The Dynamics of a Black Belt

A while back, we received a phone call to the dojo.

The call came from somebody who had been training Karate once (a long time ago), and now wanted to continue. Obviously, somewhere along the way his career, wife and kids had come along, leaving Karate pushed aside. But now he was ready to rock ‘n roll again!

“Sure, why not? No problem at all, just come by the dojo when we have class. You can just wear regular clothes if your old gi doesn’t fit.” I told him.

But… even though I didn’t have a problem with anything he said, it seems he had a problem with what I’d just said.


“Oh, but… can I have my blue belt on?”

“Say what?”


At this point I’m wondering if I just heard right, or if I needed to dewax my ears. Apparently, this fella’ who hasn’t been training for 10+ years, feels like turning up for his first session wearing his blue belt. A real blast from the past.

Just like his real skills weren’t as important as his perceived skills.

“Umm… well… of course, you can wear whatever you feel like” I hesitantly replied. “But then we presume you remember everything for the blue belt, of course.”

I could hear his face turning red.

That was being kind. Really, I would have wanted to say: “Hey, you know what? I have an even better idea: Why not just wear my black belt instead? Sure, it’s a little worn, but that just adds to the blackbeltness! And it has “Jesse” written on it, but you can just scratch that away. What the heck, you can probably special order a golden belt with red stripes and built in laser cannons on it from the internet and wear that instead!”

Really, I couldn’t care less.

Apparently he was bringing his wife along with him, so it was probably a “man” thing.

But nontheless, it seems we have a problem here.

Because this wasn’t the first time an old-timer had returned to train Karate, wearing his old sweaty belt (though this guy has yet to show up). Far from it. We’ve had brown belts and even black belts with the exact same question.

The problem, I think, lies in the very fact that many people think that the Karate belt is a static symbol of your skill level, and that once you’ve “earned” the belt it’s yours forever. And, if somebody says different they’ll simply have to rip the belt away from your cold, stiff corpse.

I just googled “karate+grand master”.

It’s like, “Who DARES question my rank?!”

I do.

Because it’s not static.

It’s dynamic.

Your black belt (brown belt, blue belt, green belt…) is just as dynamic as Usain Bolt’s three Olympic gold medals, which are probably stuffed away in a locker under a pair of dirty socks somewhere in Jamaica.

And even though Mr. Bolt happens to hold the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100 m world records, he lost his last race.


Imagine if he would call up the guys at the Olympic committee, asking if he could “wear his old medals” at the next Olympic Games.

He doesn’t.

Because he knows they’re not static.

The black belt, or any other belt/rank, is just like an Olympic medal. You train very hard for years, step up, do your best, spill some blood and earn it. It is a measurement of the level you showed at that occasion (the grading/the Olympic race), which was in the past. Not now. It is up to you to keep that level.

To believe that a Karate belt is a static, fixed, symbol of your current skill level can be likened to an old, retired military officer who walks around proudly with his Medal of Honor at the military reunion, bragging to his old pals.

We see the medal, and acknowledge it for what it is.

An old merit.

The grey-haired officer wears it to remind everyone at the reunion that he once did a heroic deed “above and beyond the call of duty”, and has the potential inside him to do it again, if necessary. He doesn’t need to prove anything again. He’s not in a war anymore, so he doesn’t need to back it up.

Then I googled “karate+soke”.

But we need to.


Because you’re never better than your last technique. And if you’re training in my dojo; that technique  better correspond to the piece of cloth (belt) dangling around your waist.

Or else you’re confusing this dojo for a military reunion.

I mean, even in rural Okinawa some old 10th dan “grand master” hanshi dudes are training like crazy (CRAZY)! They’re not covering anything up with corny lines such as “Sorry, young grasshopper, I cannot show you this technique because it is too deadly/you are not ready yet/you don’t pay me enough/the stars and planets are not aligned properly”.

No, not at all. On the contrary, these ol’ motherlovers regularely hold demonstrations, camps and seminars everywhere (even internationally), gladly doing a thousand shiko-dachi punches with you just for fun. And most of them are somewhere between 65 and 75 years young.

In short, they always represent their belt.

Compare that to many modern Western 10th dan “grand master” hanshi-soke-elite-dudes who probably haven’t done a single full speed kata or self-defense move (I’m talking that “ikken hissatsu”, kill-or-be-killed stuff here) since they got their first (!) black belt.

And that was 30 years ago.

In fact, they quite proudly walk around representing their 30 year younger self. 

How uninteresting is that?

But let’s forget those sad has-beens for now (who are not exclusive to the Western world, mind you), and let me just tell you briefly about a member of our dojo who really impressed me lately. Let’s call him Ted.

Ted, who could easily be mistaken for a tall, dark, handsome stranger in his late twenties, recently came up to me before class was about to start, and asked for permission to – listen closely here – wear his brown belt. “What’s so special about that?”, you’re wondering. Well, nothing…

Except for the fact that Ted is really a black belt holder.

Ted, in his own words, felt like he “couldn’t uphold the standards of a black belt anymore” and humbly asked for permission to degrade himself(!), if only temporarily, until he feels his skills match his black belt again.

Lately, he had been feeling like a brown belt, apparently.

After nearly stumbling on my jaw (which was lying somewhere on the floor), I told him that he really didn’t need to. He had been bestowed the black belt for a reason, and it should be his goal to push himself every session to that black belt limit, showing his true colors. In fact, some teachers might find it offensive if their students just “degrade” themselves like that, because it implies that the teacher had shown bad judgement when awarding the student his belt.

But he was having none of that.

Ted wore his brown belt for almost a month. And don’t tell me that’s not a refreshing point of view.

In fact, Ted perfectly embodies what that guy who called a couple of weeks ago (asking to wear his blue belt) totally failed to comprehend.

Your belt is not static.

It is dynamic.

And you’d better be prepared to back it up – irregardless of your age, ethnicity, gender or grade.

