People hold a black belt to high regard, and it is a fair question to ask what is the real value of the thing. After all, the time and energy invested in the thing, a black belt can be a very costly item to earn. So what is the real–actual and intrinsic–value of earning expert status in the martial arts?
To answer this question I must relate three tales. These three anecdotes will illuminate the points of this bit of writing, and provide some rather enlightening ideas regarding value and expert status in the martial arts. They should give insight as to what a black belt is worth.
One day I was doing kumite with my instructor, and he suddenly leaped in, grabbed my belt, pulled, and elbowed. My balance went out the door, I ate the elbow, but what was worse was in my mind. He had actually touched my precious belt!
My instructor just grinned a quirky grin. He had used my belt, but, in teaching me a lesson, and therefore there was no abuse. He could treat that bit of dyed yarn like a mop, and it would always hold his respect.
The second anecdote concerns a young man I met where I was working. He was a black belt, supposedly higher ranking than me, though he had never received instruction at a a training hall. He was awarded a taekwondo black belt from a friend solely because he was a good fighter.
This guy ran up and down the street using his black belt for a jump rope. Scuffing it off the blacktop so he could do mindless exercises and grow his body stronger. There wasn’t one bit of respect in his entire, puny, little soul for the belt he was swinging.
The third tale regards this humble writer: I use my black belt to help myself stretch when doing yoga. I loop it over my feet, brace the legs straight, and relax into whatever pose. I am using that belt to help myself become a better human being and better at martial arts.
Now, I respect the belt, even as I stretch it and wear it out. And when I wear it out, and it snaps from use, I will bow to it as I place it in the trash, and then I will get another one from a store and try to wear that one out. I do this with love and reverence, for the knowledge, for the masters who have gone before, for the insight that makes me want to do more than mindless exercise, that impels me along the way that earning a black belt has opened up so gloriously for me.