Black Belt


The dream of a black belt has been with me for years. Now, faced with the decision of becoming one, of taking the final step, the total commitment, fills me with uncertainty and anxiety. The bottom line is ‐ am I worthy to become one?

Being one of eleven children, I started my training late in life. I had to wait to be able to afford the training I needed. Once I started, I have never stopped seeking to improve my skills. I did my best to select the finest teacher I could find and did all I thought was good to keep physically fit.

Now, why do I want to become a black belt? Becoming one would be the milestone I could use to mark my achievement in the Martial Arts. I am aware that each belt carries a responsibility, and this decision I am making right now would add a whole set. My mind is plagued with questions, like: Have I met all the requirements I have set for myself to follow? How about the criteria my instructors have set? Will I be able to lead and follow accordingly? Have I developed enough discipline to be able to live up to what a black belt should be?

As I stop to think about these questions, I summon all of me to rise to the occasion. At this very moment, I am saying “yes” to all the responsibilities and be a black belt. I shall make this giant step and try not to blunder.

I am about to touch and grasp a dream. 

Merry Leyes

TAMA 3rd Dan Black Belt Instructor


THE FOUR CORNERS OF OBI (Meaning the “Belt”) 


From the beginning of humankind,  there has been an ongoing search for the definition of the word “LOVE.” Since LOVE is an emotion, an abstract personal feeling within one’s self, we can only agree that the definition of LOVE is as varied as the number of individuals and situations called upon to use the word. For me to try to define LOVE, even in its simplest form, would be an exhausting exercise in futility. The only one who could identify with my definition would be myself. Rather than define LOVE, let us express LOVE in our individual manner with the hope that our expression will be passed on to others and offer yet another personalized definition.


For each corner of our Obi, save one, we have one word that is intended to be a tool in building our character. The exception is LOVE and HARMONY. These two terms should be one because in expressing LOVE one will find an internal calmness known as HARMONY. Also, as one realizes the peace within, the inevitable result will be HARMONY’S companion…LOVE.


As children,  we were told to RESPECT the rights and opinions of others without question. As adults,  we believe that RESPECT is something to be earned. But what of the person who does not know RESPECT to others yet demands RESPECT for himself? As true jujitsuka, we should be bound to comply with this person regardless of the attitudes of others, simply because, by definition, RESPECT is not only “to hold in high regard,” but also, “to refrain from interfering with.”


In the dojo, GENTLENESS proves to be a fruitful and efficient method of practicing the art of Jujitsu without hurting others. After all, if we abuse others in a physical way who will be willing or able to assist us in perfecting the art of Jujitsu?

Outside the dojo, GENTLENESS proves to be a successful and efficient method of practicing the art of living without hurting others. After all, if we abuse others in a non-physical way who will be willing or able to assist us in perfecting the art of living?


In Jujitsu, an art of physical self-defense, AWARENESS appears to be the conscious appreciation of the physical dangers and threats around us. With prudent study, we can avoid these risks and ward off these threats. AWARENESS can also be viewed as recognition of the LOVE and HARMONY, RESPECT,  and GENTLENESS that surrounds us every day. To recognize these things we do not need to study prudently, we only need to be AWARE.



History Introduction

Modern-day pupils of karate assume that the ranking system of kyu (color belt) grade and Dan (black belt) degrees/levels, and also the different titles that high-ranking black belts hold, like the katas, a part of karate tradition expanding back centuries. However, although that karate is indeed older, the ranking system itself goes back only to the early 20th century. Take a look at the history and growth of the present rank system will certainly help us to put our belt ranks in appropriate historical perspective.

Japanese Martial Culture Japanese culture often be highly regimented and structured. Virtually any conventional art that you may want to study in Japan, from blossom organizing (ikebana) to calligraphy (shadow), has its modern series of formal ranks. So it is likewise with the martial arts. Some early Japanese martial arts made use of a three-rank system which included the awarding of certifications.

