Black belt Aikido
Through the popularity of this column, I get correspondence from all over the country. And the most commonly asked question is, "How long does it take to get a black belt?"I don't know how this question is answered in other schools, but my students know that asking such a question in my dojo would set them back several years in their training. It would be a disaster.
Most people would be overjoyed if I would say it takes just a couple of years to get a black belt, but unfortunately it does not. And though I am afraid most people would not be happy with my answer, I think the general misconceptions about "what is a black belt?" should be clarified as much as possible. This is not a popular subject to discuss in the way I am going to. Indeed, I warn my students not to ask the question in the first place. The answer is not what they want to hear.
How do you get a black belt? You find a competent teacher and a good school, begin training and work hard. Someday, who knows when, it will come. It is not easy, but it's worth it. It may take one year; it may take ten years. You may never achieve it. When you come to realize that the black belt is not as important as the practice itself, you are probably approaching black belt level. When you realize that no matter how long or how hard you train, there is a lifetime of study and practice ahead of you until you die, you are probably getting close to a black belt.
At whatever level you achieve, if you think you "deserve" a black belt, or if you think you are now "good enough" to be a black belt, you are way off the mark, and, indeed a very long way from reaching your black belt. Train hard, be humble, don't show off in front of your teacher or other students, don't complain about any task and do your best in everything in your life. This is what it means to be a black belt. To be overconfident, to show off your skill, to be competitive, to look down on others, to show a lack of respect, and to pick and chose what you do and don't do (believing that some jobs are beneath your dignity) characterize the student who will never achieve black belt. What they wear around their waist is simply a piece of merchandise brought for a few dollars in a martial arts supply store. The real black belt, worn by a real black belt holder, is the white belt of a beginner, turned black by the colour of his blood and sweat.
The first level of black belt in Japanese is called Shodan. It literally means "first level". Sho (first) is an interesting ideograph. It is comprised of two radicals meaning "cloth" and "knife". To make a piece of clothing, one first cuts out the pattern on the cloth. The pattern determines the style and look of the final product. If the pattern is out of proportion or in error, the clothes will look bad and not fit properly. In the same way, your initial training to reach black belt is very important; it determines how you will eventually turn out as a black belt.
In my many years of teaching, I have noticed that the students who are solely concerned with getting their black belt discourage easily, as soon as they realize it is harder than they expected. Students who come in just for practice, without concern for rank and promotion, always do well. They are not crushed by shallow or unrealistic goals.