- THE SPIRIT
AND THE QUEST
- A journey
to black belt
- The following is a copy of
a lecture that I gave to those students who took part in
a Shodan exam in July of 1999.
- The Quest
- It is today as it was in
days gone by. Students enter a karate dojo for the first
time for a wide variety of reasons. Just look around this
room. I think, however, it is safe to say that few would
declare as they enter the dojo "I joined because I
want to be a black belt".
- Black belt may be the goal,
but you will come to find in most cases it is not the
- Karate as we know it had
it's roots in China, and it's youth in Okinawa.
Originally, for a wide variety of reasons Okinawan karate
was taught in secret. A Master would only take on a very
select number of students, all of whom he would first
evaluate over a period of time in order to learn their
true character before he taught them anything. Under the
master's supervision the student would be carefully
guided over many long years until one day his master
granted him the right to take on students of his own, and
to pass on what he had learnt.
- Over time the Okinawan
masters saw the need to establish a ranking system to
provide a series of levels, or steps, by which the
student could measure his progress. This system was
introduced by Sensei Kano and basically involved six
steps known as kyus. This was comprised of three white
belt steps, and then three brown belt steps, these were
then followed by the dan ranks, of which the Shodan is
the first level. There was then, and there are today, ten
dan levels in the black belt ranks in most karate systems.
- After being publicly
demonstrated for the first time by Sensei Gichin
Funakoshi karate eventually found it's way from Okinawa
to Japan where it enjoyed great success up until the end
of the pacific war. The war however took a terrible toll
on the art of karate and by the war's end in 1945 many
masters and senior students had been killed. Soon Allied
troops occupied Japan and karate and other Japanese
martial arts were forbidden by General McArthur. The one
exception to this edict was judo which at that time was
considered a sport by the American's probably because of
it's similar to their own sport of wrestling.
- As a result of the chaos
that existed between 1945 and 1950 karate was left
largely "unguided" by any form of central
authority, and it was precisely due to this lack of a
central authority that karate started to experience a
wide disparity in how basic techniques and kata movements
- By 1950 the American's had
finally eased their ban on martial arts and karate
training once again was allowed to flourish under the
Japanese guise of it also being a "sport"; as a
result many new schools sprang up, often with instructors
whose training in many cases had never been completed, or
sanctified, by any pre-war master. These different
schools ultimately experienced many problems since often
each instructor only remembered bits and pieces of the
katas they had been taught so many years ago. This often
resulted in these instructors creating their own
interpretations of kata movements and bunki, and their
own set of standards when it came to the testing, and the
conferring of dan ranks.
- It has been said that this
disparity of standards could have been summed up as, the
higher the dan claimed by the new master, the further
from the "truth".
- Fortunately for all of us
Sensei Gichin Funakoshi survived the war, and he knew
that for Shotokan karate to grow and to expand it must
have a have two things :
- 1. A consistent set of
- 2. A recognized ranking
- Further more, he knew that
these two things would have to be universally accepted,
and just as importantly universally consistent so; just
as a man six feet tall is always equal in height to
another man six feet tall no matter where he lives, so
the measure of a karate students progress should be the
same in any Shotokan dojo anywhere in the world.
- After Sensei Funakoshi's
death in 1957 this concept of standardization was carried
to the next level when in the early 1960's senior
students, usually with the rank of 4th dan or higher were
sent by the JKA (Japan Karate Association) to countries
all over the world, not only to spread the art of
Shotokan karate-do but just as importantly, to help
maintain this desired level of quality. This worldwide
program by the JKA continues to this day.
- Time changes all things,
and so it has been with the methods of karate training.
Today in a "legitimate" Shotokan karate school
such as ours, where the instructors have what I refer to
as a proven history or lineage, lessons are "taught"
to you instead of "beat" into you - except of
course on Monday nights. (please note that this is an
inside joke at the dojo and should be taken as such).
- As a student progresses
through the various belt levels, he or she will gradually
become aware that a "molding process is taking
place and they will often find that the positive changes
they are experiencing within the dojo will carry over to
many other aspects of their life.
- Given enough time, given
continual effort, and supported by desire to "touch
the light at the end of the tunnel" approximately 1
in a 1000 students will finally find themselves on the
threshold of a life altering experience. Their black belt
- This then begs two
- 1. Just what is a karate
- To me, a black belt
is a visual symbol of an individuals physical, mental,
and spiritual progress in the art of karate that is
globally recognized when conferred by a legitimate
- 2. What does a black belt
- In the end there is only
one way for you answer that question - guess what that
is? And I assure you the answer to that question will be
as individual as you are.
