What does it mean to earn your black belt?
by Heather Gawlick
We celebrated watching one of our students earn his Shodan (first-degree black belt) this week. It was incredible to watch him transform from the first day he stepped foot in the dojo. He has truly learned a great deal in a relatively short amount of time. He has changed from an unsure white belt to a fully qualified instructor.
It is not just his growth, either. The dojo has changed since he started. He stuck with us through the days of no mats, grungy floors, and unpredictable room arrangements. He has watched some people come and some go. He has helped teach them all. He supported us when we organized visits for master teachers. As a true friend, he was honest with us when we needed to consider making changes and improvements.
Some people think becoming a black belt means you've mastered a martial art and there is nothing left to learn. That is a very sad misperception causing them to leave prematurely.
To me, earning your Shodan means you have just arrived at a place where you can actually start to learn. You have been around long enough to have weathered the ups and downs of the seasons of change occurring in every dojo and probably outlasted others along the way.
You have decided (consciously or otherwise) this is a way of life. You have learned this skill in your bones. It has become a part of you. You now move differently. You now have a glowing inner confidence you didn't possess before. You have trusted others with your life and others have trusted you with theirs. You are empowered with the love of the dojo.
You have learned that teaching is a part of learning. Questions lead to reflections and experiments. They are not inconveniences or annoyances. They are critical to fully understanding why and how things work.
You now know the basic movements, motions, and falls. You are now ready to learn some of the exciting stuff: the higher-level skills of off-balance and controlling others' bodies as you perfect how your body moves through time and space. The techniques you thought were impossible are now within your grasp and you have the confidence to try them.
You have stuck around long enough to become a member of the club of people who make this a permanent part of their lives. There are no former black belts. You are a black belt. You will always be a black belt. You are now ready to start the real learning and transformation of your life.
Welcome to the club, my friend. You did great!
Heather and Roy Gawlick love Aikido and have a passion for sharing it with others. They hope you'll catch the Aikido bug, too!
Shinju Dojo Aikido Martial Arts School in Longview / Kelso, Washington