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

-Thomas Jefferson


  • Jan Brashear
    How does one return to training with humble dignity and respect to the art? And how do those currently training encourage others to return? I am realizing that it is very difficult for black belts to resume training after a gap, so this article hits home. Would appreciate suggestions from Karate by Jesse fans of how to encourage people my age (50+)to return to the dojo now that they do have more time and need the excercise, comradere, and life balance more than ever.
    • I am neither a black belt nor in my 50s (33-year-old orange belt), but I made return to the dojo two years ago. When I left I was an in-shape green belt, but 12 years and 80 pounds later, I had to start to over at white belt(also because of some changes in the syllabus). But there are many students in my class who 45+ that are in that situation you described. They differ in ability and rank, and for some it may take a good while before they reach shodan, or even become a good fighter...but then again, they're really not in it for that. In fact, I find that some students in that category tend to already motivate themselves. No matter how difficult it can get for them, or injuries they incur, they keep coming back for more. And that's what really matters, isn't it? We have one gentleman in his 50's who got his black belt in TKD, so his kicks extremely good for one his age. But even as a green belt in our system, the switch to karate is presents a challenge to him. He struggles with remembering the kata, but he's had to defend himself a couple of times, so he remembers what to do when he needs. As one who made the return myself, I would just tell them to remember that you're not in it to compete with nor compare yourself to anyone, because every martial arts has their own path that only they must walk. Also, remember the reasons that compelled you to return, for those are the things that will keep you going back.
    • Dennis Gervin
      Thank you for a good article. There is nothing new in differences the Real Reality vs our personal perceptions - of fx our abilities. I had my own puzzling experience coming back to practise shotokan karate after 4 years break due to injuries. There was no real guide lines, as I experienced it. Recently, I had a rather good experience with a brown belt old-timer coming back to practice after some 10 years awáy from karate. He was happy to wear white belt and start practice with our other beginners. Soon he re-learned most of the first levels of kyu kata and kihon. He showed good example in respect, humility and focused hard work. Great.
  • Batman
    I recently returned to ninjutsu after a couple of years off. I REALLY didn't want to wear my green belt but was told it was fine. I felt like such a fraud fumbling my way through rusty technique with a belt that suggested I at least had a rough idea of basic wrist locks and ukemi. It was embarassing. I'd never dream of calling up the teacher beforehand and insisting I wear it despite my time off, that would only lead to humiliation on my part. I'm embarassed on behalf of those people who don't strive to live up to their belt. I'm happy being a white belt in karate, because I'm too busy busting my ass to get good at it to worry about how foolish I look in my stretched-tight-across-my-considerable-gut-and-transparent-around-the-shins-from-all-the-sweating gi lol. Would much rather be a high standard white belt than a low standard black belt any day.
  • Shadowfax
    Great article, and I couldn't agree more. When we have a new/returning student we start them back at white belt. If they were previously dan rank we respect that and allow them to wear it, but they do not test in ourbstyle until they are ready to be confirmed in their dan rank. On another note, I recently had the pleasure of working out with Grandmaster Fusei Kise (10th dan Matsumura, 75 years old.) his kata has slowed down a bit, but watching him throw a 6'2" secret service agent like a rag doll was pretty spectacular. I also did koteatie with him and his bones are as tough as iron...
  • Ed
    I agree that people coming to a new style should never expect to keep their rank. This is a courtesy and an expectation that they should understand and appreciate. If Jesse's blue belt was returning to the same style/dojo I think that he should keep the belt regardless of how long he's been gone but he should understand that he doesn't progress until he can demonstrate ability. As for Jan's question, onegai shimasu, even the highest black belt will say this to a beginning white belt. Karate is about the friendship and training together with dignity and respect. Something has to be said for the courtesy of asking someone to train with you whether it is in the dojo or even in their backyard. For those dojo heads wanting to get people to come back - if you build the environment they are looking for, they will come! However, sometime people long for things of their yesterdays - you don't want nostalgic people training. Their memories are deceiving them.
  • I earned my college degree many years ago. Maybe half the stuff I learned to earn it, I have since forgotten. I have forgotten it because I don't use it--because I don't need it. But I think I'll keep my degree anyway. I'm certainly not going to convert it to a 40-hour certificate, in order to appear more honest or humble! If anyone asks, I am now and forever a graduate. Nobody can take that away from me.
  • Leo
    Now I also looked up karate+master and had a good laugh at their website! "Our unique method of instruction is unlike any other...ANYWHERE. Our system incorprates traditional Chinese and Japanese martial arts techniques, taught with today's high standards. This will ensure that you learn the most effective, well rounded, practical art of self-defense...EVER." Seriously: the bad thing is, that people actually believe this. And the even worse things is, that people tend to take it more serious than the "real thing".
  • Mohammade
    I have been thinking a lot about that college degree analogy recently and I don't think it's valid. A college degree is often transferring theoretical knowledge to the students - which is different from any craftsmanship, know-how or practical knowledge. Your belt is a consequence of an art mastery (or progress on the way towards mastery) and I think that's where the difference lies. Being Awarded a new belt (or putting your old belt) will not increase speed, strength or anything but it is by improving these things that you'll eventually get to your (old) new belt. Why did this man want to put his blue belt on? Is it because he thinks he can get back to a blue belt level in no-time (through hard work I mean) and don't want to go through the grading process again? If that was the case I guess I would be ok with that. Or is it because of a certain prestige he is after? I did karate when I was a kid and stopped when I was 17 at 2nd kyu. I am now 25 and started karate again around 6 months ago at white belt and have been walking my way up since then and I'm very happy with that.
    • balanvenu
      Howdy this subject is hugely interesting. Keep it going teammate
    • m
      ok, I`m a professional chef and was running my own successful highly acclaimed restaurant for years. It`s a hands on qualification.>Now it has ben about 8 years since ive been in a kitchen as I changed to be a photographer. However I`m not about to start my apprenticeship over again just because I havent been in a professional level for years. I can still whip up a storm and I am certain people of every skill level in Karate can still do more than a beginner given a few sessions
  • Pez
    I totally agree with Jesse. Having trained in Shotokan Karate for many years I then found Ju Jutsu starting over again with a beginners mind and a white belt. This training was a complete eye opener and informed my earlier years of kata practise, allowing me to relate many of the techniques of both styles and see the practical application in each style. During this time I also started boxing and again entered the gym with an open mind as a beginner gaining a facinating insight into impactive training and fitness. This eventually led me to traditional Okinawan Goju Ryu. Again back to white belt and starting all over again. Admittedly because of the similarities between Goju and Shotokan I was guilty at times of entering the dojo with preconcieved ideas and opinions. It is only when you let these ideas and opinions go and embrace the teaching with and open mind that you will really progress. Of course, a student's previous training will always influence his/her fighting style and if it works use it. The main consideration should be practise. This is where the student will truly be worthy of the belt they wear. Without individual practise and analysis of techniques used in the dojo the student's art will only ever be a hobby.
  • marcus-san
    Dear Jesse, and fellow readers. Thanks again for an interesting topic/posting! I've had some wonderings concerning gradings etc and perhaps they to some extent fit in into this current posting. My thoughts arose a couple of weeks ago after a 1½ months summer vacation/injury period. The incident started when entering the dojo, doing some stretch-and warming up, and a fellow karateka asked me whether I still had my old belts back home. Without hesitation I simply replied, "yeah" - sure I do. This question, however, lead to much more for me than just wondering where I have my old belts and what I should do with them. My first thougt was whether I had become so "rusty" that I perhaps should be thinking of degrading from my recently achieved (1½ moths ago!)blue belt back to my green? (-when yes, how would it be perceived in the dojo when karatekas switch back-and-forth between belts simply based on their current spiritual or physical mood?) Second question that disturbed my focus during the training was: had I actually earned the blue belt (Sempai responsible for evaluating my performance had had some (several!) comments regarding my grading performance), or was I granted the blue belt in order to remain satisfied and motivated to continue my training.... I personally believe I had earned the new belt-status, however, how can one be sure? I am sure it is very tricky for the Sensei and Sempai responsible for the gradings to evaluate when a performance is "good-enough", when to fail the karateka or when to actually award for a great progress and performance. Probably most karatekas never think about topics like mine, however, I never wanted to be mainstream and think the way others do. Ending my posting I would like to raise the humble question to all of you readers: when can I consider myself worth the specific kyu or dan? Will the "true" judgement take place after reaching my first black belt, or already after reaching my yellow or orange belt? In any case, I really enjoy training at my dojo and will continue doing my outmost to over achieve myself as well as the expectations of my dear Sensei and Sempai(s). Arigato! (do not know whether it fits in, but for the ones knowing even less japanese than me, it may appear cool:)
