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Martial Arts Myths & Misconceptions

A Black Belt Is A Master

By Jonathan Maberry

Not even close. A first-degree black belt is a very advanced beginner student. The belt signifies his passage from the ranks of those students who are still learning to the ranks of those persons who have now learned how to learn. This is a significant difference.

The process between white belt and black belt has a lot less to do with techniques than it does with learning the methodology and procedures necessary for a person to think like a martial artist. A black belt should be able to genuinely grasp the concepts upon which the martial arts are based, which is far more important than his ability to perform any given technique. There is a saying about human survival: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.” This is very similar to the process of transitioning from colored belt to black belt. The black belt has learned how to learn, and therefore becomes more proactive in the process of his own education.

Does this mean that the black belt is an expert? Well, my colleagues in the martial arts are fairly evenly split on that point. One point of view is: Yes, the first-degree black belt is an expert on the basic gross motor skills necessary to perform martial arts skills. The other point of view is: No, a first-degree black belt is not an expert but is rather a very advanced beginner who is just grasping the concepts he will need in order to become an expert within a few years.

Most of the traditional instructors I know maintain that a person becomes a true “expert” of the basics of their martial art by the time they reach third degree black belt, which is for many arts the point at which that person is allowed to begin teaching.

In modern times, especially with rapidly growing chain schools, first and second degree black belts are often assigned to teach classes and many are even called “sensei”. This marketing procedure greatly confuses the issue -- and confuses younger students -- who then equate anyone with a black belt with instructor-level expertise.


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About the Author:

Jonathan Maberry is the award-winning author of over 700 articles as well as several books, including Ultimate Jujutsu Principles and Practices and The Martial Arts Student Logbook. He holds an 8th degree black belt in jujutsu and a 5th dan in Hapkido, is a member of the Martial Arts Hall of Fame, and is co-founder of the COP-Safe program. Visit his website here.


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Karate, karate-do, Black Belt, rank in martial arts


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