the size of an elephant.
There are those who hold their knowledge close. With no interest in teaching, they flaunt their abilities in the faces of those around them. Perhaps they even surpass the skill of their teacher.
For these people, no one will ever follow them. They will have no legacy.
Since the beginning of my martial arts training, I’ve always had a stern and determined mindset.
I don’t compete with others. I do the best that I can.
With this attitude I set very strict goals and take ownership of my learning process.
This is where I think many fail.
Up until your Shodan, you are told exactly what to learn, how to learn it and if you’re lucky, maybe you even learn how to teach it. Your teacher will have always been there to assist you. However, after that, it feels little like you are in Karate Limbo, waiting for someone to tell you what to do.
I believe a black belt should have enough agency to walk the path of Karate autonomously. By this I mean you should set a schedule for your own learning process. Learn the things you feel you need to work on. Search out teachers who can help you achieve this, as opposed to simply waiting for your Sensei to tell you what’s next.
In preparation for the 2015 Gasshuku, I put it upon myself to learn as many of the supplementary drills in Koryu Uchinadi as I could manage, which include, but are no limited to:
Learning all the drills wasn’t something I was told to do. It is something I expected of myself.
At the same time, through learning all the ways you can manipulate the body, it makes it exponentially easier to learn, practice and retain the combinations taught during the Gasshuku.
For example, Sensei McCarthy presented Aiki Kenpo Jujutsu combinations taught by Carlos “the Ronin” Newton from last year’s Gasshuku, as well as his own variations and AKJJ drills.
When you already know all the techniques in the syllabus and understand the mechanics that make it work, you don’t have to spend time during the seminar “learning” the techniques, which make up new combinations or drills. You can just practice the drill and begin to build up to aggressive resistance.
I feel that one should not just wear a black belt, but a person should represent it. What gives the belt value isn’t the belt itself, but the person who wears it and the principles and virtues they express in their every action.
Learning the Koryu Uchinadi syllabus was a challenge that I saw value in. It is what made me feel worthy to continue to wear a black belt.
For you, the challenge might be quite different.
What determines the worth of the belt you wear is YOU!