    • Marcus-san, First: Just like people tend to overestimate their abilities, they also tend to underestimate them. Maybe this applies to your situation. Second: Just because someone is a "sempai" doesn't necessarily mean he/she has superior technical skills or abilities. The term sempai is simply a label for seniority in the dojo hierarchy, and is often confused with superior skills and/or knowledge. This is not the case, since a sempai can be incompetent, for sure. There are different reasons for being/becoming a sempai, including "political", if you know what I mean... Nothing is ever black or white. Keep rockin'!
    • Brian
      I know this reply is well past a year of the original post, but I have a similar situation. I currently hold the rank of Godan in my school and I don't want it. I actually feel my skill set should be Nidan. I resent the position I was put in by my instructor. I feel embarrassed to tell others my rank if they ask. Why? Cause I've been in "part time" mode for a couple of years as I raise a family. This on top of the fact that I was more of less given the rank for reasons I don't know about. Don't get me wrong, I think my instructor brings the best out in me, but his motivation behind promoting me was off base. I want to just demote myself, but it's not easy without burning bridges. Ugh! I just want to start all over again sometimes.
      • I certainly understand where you're coming from, though I believe you are deserving of then rank you receive for one reason: humility. My sensei was promoted to Renshi (rokudan) this past April, though he almost never wanted to be called by that title. In truth, he didn't want the promotion either, as he talks more about his weaknesses than he does his strengths. I believe it is qualities such as those that are highly important for senior yudansha, and all karateka. Just last Saturday we had a belt test where six white belts were going their yellow. They all passed, though one still had a sad look on his face. I asked him what's wrong, and he was upset about how many mistakes he made, and he felt like he didn't even deserve the belt. I told him it's actually a good thing you feel that way, because that's what proves you do deserve it; you don't think too highly of yourself, and you wish to be better than you are right now. I told him instead using that self-reflection to beat yourself up, use it to push you towards where you want to go and who you want to be. I would say the same to you, sir. Self-examination and impartial self- assessementare perhaps the best things we have constantly going for us a martial artists. It keeps honest and motivated to do and be better. You may physically feel like you're not up to snuff, but that, as you know, is fixable. But I would say your heart is in the right place. OSU!!
        • Uzmaki
          totally agree with sean san lets build people not demolish
  • Tashi
    I completely agree with you Jesse, and I also I really admire the behavior of Ted: "Ted, good luck and good job!!
  • Tobias
    "(...) gladly doing a thousand shiko-dachi punches with you just for fun." - I knew there was something fishy at that seminar in Okinawa...I think I´ve been screwed...
  • Ken
    After a gap of 13 years I returned to Karate at the age of 55. I found the best way to build fitness was to join the kids class and eventually join the adults. I am now a sempai and do not regret starting again. Go slowly and work up to your previous belt level.
    • Jan
      Returning to the kids class is an excellent suggestion! That way internal dignity is preserved for those feeling embarrased they are out of shape, and more kids get individual help (or get to help the adult as is often the case - good for both parties!) Thanks!
  • Fraser
    Who really cares? When Mr Bluebelt puts his body in unpracticed positions and is too slow to get out the way he will soon shape up or ship out. Of course I have not noticed anyone giving free gradings so perhaps the people who charged him for his belt fostered his attitude. Do you blame the student or the guide? The belt system has become an end in it's self, most say the want to be a black belt rather than learn to do something. Why do blackbelts keep picking the black bits off and seem unable to read the washing instructions? You must join our association becuase of the insurance and start from the beginning it is cheapest I can charge nothing to do with the money I am going to make from you. Have a nice day as I guess it matters to someone
  • Igor
    One of our best karateka's loves wearing his black belt... When ever he is asked to go for his 3rd dan he is like: Eeeeh, whats the use? Or asked to compete: No use, someone is always stronger / faster then you are, Ill just train, perfect and learn new things as long as Im having fun and have cool people in the class, if that stops, Im changing arts... (and his kimono's are in karate longer then I am...)
  • Rob
    There's a similar article on 24FC, that has a slight counter argument. From memory I think it says that the belt does represent your ability on the day you graded not your ability today (the military reunion analogy was perfect!). If it didn't wouldn't we have to strip our high ranking and older karateka when they are no longer have the athletic abilities of their younger self? Just found the article! It also discusses the merit of everyone wearing a white belt or whatever belt they want! In our association I think the line is that people can wear whatever belt they want, but they will be taught at their actual level and for any future gradings they will need to know the appropriate sylabus. So if a green belt from another association turns up and wants to wear a green belt he's more than welcome, but if he doesn't know the green belt kata and pair work he'll be training with the yellow belts for those parts of the lesson. He also wouldn't be able to pass his next grading until he is up to speed. This seems like a good system as the student is happy he's not being 'demoted', it might just take a bit longer for the next grading. Although I have been told a story about a guy that turned up to train in a black gi with flames on it, who then told our chief instructor that we weren't doing 'real karate' when he couldn't do the techniques and never came back. Thanks for a great site, I really enjoy reading your articles
  • ar ga ge
    crap man, you just wrote a bunch of nonsense stuff up there, i could just read the first paragraphs cause i got bored of what you said, the belt thing, i do not know about you but if my belt costed me sweat, blood and a lot of more things, i would wear it even if i was 100 years old and i could not move a finger; and that does not mean that i would underestimate the younger generations or the ones that had a lower degree, it means that i am proud of what ive done and that i am not trowing to the garbage my past efforts, it is like a father, if he is your father, HE IS YOUR FATHER, and even if he dies or he leaves your mother etc... he will always be your father, that is the same thing with the belt, it has some deep meanings, but if you dont have enough IQ you will never understand it, it is not the matter of the belt itself, the belt is in you, so if you are a black belt that is what you are, and there is no reason to be ashamed of.
    • Sorry for the nonsense, hard to make everybody happy :) A question: If the "black belt is inside" (as you write) why do you feel so compelled to wear it on the outside? Do you wear it for you, or for someone else? And if you don't remember the stuff you're supposed to for your belt, then how can the belt system even work? Isn'nt it based on the fact that we are supposed to have certain skills at certain levels ("belts")? So that equal belts can safely train with each other? Just some thoughts your comment spurred! Thanks! :)
      • Szilard
        The belt system does not really work. Just think of a black belt seminar. Everyone wears the same type of belt: black. Some older senseis keep getting new black belt every few years, so sometimes the most worn belt does not even signify seniority. During training often not the higher dan level leads a given part of the training but someone who can do it the best. Every sensei knows his students, I don't think anyone goes by belt level in pairing up opponents or workout partners or giving out responsibilities in the dojo. Very often the belt color does not reflect at all what a person can do for you. (and what he is willing to do) Give me an example of the belt system working. Maybe I just don't understand what you are saying here.
        • Fraser
          I have trained with various balckbelts in various styles, without wishing to offend, the worst being a blackbelt who was so clumsy that it was difficult to train with him without risk of injuring him. I believe if he was in another club he would be at risk of a junior grade injuring him to prove a point. Others would pretend they had injury rather than face me. Many may just accuse me of lack of control but I have never damaged anyone in a dojo. Just trying show another side of the coin and that I am disappointed that a blackbelt has become worthless at least to me. Of course if you turn in a white belt tell them you have trained before they don't believe you they seem equally displeased. There no pleasing some people. Perhaps you can tell a blackbelt by his depleated bank balance.
        • Bengt
          I would say that the belt system works if it is respected and implemented as i think it was meant to. I would say that a similar system (not with belts though) is the handicap system of golf. There you constantly up and downgrade depending on your current skill. Just because you sometime where a "scratch" player does not mean that you always will no matter how much blood sweat and tears you did put in to it to get down to zero in handicap. I would say it is the same with Karate. Be proud of the level you currently are at and don't be ashamed of what you no longer are.
  • marcus-san
    A darn interesting discussion I think! I guess questions always arise when talking about grading something/someone that can be perceived differently depending on who's evaluating the performance. However, a couple of comments from my side: First of all, I believe that once somone has reached the dan-level, he should REALLY be good i.e competent, own both the "hard" skills as well as the "humble" menthality. Thus meaning that these skills should not dissappear even though having a "pause" in practise. However, I believe people learning karate or any other martial arts can be divided into 2 different main-categories: 1. Hit'n'kickers", those who go to trainings, camps, gradings etc and learn how to master some hit'n'kick techniques in order to be able to defend oneself as well as gaining a good physical shape 2. "The Jedi":), the true "believers" who see the karate or equivalent as a way of living, despite perhaps having the time and opportunity to own their complete lives to martial arts studies and meditation. The first "hit'kick" karatekas, will perhaps gain good techniques, be succesfull in competitions, and may even achieve black belts (unfortunatelly I believe they too often do), however, this is the category who own their grade simply based on their "hard" skills. The second category, "the true believers" differ from the first in following ways: - they learn things by understanding i.e first understand what and why. This group will hold/master their skills forever (perhaps becoming a bit rusty, but that can easily be polished away!) - they think, ask questions, search, - and by doing so, they grow as an individuals. They learn how to master their own mindset and energy- CHI! - their grade is based on soft as well as hard skills, topped with the humbleness and manner which should be a part of the rules of behaviour. Having experienced it from my late sensei a long long time ago, I will never forget how he was able to demonstrate what true power really was/is. Why I also say is, is because I believe that once you have reached "this level" of mental performance, where you actually understand and can control our body, you will never loose it. This is something that unfortunatelly (or perhaps fortunatelly!? only a fraction of the todays karatekas will learn how to master, or even are interested in! So,to conclude: I believe people own their grades based on different values and reasons. Neither is wrong or right, however, I find it un-rewarding sparring with fellow karatekas who may have much higher belt grades but do not seem to be able to perform even close to my own level....
