Agreed. Brian F., unless your primary objective is to achieve a black belt that will look cute on your CV and impress chicks, don't worry too much about the gradings. I should assume that you consider taking martial arts to improve your skills and not your popularity, right? A black belt might have meant something a long time ago, but pretty much anyone in the trade nowadays knows that those times are long gone. I'll go even farther: I've seen more black belts who couldn't
fight decently than black belts who could (yes, that's how bad it is nowadays). And on the other hand, the second best fighter I've ever met is an amazing Japanese guy who's studied a multitude of different arts without ever passing any grading (in other words, he is a multiple white belt). Not being affraid of starting over (credit-wise, not skill-wise) is a good thing, that will help your skills progress faster by keeping the ego in check (ego is one of the major obstacles on any martial artist's progression).
There is a famous Japanese anecdote about a certain master of chado
(the art of the tea ceremony) who, for some reason, had been called out to a duel. Having never learnt how to fight, he went to a sword master and asked him for instruction. They first had tea together. Upon seeing how masterful the chado practitioner was in his field, the martial instructor told him that he didn't neen any instruction. He just showed him one attack and told him to put in that move the same spirit he would in performing chado
. The fencing master estimated that this way, the chado
man would either kill his opponent or end up in an ai-uchi
(simultaneous mutual kill), therefore saving face and honour. The chado
master went to meet his opponent. When they drew their swords and went en garde
, the opponent bowed and announced he renounced fighting the chado
master and accepted defeat, having sensed that the tea-serving man's skill was higher than his own.
This is to say that the real base of one's skill lies not in the techniques you learn, but in the spirit underlying them. That spirit is pretty much common to any art, and can make the transfer (with more or less luck depending on how different they are) if necessary.
One of my fellow kungfu practitioners was able to beat any student of a certain judo class where he went to cross-train. The reason lies not in any inherent superiority of kungfu over judo: my friend was using judo
techniques, not kungfu ones. The reason is that he had reached a much higher level of mastery in his own art than any of the other students had in theirs, and he was able to transfer his mastery of the base principles from his familiar kungfu techniques to the strange judo ones.
Basic principles are universal. The true aim of learning pre-designed techniques is to forcefully imprint those principles in you. Once they are, you'll no longer need to learn any technique: any move you do WILL obey them and will work because of that.
Oops, sorry for the long post. Got a bit carried away...