Honesty in the Martial Arts | Black Belt Rankings

This latest article of mine isn’t going to focus on a specific principle or fighting method, nor will it discuss the pros and cons of using a closed fist over an open hand strike (I really cannot believe people still discuss this). If you look at the articles available on the Combat Network Magazine website you will find that there is a good selection of quality articles written by better martial artists than me.
So this article is going to look at an area of the martial arts that I think is in disarray at the moment. Some of you may like what I have to say and agree with me, others won’t like what I say, what I say may win me friends and it could loose me friends, so be it.
Just to give you a little insight, I have been actively involved in martial arts for 27 years, this isn’t long in comparison to some but it is longer than many. I am a 4th Dan, in what is irrelevant for this article. If you want to know more about me then please visit my website, www.ridermartialarts.co.uk.
This month I want to talk about the Black Belt. There has been a lot of chat recently on social media about a certain high ranking martial artist in the UK. The talk is about the standard of his skills on certain videos and also that this instructor is claiming to be an 11th Dan. This has got many people up in arms, and admittedly I am one of those. The questions I want to ask are:- Is the black belt a thing of the past? Is an instructor claiming to be an 11th Dan a bad thing?
Traditionally there was never an 11th Dan, 10th Dan was generally the highest grade with the Founder or Head of an art holding the rank of 12th Dan. But in Ninjutsu their Dan grade ranks go up to 15th Dan, so is 11th Dan such a big deal? What questions that need to be asked are, who awarded this instructor his 11th Dan, what grade were these instructors. Traditionally they should all be at least 11th or 12th Dan themselves or did he buy his grade from some pseudo-internet association?
In fairness this guy does not teach a traditional system so who is to say how many grades he can have in his system. We live in a free society and so he can have as many Dan ranks in his system as he wants. At the end of the day any rank awarded by any association only has relevance or meaning to that particular organisation. The syllabus and standards required by each different organisation will differ greatly and it is down to the heads of these organisations to uphold the standards and one would hope they have enough respect for the traditions of the past, and had enough honesty and integrity to ensure that having a black belt in their art actually meant something.
Let’s take BJJ as an example, it can take years and years to become a black belt in BJJ. Ask around, it means something just like having a black belt in karate meant something years ago. Is this the standard all arts should be trying to regain or is it time we moved away from the “black belt”, why hold on to the tradition just for the sake of it, especially if you are not prepared to uphold the standards those traditions had. The one where all black belts had to register their hands with the police, ok, a little tongue in cheek but hopefully you get what I mean.
It seems that having a black belt can bring with it a sense of superiority amongst some high ranking instructors. Over the years I have trained with high ranking instructors, 8th – 9th Dans. Some have a real down to earth attitude, insist you call them by their first name and will sit and have a beer with you. Then you get those that think they are god. I’ve been on seminars where the only people who got to sit and talk with the Chief Instructor where his senior instructors. Student s were not allowed to approach him directly and they had to pay to have a photograph taken with him, this is despite the fact that they have already paid to attend the seminar, pay their membership and grading fees all of which a cut gets sent to this guy. Where is the humility and integrity here that is supposed to be the backbone of the martial arts.
Part of being a martial artist, a black belt and an instructor is honesty. Be honest about your abilities and knowledge, be honest about what you teach, be honest with yourself and your students. Unfortunately once people start seeing the pretty green coming in, the pound signs racking up this can override all the principles they should be upholding. I am not against an instructor making a decent living, gone are the days when a student would pay for their tuition by cleaning the dojo but be honest about what you are giving the student in return for their money.
Digressing a little, but this situation with giving out grades isn’t anew one, it has been going on for years. There used to be one association that would give out Dan grades just for attending their seminars. Back in the day there were even stories of instructors going away on their family holiday and coming back with a suntan and another stripe on their belt, then telling their student s that they had been off training in Japan. So this lack of honesty and integrity is not new, it isn’t a by-product of the internet but it does make a mockery of the principles we as martial artists are supposed to uphold.
I could go one about other aspects of the martial arts, the politics, the old boys club, you slap my back attitude that seems to be prevalent but I will start to conclude this article. I guess this article could be me blowing off steam but in doing so I hope I get across a serious point and that is Be Honest.

About the Author:
Stuart Rider is originally from London but now living in Fife, Scotland. He has been training in the martial arts for 25 years, and has been teaching and running his own clubs since 1999. 

Stuart holds a 3rd Dan in street Defence Combat under Dave Turton, 2nd Dan Choi Kwang Do and several other grades in other arts.

These days Stuart teaches his own system, the Rider Martial Arts Cross Training System (RMA-XTS) which is his interpretation of the various martial arts and self-defence methods he has trained in and studied over the years. Stuart also hold an honours degree from Edinburgh Napier University in Complementary Healthcare/Therapies.

No comments:

Post a Comment