  • Fraser
    I have been conducting a survey For your Blackbelt how many people did you spar/fight? Answers ranged between 0 and 40. For you Blackbelt how katas did you learn/perform? Answers ranged from 0 to 15. With kind of variation it hard to tell much about the person wearing a blackbelt. Funakoshi said " you can tell a man who studies karate in every step he takes" Sting added to this with "every breath you take, every move you make" He may have been singing about something else.. This is what happens when you listen to music and read..
    • Szilard
      Do you mean "on the test" or how many people I had to fight, and kata I had to learn before my sensei let me test?
      • Fraser
        I mean whilst they where taking the test for a Blackbelt.
    • Byron
      Sorry - What?
  • Jake
    "I am disappointed that a blackbelt has become worthless at least to me." My, my...that's a bit self centered. (unless this is the sensei you are paying) If people can't tell by observing that you have trained before, then you probably shouldn't verbalize it. That may be the reason for the look of displeasure from Black Belts. If you are good, they would be insulted that you felt the need to tell them. And if you are bad, they would be annoyed that you are talking about training they aren't seeing evidence of. So I do agree, there is no pleasing some people! But keeping ones mouth closed when sparring is generally good advice when sparring a higher ranking belt of any ability. (and it keeps you from biting your tounge accidentally)
    • Fraser
      Hi Jake thanks for replying, I can assure you I keep my mouth firmly shut out of politeness. They are not taking your advice as they are the lower rank. They seemed to have obtained their blackbelts without sparring for example. Belts can be of any ability that is the point. When I add up the money you have to hand over that is what makes it worthless. Happy to pay for training not for belts. I sorry if I have misunderstood what you are tryting to say.
      • Jake
        Ah, I was I that did not understand your perspective on the previous post. It is interesting the range of experience for black belt, and how different it can be between styles and individual dojo's. I think once you have acheived one with the traditional blood, sweat and tears, a person realizes this even more! But now I think I know the "black belts" you mean.... P.S. I tears in karate...but it seemed to fit. And sometimes when I miss blocking a headshot...
      • Szilard
        I have trained with black belts who got their rank without sparring. They were from a version of Shotokan that apparently disproves any actual sparring. They had bunkai, and practiced it diligently. My immediate trainer was 2 years long a guy like this. He had 2nd dan. I just loved the ways he corrected my kata. He had such a deep insight, like nobody else I know. That 2 years of training was worth at least 10 with the trainer I have right now. Did he deserve his 2nd dan? I would say yes. The definition of dan levels for me is their functionality: on what level can you teach and at what level can you test. It doesn't do anytihing with your actual performance. Of course when you teach something you should be able to show what you meant. But then again in junior high my wrestling teacher was seriously disabled, he couldn't even do a bridge because of his back problems. Still he coached one of us into national finalist. So I would say your personal skills might not be that terribly important, especially on higher dan levels. The oldest sensei I know can not walk any more without a cane, can not execute a punch not to mention a kick. He is mentally OK, he can correct kata, kumite, bunkai, but he can not show what he meant in case there is some confusion. He does not come to train any more but still he attends all events in the area and is happy to answer any question. I wonder if Jesse San would question his black belt. I think he has the right to wear his blackbelt, even if there is no measurable dan level connected to it any more.
  • Just on a slight side note, you will probably find interesting that there is a teacher (in France I've been lead to believe) who uses the idea that when you start you get your black straight away. And that there are coloured tags on the end and as you learn etc you remove the colours. Which worked brilliantly from a psuedo perspective because people felt like black belts and it was purely physcological. Not that I in any way support the idea but the whole concept of belts and grades is flawed because there is no one universal standard, anyone can be a black belt, just go an buy one from a sports shop. Makes me sad but hey ho can't change anything. Anyways thought you may find this interesting.
  • Szilard
    I have googled for the same pictures. The soke dude is Geoffrey Spohn. He looks like a decent guy. He doesn't even have a 10th dan in anything. He actually has a 1st dan in WTF Tae Kwon Do (WTF?), 2nd dan Aikido, 4th dan Okinawan Goju Ryu, which is absolutely beliveable. Then he has 7th dan in American Karate, which is I guess the same level as his 1st dan in WTF Tae Kwon Do, so that is still believable. He is an OK dude, who just had the idea to start his own system. It seems he had a lot of fun with it too.
  • herrle 58
    A lot of different opinions about belts, i see.... so i feel free to add mine. Once you`ve earned a certain belt or wathever grading in YOUR system, it is your honor an duty to wear it for two reasons: first it reminds you to always keep the level of skill it symbolizes and strive further to be a worthy example for the lower grades....leads to second because every student is able to see what is expected at the next level. If somebody from another style is allowed to join class he/she himself should be humble enough to wear the lowest rank-sign or none at all...if not, i dont need a belt to judge a students skill! Do YOU??? If a student from the same school comes back to class after a longer gap he should wear his/her former rank-sign, for its his duty to close up to the level as fast as possible! However both types train with the group of his/her skill. At least until i know how safe it is to try cross-level-exercise. If the student stays, the first grading has to reflect his ability. Even in different schools of the same style chances are good to find a green belt that equals a black of the other school. So i dont care about the ranking-system thaaat much. To Jan Brashear: just find yourself a good school/dojo and START, as you know: even the longest journey begins with the first step. I hope you already did, i know i`m little late, sorry just read the post today.
    • Jan
      When I posted in August, I was speaking of bringing other blackbelts back...but as fate would have it, I was injured in September. So now I am the one coming back and seeing the other side of the coin personally. It's tough! But since I belong to the best dojo ever, it's possible. :) Now I hope to use my experience to help others.
      • herrle 58
        Oohps, my english seems to be not really good, sorry. (i come from bavaria) Really thought you were talking about yourself, good to hear you`ve recovered and love your dojo so much, that you didnt hesitate.
  • marziotta
    Only a yellow belt here. For me the belts are a way to know how to behave. If a yellow belt mate hurts me a bit, I don't mind, they have problems as I do controlling their power, or their skills. I expect somebody with a brown belt to be stronger but able to control his power. What if that person didn't train for 10 years? The result is usually pain. If the person would have worn a yellow belt, they wouldn't have needed to overdo to show they can still fight, so they could have controlled the few energy used. But this is my idea of the belt system. The higher the belt, the bigger the needed balance. I dare with higher belt mates, I behave more and more with the others, because I know they probably cannot counter if I make a mistake. I wonder what will happen when life will force me to take a long break. We'll see.
  • Patrick G
    I had a "break" from training for about 5yrs. Though my attendance card says I did 60 lessons in that 5 yrs which averages to 1 lesson a month. In truth, it was more like a bunch of lessons for a number of weeks and then nothing until the next year. I wouldn't have cared if my Sensei told me not to wear my black belt. The reality is though, if you have trained hard to get to a certain level, it takes less effort to get back to that level because you have already learnt it once before. Especially if you have kept yourself fit and active otherwise. I had, which meant it was only a matter of weeks to get my Kihon to the level of the rest of the class (mostly 1st Dans and brown belts). But guess what? When I train at home, I don't wear a belt of any colour.
  • Jay Killeen
    Thanks for that awesome and entertaining post! First one I have read on your site and will definitely be back for more. In our dojo it is quite common for anyone that comes back from an extended break to revert straight back to white belt. Once our instructors feel they are worthy to reclaim their rank then we put them through an internal grading to ensure they can still perform under the pressure usually imposed during grading environments. This is just one method for encouraging them to return but what you say is very true and at the same time discouraging to those that think they want to come back. But hey, it stops people dead in their tracks from thinking that the day after the successfully graded to Shodan they can all of a sudden stop coming to training.
  • Kjetil K D
