Ranking in the martial arts. An interesting question. On the surface, there has to be. There have to be grades so on can order there progress. First grade, second grade, third grade, and so on.
The problem is when the grade becomes significant, and a way to separate people.
I remember being in an Aikido class. I had just joined, was having a ball, and I had no stops on me. I had a question, I’d go to whoever I wanted. I’d ask whatever I wanted, and I could see that there was upset in the eyes of some. You see, I was breaking the rules. I was talking freely to people outranked me.
Other lower ranks would look at me, stare at me, and I could feel their consternation, and here was the real crime. People of low standing were buying into their lower standing.
So I was in trouble with everybody. Not real physical trouble, but that subtle social trouble where people start thinking you odd, start treating you different, and you become…outside. Socially unacceptable.
But I had a secret.
One day it was ferreted it out.
I walked into the room reserved for black belts (no lower belts allowed, doncha know) and I grabbed the first black belt i saw and I asked my question. “What about this technique. It doesn’t make sense to me. Is there…?) and I finished my question.
Everybody in the room had stopped doing what they were doing. A half a dozen black belts were staring at me. Suddenly, one of the smarter ones blurted, “You’ve got a black belt, don’t you?”
“Sure, Karate,” but I really wanted to know about this technique…”
Grins, smiles, they had figured it out, I was accepted. Or, at least not judged as socially inadequate.
But, don’t you see, that separation exists in ranks. And it shouldn’t.
It used to be, in the military back in the civil war and before, that men could go right up to an officer and ask a question. “Don’t think we oughta charge, Sir.”
And officers knew better than to think they were better. You see, they were elected by their men, they ‘owed’ to their men. And they knew that their men weren’t dummies.
Yet, there is some sort of exalted viewpoint that many people put on once they put on their black belts. They are better. And, it shouldn’t be.
You see, it says in The Tao, there is no higher with out lower, no front without back, and that sort of thing. And if you buy into it, any any endeavor, not just the martial arts, then you stifle yourself, you cause yourself not to learn.
Honestly, when somebody says, ‘it took me seven years to earn my black belt,’ as if that makes them better, I often wonder why they think being slow makes them important.
So I make black belts as fast as I can these days. Sometimes I screw up, but not often, and I’m getting better. And consider what I am doing, my mistakes are all right.
You see, there is no front with rear, and a black belt should be humbling, not exalting, and it is the black belts duty to break down the barriers and get the teaching going.