- Is my black belt important
- Is it important to anyone
- Because in the end,
anything of value holds a different value for each us,
and a black belt is no different. In life what makes
anything important is the price you paid for it, and I
don't just mean money.
- When you finally receive
your black belt you will have paid for it with hours,
days, months, and years of your time. You will have paid
for it with tens of thousands of punches and blocks. You
will have paid for it with aching legs and arms that
couldn't do one more push up. You will have paid for it
with kata, after kata, done again, and again. You will
have paid for it with your sweat, your heart, and your
- So if I was to ask those of
you here today who doing the grading: "what does a
black belt mean to you?" You will I am sure give me
a very good answer, but if I was to ask you the same
question at 3:00 tomorrow afternoon I bet you would give
me a much more emotional response. Why? Because by then
you will have finally paid the price.
- Now today there are three
established standards and criteria for advancement and
promotion within the dan, or black belt ranks. They are
- 1. Honorary rank : - This
requires no previous physical training in any style of
karate. This is a ceremonial dan rank awarded to any
individual who renders a direct or indirect service that
supports the development of karate. (An example would be
the President of a country or other high government
- 2. Regular rank : - This is
a dan rank awarded in recognition of a level of progress
reached by a student as a result of their physical and
mental practice of the art of karate.
- 3. Recommended rank : -
This is any dan rank conferred by a Sensei in recognition
of a high level of character development reached by a
karate-ka through their continued practice, and unselfish
contribution and service to the art of karate, over an
extended period of time. This in fact is most difficult
dan rank to achieve due to the criteria of "time".
In most cases 10 years or more of continuous teaching and
training are required before a student is even considered
for this type of promotion.
- In most styles today all
dan ranks awarded after 5th dan are recommended rank, and
since such a significant period of time passes between
these promotions it is not until a karateka reaches their 70's
and 80's that they ever finally achieve a rank of 8th
dan or higher, 10th dan is awarded only when a
practitioner has demonstrated their complete mastery of
their particular style of karate.
- The Spirit
- So black belt may be the
Quest - but what is it that gets you there?
- To me the answer in one
word is spirit.
- Your growth as a martial
artist as you know by now is not just a physical one.
- In your grading you will
have noticed that technique alone is not enough. You must
also begin to develop an increased level of mental
toughness. As you progress on your journey up the karate
ladder you will come to rely on the mental side of your
training more and more. It will to help take you not only
through the highest and lowest days of your training, but
also ultimately through your own black belt grading. As
many of you are about to find out.
- But is mental toughness
- The answer to that is no.
- Many people in all walks of
life are mentally tough, but that same number can just as
easily exhibit a total lack of spirit.
- So what is spirit and how
do you get it.
- To me, "spirit is an
invisible force that lives in all of us that gives us the
capacity to strive beyond the limits of the mental and
physical beliefs that we hold at any particular moment in
- Do you all have spirit -
yes - without a doubt.
- Can you call upon it at
will - absolutely.
- But here's the catch. As
teachers none of us can give you any more spirit than you
give yourself. In the end when it is all said and done,
what you get out of karate is in direct proportion to
what you put in physically, mentally and spiritually.
- In closing I would like to
offer you the following thoughts and ask you to try and
bear some of them them in mind when you are training:
- Your karate must be done
from the inside out. *
- Your karate must be done
from the ground up - not the top down. *
- There is no substitute for
- Your reality today is the
result of the planning and effort you put into yesterday.
- Your reality tomorrow will
be the result of what you plan and do today.
- Children learn without
prejudice until they are taught otherwise. *
- To know what something is
worth - you must first pay the price. *
- Love is a language the deaf
can hear and the blind can see.
- Right consciousness is
essential to right physical action.
- Practice does not make
perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
- You are not finished when
you are defeated - you are finished when you quit.
- The dojo is not a
university, to obtain the benefits you must train all
- A wish is a desire without
any effort behind it. *
- Visualization must be the
first phase of any action.
- You will never have more
than you think you are worth.
- Success can only make you
happy if you are already happy.
- You can not hit what you
can not see. *
- Know your limits and
develop your capabilities.
- You are responsible for
everything you do - never blame others.
- What the mind fears the
spirit can overcome. *
- In closing I wish to thank
all of you for your time, your energy, your effort, and
your spirit. I learn from all of you, I am today a better
person, and a better martial artist because of all of you.
So as you continue to seek for, and to reach beyond your
current limitations, I wish you every success.
- Thank you.
- Sensei Peter Lindsay
- Part the
clouds - see the way.
objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
- of the
human spirit through physical and mental training."