    Thanks for awesome site Jesse! Can't stop reading, and its affecting my worktime :S But over to the article here. I just returned to Shorin Ryu Karate after 14 years break ( 30 year old now ). Been training some TKD (yellow belt), Kobudo and AikiJutsu after Shorin Ryu Karte. Nothing big, just here and there. This was also 9 years ago. ( totaly of 9 years with no martial arts training) My son started in the local club (7 year old), and he wanted me to start again with him. And I thought hell YES!! I missed it, and wasnt possible for me to train until now. ( many reasons, single dad, etc etc. happily married now btw ;) ) So I asked the sensei if I could join the adults. ( currently only 5 ppl training) No problem you can join, and train for free out this semester,he told me. ( 3 months free :) ) I also told him I had orange belt from other local Shorin Ryu school( he knows the school and their senseis), but 14 years since ive trained Shorin Ryu. He said ok ok cool. Come train next week. I went just wearing my TKD pants (my 14 year old karate gi doesnt fit lol) and a T-shirt, since I didnt feel I was ready to take on my orange belt yet. I then trained 1 month with the oter adults. Very nice ppl, 2 of them in blue belts 1 in yellow and 1 white started a few months b4 me. I just wore my pants and tshirt, until after 1 month, I gained back my katas and techniques. I then asked my sensei if it was ok to put on my orange belt. And he said, of course you can, and was supprised i hadnt done it earlier, since he had been paying closely attention to my skills, and I had progressed fast up to my "belt-skill". So back to your article, I felt I could not wear my orange when i started, but when I myself felt like now im back! I asked my sensei, and he replied. If he had said no , do a grading then we will see, would be ok to. But knowing ur own skill vs ur belt is very important in my mind. And the test for green I pushed forward to 8 months, instead of asking for grading in 1 month from now. Since I myself know I need alot more training to be ready for green, then I know now. Now me and my son train with each other at home outside of normal practice times, and its like im in love with karate all over again. Thanks for the site again Jesse, I must get back to reading ur articels now :) And train :)
  • Whitey Mc.StinkStink
    A belt is nothing more than a piece of clothing. Throw your belt to the side and tell it to "Kick!"... see what happens. The grading system that was brought on by the Japanese has created a bunch of retards with huge egos in the western world unfortunately. Leave ranks to the military where it actually has somewhat of a purpose.
  • Gerry
    My situation is a bit different. I reached the level of 3kyu in Shotokan way back in 1981 when I was 20, then stopped formal training. Two years ago (January 2010) I decided to relearn the "kata of my youth" since there were many excellent examples on Youtube, and fell in love all over again with karate. In my case though I have no desire to join a dojo, but instead simply to self train in kata, some kihon and bag training. If I did decide to return to a dojo I certainly wouldn't expect to wear by old brown belt, but would gladly wear a white belt and enjoy the process all over again. Since I have stayed in good shape over the years, and have prior experience, I would expect my progress to be steady and my former rank achievable and passable. While my method may not be for everyone it works for me. I train typically an hour and 15 minutes every day of the week with occasional days off as I feel are needed. I keep my training interesting and systematic so I don't get bored and do progress in my knowledge. If you like feel free to look me up on Youtube search for "ShotokanGerry".
  • Uzmaki
    I failed to understand if a say member of group was to leave for a lenghtened period of time say those 12years and 80pounds but come back to that same style that person shouldn't be allowed to wear his hard earned belt? I'd imagine he would have to train himself back to that level or as close to it has he once was no matter the time required but wouldn't it be a bit insulting for a high level practionner to be mistaken for a white belt especially if the style practised he's the original one... wouldn't it be ludacris to throw away all pass achievements n pretend he's mind was blank as sheet mind you he might take time before he can do those axe kicks, high kicks and such but not because his body is a bit lacking his spirit is not... weren't you the one to say that karate is more than punching and kicking... well must have been my sensei talking about how people my love karate but sometimes life keeps it away from them for different reason it does not means we should takeaway their identity, but rather help them recover it
    • Well, the sad thing is that some people actually refer to their belts as an "identity".
      • Kjetil K D
        You are what you have done and experienced. Or is this completly wrong ? Yes you might not be flecsible and powerfull if you stop. But the techniques should still lie in yourself. Just my 2 cents. So if you acheived black belt when 20 year old, and stop training. When you then are 65 year old and your grandchildren asks if you know anything special. I would say to my grandkids, I got the black belt in X-Sport. But I understand what the discussion is about. But if you stop training, and get back into it, you will go fast since you still know the techniques, for me a kick is like how to ride a bike. It just sits in my muscle memory or what not..
    • Hey, saw your post, I'm that 12 yrs/ 80 pounds guy that you mentioned. I see what you mean, though there were extenuating circumstances: 1) I showed my face for one class a year prior, and they would've let me continue at green belt (my last rank before I left), but I disappeared again, wasn't ready yet. When I came back for good, Sensei wanted to make sure I was serious this time, so I started back at white. 2) Secondly, Sensei had joined with a bigger organization (namely Dai Nippon Butokukai) and, though he kept some of our old ippon kumite drills, pressure points and combinations, we changed the kata and ranking systems. 3) There were others in the class who had and had been learning the DNBK systems for years, so he didn't want to show favortism to me just because we go way back. Those were the main reasons, but #1 was the real reason: I had to prove myself. And it was cool with me, I had forgotten virtually all of the kata I had learned. Basics, pressure points and ippon kumite were the same, as was the first kihon kata. Past that, I was learning from scratch. In the end it all worked out, I just had my brown belt (3rd kyu) test last weekend. I'm glad I started over, it gave me a deeper appreciation for karate, and now I'm bigger Karate Nerd than ever, LOL. And as far as the belt, my classmates saw me as leader after about a year into coming back, and Sensei has asked me last winter to register with the city recreation department so I could be an official backup to lead class when the black belts are out. So whatever rank I may have lost in the beginning, I earned much more respect in the end. So it turned out to be a very great blessing for me.
  • anhieeeeeee
    A great article, and I think you nailed everything important. Well, at least it's something I can agree with. Hrm, but it really is quite worrisome that people think of it as progression for the sake of belts, rather than for the sake of skill... I suppose they're learning for different reasons...?
  • I agree, with much that you have posted. I had once earned my black belt. I quit karate six years ago and have not practiced since. If I were to return, I would be very much ashamed to return again wearing my old belt.
  • kairu
    Hello every one I am a nidan, or at least was, in Shotokan Karate. I am curently trauting around Japan wearing a white belt and training with seidokai, daidojuku, judo, Aikido and whatever dojo will let me stop by. I will admit the first time I was asked to tie a white belt around my waist, at a kyokushin club in Vancouver, I felt a little uneasy. I felt strong enough and skilled enough to go toe to toe with the Black belts. I thought why shouldn’t I also hold my black belt, but I soon relaxed. I began to realize what was more important than the badges I wore to tell people of my skill was the actual perception of my skill by others and my own personal progression. The sensei at the Kyuokushin club watched me closely and as he judged my capabilities he allowed me to train in higher Kata etc not that Kata is much of a big deal in most kyokushin clubs. The long and short of my story is one that i have passed on to my friends and students. A black belt costs 30-50 dollars at any store. Anyone can by one there are no special licenses needed. What matters is how much you sweat and that every day you learn something new. So try not to over think it and just enjoy training. If you feel like you are pushing yourself and learning new and exciting things even if it is just how to put a little more punch in your punch then you are moving in the right direction. Believe me it will feel better to have sensei tell you good job and be surprised at your ability in relation to the white belt than it will to have ever one snicker about how foolish you look with that black belt, beer belly and ten gold stripes. Ok one more thing. I think Jesse it is not only important for students to reframe how much importance they place on a belt but also the instructors. The goal should be to encourage students to progress regardless of their level. So when someone walks into a club hoping to wear an old belt perhaps the attitude should not be so much based on "can you prove your deserve that belt to me" but rather no matter the belt rank the question should be how can you aid this student in their journey through the martial arts.
    • Jan
      "no matter the belt rank the question should be how can you aid this student in their journey through the martial arts" Well said!!
  • Benjamin
    Before I began with my current organization I moved a lot and always had to start as a white belt when changing schools/styles. The instructor would then test me and promote me to what he felt was the appropriate rank. At first I hated it but then realized that it was the only way I could truly be integrated into my new style. My 2nd gup in Tae Kwon Do was not going to help me in Tang Soo Do. Had I tried to wear that belt right away I would have looked like a fool and not earned any respect from peers and lower ranks while advancing which is as important for an instructor as the belt itself.
  • Fabio
    I think that a karateka who did not train for years should restart from white belt, in order to avoid people from expecting more than he can show. But I disagree that someone who is currently training should downgrade himself just because he felt short of his skills for some reason. If that was a valid point of view, old masters unable to train due to age would not be recognized for what they were and what they did. MY CASE... I trained karate in my teens and reached an orange belt (as far as I rememebrer, it was white, yellow, orange...). I never went very far because I was always getting into arguments with the sensei and I deeply disliked katas (I focused my training mainly into strenghtening punches and kicks). Up to today, I can throw some really heavy punches. I kick poorly, because years of not training rendered me flexibility-less, and unable to kick an adult person above the hip. The main reason I did not have a good relationship with my sensei was that he expected to be treated with some reverence. I wanted do learn to fight, I paid de dojo and looked at the sensei like I always looked at my teachers in college: a person who should teach what I paid to learn, not elaborate philosophy. Anyway... I never saw any practical reason for katas. I wanted to learn how to block, evade blows, train my reflexes, and perfect my bone-breaking skills. Nowadays, I have that orange belt somewhere in my house. There´s a piece of paper that says that I reached that rank. Even if I am unable to perform even 20% of what I did 15 years ago, I have the rank. If your theory was to be considered true, we would look at old Muhammad Ali as if he was just and old african-american guy... but he was the champion of the world! It can never be taken from him! the past does not get erased as if it never existed. OF COURSE... I am a long-untrained orange belt now. When I resume training (which I intend to do soon), I will buy myself a white belt to restart from the beginning (my old gi still fits me well). But if I decided to NEVER walk into a karate dojo again, I would stay in that condition: of a "retired" orange belted karateka. The only reason I will wear a white belt again is because I want to really learn the thing for real this time. But I understand that, if I WANTED to restart from where I stopped, I would have that right. And no man in this world would be able to prevent me from doing so.