The first, shodan, signified a beginner; the 2nd, chudan, indicated middle ranking; and the third, jodan, or upper rank, permitted the student to enter into the okuden, or secret traditions, of his school or association. One more early system used a collection of licenses called menkyo. The first rank, kirikami, was usually granted after one to 3 years of training as well as indicated that the pupil had been approved by his colleague as a serious expert. After three to 5 more years the student existed with a mokuroku or composed directory of the system’s techniques. After two to 10 more years the student ultimately obtained his menkyo or certificate to teach. The menkyo might likewise specify among numerous various possible titles suggesting his placement with the system’s organizational framework. The utmost certificate was the menkyo Kaiden, granted to students that had understood every aspect of the system. Some system headmasters awarded just a solitary menkyo Kaiden in their lifetime, to the person they selected as their follower.

Okinawan Martial Arts Culture

The early Okinawans martial arts culture had existed for centuries under Chinese hegemony, gradually assimilating aspects of 1 Chinese hard-style kung fu into their indigenous fighting style (called simply te, or “hand” fighting). Some have claimed that it also came from the Southern style of Chinese Kung Fu. Karate in Okinawa was passed on privately within families, from father to son, and was taught to members of the police and the aristocracy force to help guarantee control over the general populace. Often, especially under Japanese occupation when the teaching of martial skills was prohibited, the training was carried out in secret, after dark, in enclosed private courtyards.

Ranking System – The Origin of Color Belts

Some speculative tradition proposes that the origin of belt colors (as indicators of ranking system) originated in a peculiar habit of washing all of one’s training clothes except the cloth belt or the “obi.”  Thus, as training progressed the initially white belt would first turn into a color of dingy yellow, then a color of greenish yellow-brown, then a color of really dirty brown, and finally a repulsively color of filthy black. Not traditional in Shuri-Ryu and other styles of Karate systems or some schools encourage black belt holders to have their name (and perhaps also the name of their style) embroidered in gold Japanese characters on the end-lengths of their Black Belt.

The kyu/dan system of rankings was devised around the turn of the century by a Japanese martial artist, Jigoro Kano (1860-1938), the founder of Judo.  With so many new students, all in the highly structured public school environment, he decided that a grading and ranking system would help to encourage them, and would allow them to gauge their progress through a highly systemized public school structured curriculum program. Jigoro Kano had taken the samurai battlefield art of jujitsu or Aiki-Jutsu and modified it tremendously so as to minimize the dangerous aspects of the art and make it safe for the practitioner as a martial arts sport. This new sport, judo, he introduced into Japanese grade schools and colleges.

There had constantly been intriguing in Okinawan fighting arts amongst the Japanese, yet the Okinawans had taken into consideration that the Japanese to be foreign intruders. The Okinawans did not want to educate them all of their combative and tactical martial arts training. Nonetheless, karate came out of the wardrobe when Anko Itosu (1830-1915) surprised the Okinawan martial arts area by launching a program to instruct karate to kids in Okinawan public school systems in 1901. Quickly after that, an Okinawan master called Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), a pupil of Itosu, chose it was time to bring a style of karate to Japan.

Funakoshi relocated a lot more or much less completely to Japan where he set up karate training in 1922, as well as quickly it spread out to colleges as the technique of judo had done. He ultimately determined that it would certainly be proper to take on the color belt system for presenting karate rankings on his pupils.  This system was by after that well set up in Japanese martial arts, under the aegis of the Japanese Butoku-Kai, the area of the Ministry of Education which was set up in 1895 to look after rankings as well as requirements for kendo as well as judo.

