Sunday, January 17, 2010

Blackbelt - Kuro Obi

What does it mean to be a black belt (yudansha), does it mean being good at point sparring, does it mean earning respect from other karateka, does it mean being able to defend yourself on the street, does it mean you have reached a certain understanding and skill level in your art, does it mean you are one step closer to teaching, I could go on but I won’t’.

All the above could have some merit when you achieve your first black belt level but I’m pretty sure the one thing that stands out from all the above attributes is probably the first thing that initially attracted you to martial arts and that is the ability to defend yourself.

I don’t know about everyone else but I did martial arts first and foremost so I could defend myself if the need arises, I didn’t do it to teach others or earn respect or to climb some tribal ladder so that one day I may be a chief or general and I definitely didn’t do it for point sparring.

When I see kumite in dan grading where the karateka at that particular organization have to prove their metal through point sparring where they have to stop every time a point is scored with refs and corner men I just want to puke, at least the intensity could be around the shobu ippon level but sadly that is amiss as well.

KARATE SHOTOKAN JKA Kumite - Shobu Ippon hard & tough point sparring

How on earth do these karateka think they have the ability to defend themselves for real on the street when the hardest thing they ever have to do at training is play a game of tag with their opponent in a point sparring match that doesn’t allow contact?

You might as well get your black belt from the back of a cornflakes packet, because this type of black belt is not worth the cloth it’s made from and will not give you the attributes required to street fight an attacker on his way.

Dan grading have nothing to do with point sparring and everything to do with having reached a certain level in your ability where you are able to defend yourself to a reasonable level.

No two people are alike but by the time someone reaches their black belt level they should have acquired some attributes that will enable them to defend themselves for real in a street encounter.

If these karateka who do point sparring in their dan grading for kumite don’t want basics and kata but enjoy the game of tag, it would be much better for them to do kick boxing; at least they may stand a chance against someone who is trying to take their head off on the street.

The foundation of karate lies in its kihon (basics) and the building blocks of kata, mastery of these two coupled with lots of sparring practice will certainly give you good kumite and self defence skills for the real world.

On the other side of the coin we have dan grading at some organizations which is made very very hard, that is you are asked to run 10 kilometers then do an hour of cardio/fitness/strength drills then do an hour of kihon (basics) followed by a half hour of kata and finally yes finally you get to fight in kumite with contact maybe10, 15 or more opponents one after the other.

What does all this physical fitness prove just before you are going to do kumite and be judged on your ability to fight and defend yourslef, in my opinion it proves nothing, the only thing it really does is it  reduces even the finest athlete to become a good punching bag for their sparring partners.

Once your energy has been sapped doing every known type of exercises under the sun except for fighting and showing that you can indeed defend yourself, which by the way is one of the main 3 major elements of a grading, the other being kihon and kata in traditional karate-do, what will be left in the tank, and it sure makes it easy for all those that are pitted against you. 

Don’t get me wrong physical fitness is a necessary ingredient in martial arts but maybe that could be tested on another day, not on the day where you have to grade.

What do professional fighters do just before a fight, they tapper their training down, not ramp it up. Proving that you can defend yourself to a good and reasonable level has nothing to do with being able to do 100 push ups or sit ups or running 5 or 10 kilometres etc etc.

So what does it mean to be a black belt in the art of karate-do what gives you the right to be one, to become a yudansha it means giving it your best shot all of the time, everytime you put the sweat suit on (Gi) you must put everything you have left for that day into your training,

No one said it gets easier as you climb the ladder, the higher you go the harder it gets not easier, you are expected to do all the little things that make up the big picture, in other words set the example and be a role model.

For instance holding and maintaining form when all the color belts are straightening their legs for some reprieve from low stances and shaking legs, being a good role model to beginners and intermediates, showing indomitable spirit in kumite against advanced karateka and your peers, showing respect for your seniors and yes at times fighting not point sparring.

Kumite in a dan grading is to show that you are indeed worthy of your rank, and that your peers and advanced and senior karateka will accept you into their ranks, once you have proven to them that you are good enough to stand beside them as a yudansha.

Kumite in dan grading should not be point sparring with no contact, this is nothing more than a game, and people dont play games on the street.

Isso é / This is Karate Shotokan 1 - Kumite

Kumite in dan grading should be continuous contact sparring where you face 4 or 5 fresh opponents, usually a mixture of advanced karateka and your peers, continuously one at a time for a couple of minutes each.

The onus is on you to prove your worth as a yudansha and that you do posses the ability to defend yourself and hold your ground, this way you will be worthy of standing beside the karateka that have gone before you.

Therefore it’s up to you to take the fight up to your opponents and continually push forward no matter what comes, this is called “fighting” (not point sparring with no contact) using your acquired karate skills, its rough, it’s not pretty, everyone gets bumps and bruises but it’s the line you must cross to become a yudansha.

Then on your first night as a yudansha in your very first black belt class expect much of the same from everyone who is there, the only difference no bells and whistles from your family and friends.

If you dont learn how to fight using your karate skills in class, how will you ever understand how karate works for you on the street.

If you're training at a school that uses non contact point sparring for yudansha grading and testing chances are you really have not honed your skills under pressure and will get beat up or worse in a real street fight.

Like I said you will give and receive bumps and bruises in your first dan grading, but forever after in a black belt class be prepared to receive and give bumps and bruises for the rest of your yudansha life.

If you want to learn to fight with an indomitable spirit then you must fight (not point spar with no contact), your peers and the advanced and senior karateka at a good club understand this very well, better to learn in a controlled environment than the street.

I’m not against point sparring but point sparring on its own will never give you the ability to defend yourself  for real on the street and it certainely isn't worthy of dan grading kumite test.

Shobu ippon style kumite as part of an overall well balanced curriculum in martial arts training can be a great skill to add to your arsenal and is another feather in the hat, but on its own its very shallow.

Generally point sparring (shobu ippon) style makes up about 5% of all sparring in the dojo so most karateka don't spend lots of time in this area, they may increase practice of shobu ippon if a tournament is around the corner, but general dojo sparring is continuous contact sparring for a few minutes with everyone in the class.

Karate is a proven template that must be followed to reap the rewards, anytime you take short cuts or cheat that template because of whatever reason you are cheating yourself and nobody else.

Your blackbelt is earned by hard work and determination, its not won like a trophy in a competition of tag.

Classic Demonstrations