  • Juan Alfred Rodriguez
    Very apt post, especially now that Im one of those "has been"s... But let me tell you my story... I started Shotokan Karate when I was 16 (yes, very late) when I was in the Philippines. The year was 1992. Eight years later, I was promoted to 3-Dan in Goju-Ryu in Kumamoto (Japan) in 2000 (never had any intention of taking the Grading, until my Sensei told me to try for it)... Which after I moved to Tokyo, continuing Karate for a few more years. As other priorities took over (mostly work), I had to take a 3-year hiatus from Karate. When I came back to the dojo, feeling that my skill wasnt up to par, I took it upon myself to wear a WHITE BELT and position myself at the end of the line. Bad mistake! The Shihan reprimanded me for that - he basically said that if I feel my skill wasnt up to par, that I should put twice, ten times or hundred times the effort to become worthy of my rank! Ouch! Basically, what you wrote in your post. All I could do was to apologize to the Shihan and made a presumptuous mistake.
    • Juan Alfred Rodriguez
      Past forward to the present - I move to the United States, and havent been doing Karate for TEN-years! And now, with a more relaxed lifestyle (kids are in Primary School, living in the rural areas, etc.) - would really like to get back! Of course, I wouldnt expect anyone to take me in as a Black Belt, much less, a 3-Dan...! Maybe so, if it were a JKF Goju-Kai-affiliated dojo (quite 20- to 30-miles out), but that is besides the point - I am willing to become a WHITE BELT again! Once I enter the dojo, I wont even say my rank. If they ask me if I have any experience, "I'll just reply '... a little...'" Let the Sensei of that dojo judge for himself what I am worthy of... And yes - since I was out for a decade, I definitely need to get back in shape. Started self-training about 6-wks back, and have managed to improved my flexibility for Jodan kicks, remembering ALL kata that Ive learned (both from Shotokan and Goju-Ryu), starting to develop proper breathing, precision and focus in techniques. Albeit, endurance is still shot that I cant perform a Black Belt-level kata at full power in one go.... For me, now, late 30s. Rank doesnt hold much meaning - as Mr Miyagi (The Karate Kid) once said, " ... belt mean no need rope to hold up pants...." Looking forward to again growing in the martial arts...
      • DynamicFisticuffs
        Saying "Just a little" is what I've always done whenever going to a new gym/dojo/whatever and being asked if I had done martial arts before. XD I then do my best and let things happen how they happen. I was taught early on not to brag about one's belt level or to wear it outside in order to "show off," and this is part of a reason for that.
    • And that's really the catch, isn't it? This sensei will rebuke you if you humble yourself and show up with a lesser belt than what he bestowed upon you. That sensei will rebuke you if you show up with the highest belt you ever attained instead of humbling yourself and starting over from the beginning. And yet another sensei will become offended if you even *ask* what belt you should wear. Makes me appreciate kendo (my first martial art) where you are either dan or not, and you don't wear a belt to signify, lol.
  • Jeff
    I think the mentality is the main issue here. If you have a break in your training and are willing to put a white belt back on and the Sensei tells you to wear your rank that you earned at one point but to come to beginner classes until you catch back up I think that's ok. The key is being willing to start over if necessary as opposed to assuming you will start where you left off even though you don't remember any of it.
  • If someone paid 500$ to get his fancy black belt diploma from Japan and returns after 10 years to the same Karate style of the same federation are you going to downgrade him? Maybe he should get his money back then!
  • I forgot to add that this is the EXACT reason why I sent my children to WTF Kwon, their black belts will be recognized everywhere since there is ONE federation. I hated it when I had to change town and at the new dojo they told me I had to start all over again. And to think that in my old system-federation I made it to the national team (kumite and kata)! You know what I did??? I switched to Hapkido, they respected my efforts and allowed me to wear my black belt with a white ribbon on it. This attitude "I don't recognize your belt" from another system to another in my humble opinion puts us behind the Koreans, they are more flexible than the Japanese. No wonder WTF made it to the Olympics, Karate unfortunately never will (too many systems not respecting each other).
    • Jeff
      skoupro is the very definition of what this topic is referring to. You are more concerned with what color belt you and your kids are wearing than what you know. I personally would prefer to have everyone in the dojo wear white belts indefinitely and have no such thing as colored kyu ranks and "black belt clubs" and all that other garbage. The problem is the "level up" video game mentality - you would rather keep dropping money on TKD to make sure you keep getting new pretty belts and don't even have the slightest clue that all that olympic "kumite" garbage will only get your butt kicked if you tried it in a bar fight. I hope Karate NEVER gets into the Olympics because I have seen how horrible TKD is these days, and it's rather sad.
  • Taekwondo is fine for little children since they don’t need “kicking asses” in bars. Later if they want they can practice something more violent. I hate to admit it but Hapkido made my black belt look grey. It’s much more lethal than karate. I spar better than most of those guys, my technique is much better due to kata exersice but my karateka knowledge when it comes to locking the opponent goes down to zero. As for the money part let’s face it. Maybe one of my kids wants to work as an instructor in the future. Having a WTF certified Dan can possibly give you a job anywhere in the world. With karate it’s much more complicated. Too many different styles and federations. There is even chance that you won’t get your Dan recognized in the same style between different federations! Is it bad that I want my money placed safely?
    • Lord Fakinaway
      One of the issues everyone should be aware about is that people practice martial arts for many different reasons, and look to gain different things out of them. For culture, for fitness, for realistic combat, for a sense of achievement, because the mechanics behind techniques are interesting... If skoupro sends his children to WTF tkd for the sense of achievement that come with leveling up, there's still nothing wrong with that. If skoupro sends his children to WTF tkd as an investment for a possible part-time job in the future, there's nothing wrong with that either. I personally train martial arts not because I like leveling up, but nor am I interested in realistic combat. (i.e. actual combat involves many variables, especially adrenaline that practising in my dojo wouldn't help with) I practice because the mechanics are interesting, and I won't accept that there's anything wrong with that either. On a side note though, skoupro, your knowledge of martial arts seems a bit too shallow. "I hate to admit it but Hapkido made my black belt look grey. It’s much more lethal than karate." If this is true, it's not "hapkido"?????, but rather the dojang that you train at. For your information, hapkido is just aikido????? "stolen" by Koreans, with taekwondo kicks added in for a Korean flavour. i.e. at it's roots, it shares most of its grappling techniques with aikido?????, which we all know is absolute crap nowadays, and tracing further back has a common ancestor in aikijujutsu?????? with jujutsu???? and judo???? as well. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that martial arts is unregulated and anyone can open up a dojo whereever he wants, and so because of that your impression of karate is probably rather skewed. In a sense, "proper karate" (undiluted with intent to kill in techniques) should actually be more lethal than hapkido, simply because its techniques either won't work, or will destroy the body. Unlike grappling, you can't force someone to submit using striking techniques.
      • Lord Fakinaway
        Oh, sorry about the question marks. It seems the comment system doesn't register kanji very well...
  • I would agree with Jesse 100% that the ranking system is dynamic and not static, IF the belts were given for free. From the moment you have to spend top dollar to get a black belt it becomes your property. If am obliged to pay money and might lose it in the future for various "historical" reasons, then in terms of finance it's a bad investment. As for my Karate being shallow, maybe it is. I don't claim to be a grand master. I never lost on a street combat though, and I sure had many in my youth (I am not proud of it, and I don't want my children fighting on the street), I made it to the Greek national team in the 90's when my federation used to control 130 Dojos in a 10 million country(!) Hapkido is maybe bullshit for some, but my whole body hurts from full contact sparring, it sure doesn't look Mc Dojo to me (you have to practice at least 6 years to get a black belt).
    • DynamicFisticuffs
      I think the belt testing fee is a good point about this. While I personally agree with Jesse and will make a comment with my own view/story further down, I just think that "I paid for this belt, it should be mine and I should be able to wear it"' isn't a bad opinion to have. I DO think that one should have the same mindset as "Now my skills may not be up to snuff as this belt signifies to others, and I need to be honest with myself and to them, and work hard in order to get back to that level and beyond as soon as possible!" And skoupro mentioned that they wore a white ribbon and trained at the lower level classes until their teacher recognized their abilities. And that's fine. I luckily have not had to pay for my belt testing at my dojo at all. The fact that there are fees at all, Upsets me a lot actually <<
