With the COVID lockdowns coming to an end I have witnessed an excitement to return to the dojo on several sites and social media. I have also noticed a common topic of discussion floating around and answered differently based on style, school, or beliefs. I decided to pose the question to the GMAU Board of Governors and then post their thoughts over the next several weeks. This week we have Chairman of the Board, GM Keith Yates weighing in with his thoughts. Enjoy!

Shihan Corey Britcher

What’s A Black Belt?

Bruce Lee famously said a (rank) belt is only good for holding up your pants. But let’s face it, people are usually impressed when they discover you are a black belt.

But I have to admit, I am not overly impressed with a person who says they are a black belt. Why? Because, having been in the martial arts for over 55 years, I realize that can mean a multitude of things.

Some schools let you earn a dan rank (black belt) after just a couple of years and you can be as young as eight or nine (really). In other dojos you have to train for six or seven years at a minimum and pass an exam fit for a Navy Seal. I’ve met black belt who are “sensei” in the true sense of the term (a mentor who has traveled the path of life), and I’ve met black belts I wouldn’t trust with my dog.

So am I saying that the black belt holds no meaning? Not at all, just that the meaning depends hugely on your school and your teacher. I’d like to think that as believers in Jesus we in the Gospel Martial Arts Union combine our desire to model Christ with the traditional martial arts emphases of character traits like integrity, self-discipline and respect for others.

The Asian pioneers of the “do” arts (ie, Judo, Karate-do, Taekwondo) stressed such things. But Americans, especially in the early days, circa 1960s and ‘70s, often would forgo “character” for “toughness.” I came up through the ranks during that time and I still teach what some might call “hard-style.” But my Christian beliefs far outweigh any desire to create the toughest students in town.

So what is a black belt? I have heard the expression that a first-degree black belt is a “master of the basics,” and I think that is a good description. It is someone who has trained long enough to be able to teach the basic techniques of his or her art to beginning students.

Anyone who has been in the martial arts for very long realizes they have much to learn. That is especially true for black belts. So an attitude of humility and a desire to continue to grow both in physical skills and emotional maturity should mark a black belt.

If you are interested in my other thoughts go look at my YouTube video about the “myths” surrounding the black belt. If you already have earned the rank, congratulations and don’t stop training. If you are still on the path realize that the journey is more important than the destination.

Keith D. Yates

10th Degree Black Belt

Chairman, Gospel Martial Arts Union

What is a Black Belt?

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