Funakoshi embraced this same system for karate after 1922, as well as on April 12, 1924; he granted the very first karate Dan (Black Belt) positions.  He presented black belts to 7 of his pupils: Hironori Ohtsuka (later on the creator of Wado-Ryu), Shinken Gima, Ante Tokuda, as well as four others called Katsuya, Akiba, Shimizu, and also Hirose. Funakoshi was granted his renshi title by the board of the Butoku-Kai, on which rested one of his very own pupils, Koyu Konishi (that was Japanese by birth, a benefit the Okinawan Funakoshi did not share). Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953), the Okinawan creator of Gojo-Ryu, was the very first karate recipient of the title of Kyoshi (master or “assistant teacher”) from the Butoku-Kai in 1937.

Post-War Organizations World War II caused a major disruption in Okinawan and Japanese martial arts. Following the war it finally became more widely accepted, leaving the problem of developing new sanctioning bodies to legitimize the ranks being awarded

During the early 1950’s certification was accomplished through associations formed by the dojos in each style, including the Goju-kai, Shito-kai, Chito-kai, Shotokai, and the Japan Karate Association. Each formed a board and designated an officer who would have signature authority on rank certificates. Those recipients are reaching a high dan ranking often went out and started their new styles.

High officers in these organizations usually assumed a rank for themselves based on criteria they had written. Among the earliest was the All-Japan Karatedo Federation, initiated shortly after World War II by such headmasters as Funakoshi, Tsuyoshi Chitose (born in 1898 and still President as of 1993), Kenwa Mabuni, Gogen Yamaguchi and Kanken Toyama. It established a system involving ten black belt levels plus the titles of Hanshi, Kyoshi, and renshi; many of the highest ranked modern masters received their ranks through this organization.

In Okinawa, the kyu/dan system did not become universal until 1956 when the Okinawa Karate Federation was formed. For some years previous, the principle “system” used in Okinawa had simply been a white belt for students and black belt for teachers.

In 1964, an association developed which for the initial time united all existing styles of karate: the Federation of All-Japan Karatedo Organizations (FAJKO). Today all karate systems, whether officially connected to FAJKO or not, adapt even more or much less to the standard FAJKO standards as well as requirements.

In the United States the concept accrediting company for Okinawan, Japanese and also Korean karate was, for a lengthy time, Robert Trias’s U.S. Karate Association. KoSho Shuri-Ryu colleges are currently in the U.S.A. Karate Federation, developed in 1985, which came to be a participant of the U.S. Olympic Committee, the PanAmerican Union of Karatedo Organizations (PUKO) as well as the World Union of Karatedo Organizations (WUKO; currently restructured as the World Karate-do Federation).

During its entire history of USA Karate, the organization represented over 800,000 members. Following Trias’s death in 1989. The United States Karate Association disbanded into four smaller groups of organizations. They are KoSho Shuri-Ryu schools are now in the U.S.A. Karate Federation, formed in 1985, which became a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, the PanAmerican Union of Karatedo Organizations (PUKO) and the World Union of Karatedo Organizations (WUKO; now reorganized as the World Karate-do Federation). As of 1996, it represents about 15,000 karate practitioners. The current president of the USAKF, Hanshi George Anderson (10th dan), is also Director of Kwanmuzendokai International; both organizations currently underwrite and certify rank certificates. Hanshi Anderson is the teacher of Shihan John Linebarger, now the Director of KoSho Karate and Chief Instructor of Robert Trias’s Shuri-Ryu in Arizona.

In summary, Karate black belt  and ranks or any martial arts ranking systems are only important for the standardization of required curriculum outlined in each particular style or systems of martial arts. This is to maintain a value system based on tradition for both integrity and structurization of each martial arts or karate systems. There is a wide variety of student’s skills, and it varies dramatically from each martial arts organization. The rank does not guarantee much of anything other than a person achieving the rank through testing procedures. There are schools guarantees ranking Black Belts in 2 years. The rank should not be the main goal but the training itself. The truest goals are the fulfillment of personal development rather than achieving rank. It should not be forgotten that the rank or the color of the belt does not make the person. It is the journey that counts and not the destination. “Be all the Best We can Be.”

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