  • I´ve always had the idea, that when visiting an another Dojo (Other martial arts than Karate etc.), I take on my white belt instead of the shiny black belt. In this way, I can only show off more than people expect, and to make respect for thier Dojo, and thier rules :-)
    • DynamicFisticuffs
      I've read before that this is actual common courtesy to do in Japan. I don't know from Karate style to style actually, but I know if a karateka were to go to a judo dojo, it would be customary to wear a white belt and to help represent shoshin (The beginner's mind). Not like I'm an expert or anything. I actually read this in a manga. XD Maybe someone with more knowledge and experience could elaborate further?
      • Michael Nissen
        That´s quite funny. Ijust read an article KarateByJesse wrote, which happens to be exactly about this subject. It is called "Enter The Dragon". Try seach it in here :-)
  • KarateMama
    After over a quarter century (LOL) of not training there is no WAY I am anything but a white belt. My technique is sloppy, my stances weak and shallow, etc. Only one of my fellow students even knows I've trained before, and that's because she's my daughter (who outranks me and can make me do ten push-ups, LOL).
    • Jan
      Congrats KarateMama - sounds like you have a good little sensei there keeping you working! lol
  • Kjetil
    If you have climbed a mountain. You have climbed a mountain. Can you climb again? Yes some can some cant. But to know you have once been at that top is a big complishment. And you will carry that experience for the rest of your life. Its very complicated all this belt dyna vs static. I c my martial arts as mountains to climb, and climbed. To live is to experience, and you cannot loose exp ;-) yes old = slow but also wise..
  • Tom
    Wow! I use to have that guys same mentality till I just read your article. Now looking at myself I am notworthy yet to wear my black belt, I cannot do as of current what I useto , but with retraining I can be good again. Thank you, you have opened my eyes. I am going back to training.
  • Alfred in Los Angeles
    As I had shared to Jesse a few months back... I was a 3rd-Dan in Karate (did both Shotokan and Goju-Ryu), but haven't done any for about 12-years (mostly due to other "priorities"). So, I moved to LA several months back and found a local dojo having traditional Japanese Karate. I wrote an email about joining, never did mention anything that I had any prior experience. On the day I was invited to try out, I came in my gym clothes (jogging pants, sweat shirt, etc.), and lined up at the end of the line. We proceeded to do Kihon, and the Sensei mentioned that I had good basics, and asked me if I had prior experience. All I replied with was "... Yes... But haven't done Karate in more than a decade..." The next day was Kata - in which the Sensei had everyone do them, having them opt out only when they either haven't been taught a particular form. I managed to "survive" until the Black Belt Katas... I actually wanted to opt out after Heian Shodan; but the Sensei just mentioned "... I don't consider you a White Belt..." Hahaha! Unfortunately, on the third day (Kumite), I pulled my hamstrings, and was told by my doctor to take a MONTH OFF from any strenous physical activity. The Sensei just smiled and reminded me "... we are not young anymore..." Hahaha! Several weeks later I feel that I'm ready to come back and told the Sensei. He then invited me to the "Keiko Hajime." On the day, I again came in wearing my gym clothes. Sensei looked at me, "Where is your dogi?" Luckily, I had it in my car, so, I went out and came back, and with a WHITE belt! Sensei again looked at me, incredulous, and just went "... Wear your BLACK belt!" Hahaha! Seriously, I felt really stupid going back and forth. Would it have been better I was up front honest with him saying I had prior experience and _had_ a Dan rank?
  • Mike
    I know I am tacking this on to an old article and older thread, but I am hoping someone will read this and can give me a little guidance related to the article. I achieved a purple belt in Jinenkan about 3 years ago and then moved away from my dojo. I recently decided to start training again, but there are very few Jinenkan dojos in the US, and none near me. As a result, I am considering Shotokan as there is a dojo nearby and I liked what I saw when observing a class. Clearly, I will start out as a white belt - I have no experience in Shotokan and would never assume to use my old ranking - but my question is: is it improper to use one's old white belt when starting a new martial art? Should I purchase a new one as I am starting out on a new journey? Or should I consider it a continuation of my existing experience and use my old belt to reflect that?
  • Jan
    I don't know the technically correct answer here, but I'm thinking it's a personal choice. If the sybolism of a fresh belt speaks to you, I'd get one. But I don't think it's improper to wear the old one, and like your thoughts of continuing the journey. Maybe a mark on the inside meaningful to you? Date of the first time, and date of the second? If you made it to purple, your gi is a few years old.... A new gi comes with a white belt usually so that might solve the issue and give you a backup gi/fresh white one for tournaments. I love having two! I hear Jesse has a good one :)
  • This is a (former?) karate black belt (once nation wide champion in his youth)fighting a 4 DAN TKD & Hapkido instructor. If he attented to a new karate school, should get a white belt for not knowing the katas???
    • mimizu
      Yes? What part of this article did you not understand?
  • scott marlow
    You forgot the part about rank really only mattering at your particular club or school. If you, Jesse, came to my dojo, you would start off as a white belt just like everyone else. I wouldn't care if you if were a 2nd Dan at Joe's Karate shack.
  • JR
    The way it should be... At my old school, everyone who came from another school wore a white belt for 3 months (of continuous training). They were then tested and ranked appropriately. They could be accelerated by the next test (ie skip a belt) if the skills were appropriate. Again, that's people who've been involved in other styles and have demonstrated a solid knowledge of all expectations. Then their are people like a guy who came to our dojo with a 2nd Dan in jiu jiutsu and zero karate experience and believed he should be able to wear his jiu jiutsu belt. If you're somewhat of a "guest" looking to exchange knowledge (he works out there for a few months and the sensei works out in his dojo for a few months while collaborating with each other) that's different. Some people need a belt color to define them. Quite sad actually. It reminds me of my brown belt test. At the end, my sensei had a student perform what the student thought was his best kata. We then critiqued him. Then he had him take off his belt and put on our sensei's 5th Dan belt, and perform the same kata again. He then asked "any real difference in his performance?" Belt color/rank doesn't make you better; you define the rank, good or bad.
  • Byron
    The whole colored belt system was originally designed to encourage a continued sense of accomplishment (to feed the ego), not to mention creating a need to hold gradings, and subsequently charging money, over and above your monthly dues. People today need instant gratification (ego satisfaction). We need something to motivate us to do something more. Does anyone know why you are not supposed to wash your belt? Yes, it will cause it to fall apart a lot faster, but the real reason is this: Traditionally, karate had only one belt - white - to match the karate gi. As you wore the belt around your gi, assuming that you were actually practicing karate while wearing it, (and not lounging on the couch eating bon bons) your belt would get dirty. From training session to training session your belt would get progressively dirtier, going from white to eventually black, signifying years of experience - through training! There still exist some Aikido dojos that only have white, brown and black rankings, signifying the old, traditional ranking system. Those Aikido partitioners could go for several years as a white belt, and then several more years as a brown belt, before ever coveting the sacred black belt! This brings up a very interesting question: Could you practice your karate; building your skills and proficiency over decades perhaps, without the recognition / milestone of a higher rank - a colored belt? What is more important, the color of the belt around your waist, or the knowledge you possess and exude? My Sensei has the same black belt around his waist that he has had for almost 40 years, which is now completely white - again! Do you think it matters to him if someone off the street walking in looks at him at the front of the class and thinks he is just a white belt. There is no gold embroidery on his belt. He doesn't get himself a new, shiny black belt at every ranking. (He's a 7th Dan - he could have a lot of beautifully embroidered belts if he wanted) The belt is merely a symbol of your experience, your accomplishment. As is the Diploma or Degree on your office wall. The actual experience lies deep, well-preserved, within you. No one can ever take away your experience, so whether you train as a white belt, a black belt, or no belt at all, your experience proceeds you. It is true: you can tell immediately if someone trains karate, simply by the way in which they carry themselves - and isn't that exactly what is on the inside, reflected out? I once knew a man who had his green belt embroidered. You can read whatever you want into that. Personally, I don't know how to comment on that. :)
  • Mannetjie
    Had to comment here as this hits home for my story. I started with JKA karate when I was 6 years old (Many Many Many moons ago). I stopped training as life, wife, work, kids came along. Well with my eldest at 8 and my youngest at 6 we decided to start karate training as a family ( awesome fun doing it as a family). Walking into the dojo after 13 years and having been a shodan, I decided to start at white belt again. It did not take long for hanshi to figure that I had previous experience. At my request I am regrading for shodan this weekend again. Wanting to prove to myself taht I am at that level again. A shodan belt is something to be proud of and worked hard for. Being humble and knowing you are not at that level is being part of being a shodan. Train hard, be humble, share life and enjoy every moment.
  • DynamicFisticuffs
    Time to share my personal story. I'm glad this topic has such a strong place in everyone's hearts and that we can all hear everyone's different experiences (: I'm currently 23 and I haven't trained karate in an official dojo for about a decade ago. When I was training in Okinawan Shorin Ryu Kobukan Karate, I (believe) I had just become a brown belt (White, green, 2 blues, 2 browns, then black belt starting at Shodan of course). The reason I quit was not fully my choice as my Sensei ended up being unable to pay for the dojo space or something. Invitations to come to her house and train were open but eventually either she or I became to busy and these post-dojo sessions stopped. Interestingly another martial arts school knew of the closing and offered that I could continue my karate training there. AND that I could even start off as a brown belt where I left off. In a foolish move I declined to continue training I think partially due to an attitude of "I've done karate, but I want to try other martial arts." Granted I didn't take any of the wide variety of other arts at the school but went onto a period of self-study/research for a bit. Why I couldn't have done both, I don't know '>.(\ HOWEVER I do remember even back then feeling like "That's cool! But I think I would want to start over as a white belt. It's a different place and...that just feels right." I think it's interesting I thought that. I try to have shoshin to a degree when learning a new martial art but then try to make use of my experiences to understand things better or to combine things eventually. Anyways fast forward and eventually the desire and passion of karate has been reignited!!! There's been a couple instances where it's happened, but this time it feels much stronger (With much thanks to Jesse and others for making me a karate nerd. XD). Now when I think back to how I was once a brown belt, I don't think I'm near that at all and would consider myself a white belt. HOWEVER when I think back to "was the level I at before really a brown belt level??" Before karate I had done taekwondo and was a red belt, which is one belt level away from black!! Now I remember even LESS from taekwondo than I do from karate. But I think the same thing "I was a little kid then, and I can't even remember that much. I feel like I'm much stronger now than back then. I mean you can't even compare fairly due to age. Was I at the TRUE level of my belt??" Obviously this is very personal and reflective and differs for everyone based of their own experiences and teachings. While there were more requirements for belt testing, KATA seemed to be the main factor in my dojo. At least until the higher levels. "Was memorizing these kata the real key? It seems there should be more..." Granted there were other self-defense techniques we learned but sadly as I recall, I had been taught very little about BUNKAI of my kata in my dojo. While I would memorize the movements I would think (example Pinan Shodan) "Okay the first move is like...a high block combined with an outside block..I'm not actually sure what sort of attack they're making and how you block it....and then next is a low block...but wait. You turn and repeat it on the same side? Won't the opponent you were just blocking punch you? I mean I didn't punch them or kick them or anything...oh well, it's how the kata goes so I'll just do it." I should have asked WAY more questions about why but instead I had a "it's like this so I'll just follow along" (Same for Pinan Sandan where I had NO CLUE what you're even doing after the first block, I just did it! And then moved on.) I'm sure some people are thinking "Wow your dojo was a Mcdojo, that's horrible!" While my dojo was lacking in many things, I wish I had learnt, I do not think it was bad. It helped me so much and while I later forgot nearly all of my kata what REALLY stuck with me was the kihon and the lessons I learned from the instructors. Even years later my movements in everyday life have been influenced by karate kihon and many different lessons (closing doors with shuto-uke, always focusing on controlling my breathing, knowing this kick and that technique, treating people with respect, etc.). Karate training (and I believe my taekwondo training as well) has helped my neurology and my body in learning new martial arts I've studied. Back on track tho, not only did I wish to RELEARN my karate and train again, but I want to REDEVELOP it, so that it's WAY better than it was before. In a way I believe that I am still a white belt. However so far I have been karate nerdified and through much studying, research, and training (with the help of Jesse, other sources Jesse actually knows, and a few more), I believe that my white belt level is of a MUCH higher quality than the white belt I was. Maybe even the brown belt I was!! Who knows? So far in my redevelopment I have only a better understanding of the Pinan kata. I have goals for myself to relearn/redevelop all the kata of my style and of course other and ALL styles of karate. As well as to focus on many other aspects of what makes a karateka. Much of this will be through self-training due to some financial problems in this current part of my life, but as I have talked with a former instructor at my dojo who is a Sensei of his own school of my style, and as I will most likely join a karate dojo in the future, I have no problem with starting as a white belt. It's sort of how I view myself until proven otherwise. Honestly the challenge of rising up and beyond is fun! (:
  • Polla
    Ok... sooo... I got my Kyokushin black belt, in 2088 and in 2009 for reasons of 'being 18 and having to work and study', i stopped training. Well.. 6 years later, Im 25 now and TODAY I went back to my dojo. Before that, I just talked about my return with my sensei on Facebook. Actually it was quite a quick chat, where I said I was willing to go back and he said "ouch, its gonna rain" hahaha we never talked about belts... Sooo today I showed up my black belt, i dont even know if I still have my other belts... must be somewhere. I didnt know exactly what to do.. like "should i wear brow, green..?". But I knew that someone was going to tell me. I trainned normally, but of course im not in shape as I used to be... Cant remeber all the katas, someone's got to show me or tell me so that i can remeber. It happened that at the end of the trainning, the sempai who was there told me:'Sensei, said u should come back as orange belt'. When he said that, I swear by God i thought he was joking with me... I even stayed there waiting for him to say "Im messing with ya, u can wear a green...". But that didnt happend lol. In original Kyokushin Oyama there is: white, orange, blue, yellow, green, 2 browns and balck. I never thought I would have to go back to orange. Im ashamed of saying that, and I know I shouldnt think that... But i find it quite "humilianting"... :'( Even though i find it quite humiliating too to wear a black belt and dont be able to train as a black belt. And it is really ridiculous my preocupation, cos as I went today wearing my black belt, it feels like even worse... I must say I feel very angry... Like SERIOUSLY im going back to orange? :((( I know its childish, but I just wanna say LOTS to my sensei!!! I dunno what to do... Im so confused! I dunno if I should HATE it and forget about it and train another thing... Or just accept it and stuff... Sorry for this stupid text like if Im a 15 years old girl... But thats the good thing about internet... We can be fool sometimes.
    • Alfred-JP-in-LA
      Yep, as I mentioned in an earlier post of mine (months back) - just go back as a White Belt (same dojo, different dojo / seminar / etc), up until the Sensei and/or Senpai tells otherwise. I remember a quote by Chojun Miyagi Sensei: "If your Karate is good enough you do not need a Black Belt to prove it, and if it is not, then you should not wear one." Oss!
      • Polla
        Oh and I forget to mention one thing... Jut to clarify. I read my text and it seemed like i trained today wearing black as if it was a test so then was told that i should wear orange. But it wasnt that way actually. Today, I was like 1 min late so I didnt have the opportunity to talk with senpai before training, cos if I did, he would've told me to wear an orange belt already. Its not cos I trained badly but because I just shoud go back to orange, given the time I was away from karate. I know it should not take long before I recover it all... But I was/am quite angry/shocked/sad/confused. Osu!
        • Kjetil
          In my Dojo we have ppl coming back all the time after long breaks. And nothing is more fun then having lots of ppl working out. So we let ppl use their old blets regardless of how long since last time they wore it. All it results in is that the ppl coming back need some time to go further from their current belt. So the newest guy in our dojo had blue belt from way way back. And yes he looks kinda silly , but he is trying. And it will most likely be 1-1,5 years until he tries to go for the brown belt. A bigger problem in our dojo is that most newly black belts quit, or take breaks. No matter how much we say "Now it begins". but young ppl tend to wanna experiment with other stuff the world around can offer. So imagine if we told em , if you go out that door and come back again, start from scratch... In my mind black belt is kinda like the drivers license, if you dont drive for 20 years, it will not take you 20 days with lots of driving lessons to get back to your former skill. It will take some hours. And you are still allowed to drive since u got the license. I have seen former black belt dude get back in his shape with 3 months of 3 days training each week. And that was after 7 years break. So encourage ppl to wanna train more karate is the moto. Some ppl dont care about the belt , others care prolly to much. But end result for us all must be train Karate and share it with as many ppl as you can. So adjust from that is my advice. P.S Using drivers license vs black belt for ppl that think they have reached the top with black belt, and move to other sports or what not. You dont stop driving when u get the license, its when u start driving. hehe. So never stop with Karate, and ur good ;)
    • I loved Karate but I think that the belt system and the katas were too much for a guy in his thirties, married, with children. It´s too complicated to memorize katas, and like I said before, I´ve been an orange belt, went back to white (the sensei had to discover for himself which belt I had in my youth, as I wanted to restart from zero). And then I was not happy wearing orange again, as I was probably the WORST orange-belt Goju-Ryu karateca in the world. Anyway... I stopped karate again. Went to a gym to work-out lifting weights and that kind of stuff... and now I am considering boxing. It´s simple, it´s basic, it doesn´t have katas. And belts. Belts are a very complicated. If you reach a certain belt, you get a piece of paper from the federation telling you that you reached a certain level. When you stop training, that official document doesn´t disappear. And you are thrown into Limbo: you are expected to be good, but you aren´t. Too much complicated... I really can´t figure out how can a person remember any Kata, but the simplest ones, after one day or two. When I went from white to yellow, I knew that kata for the test. When I went from yellow to orange, I learned the new kata and forgot the old, even though they were very similar. Even when I was training a lot, I was never capable of storing more than three katas in my mind.
  • Joe
    Easy fix... "Yes sir you could wear your blue belt but we no longer have a belt system. People just show up and train wearing the belt that came with the uniform. What you learn is only limited by how hard you train."
  • Pink
    Really good post. Thank you. I get tired of discussions of rank and belts. I have been to many dojos of different styles and it is all the same pissing contest with the other styles and dojos. It really doesn't matter what rank you are or the belt you wear. It's is what skills you have. I started martial arts with Jeet Kune Do, which doesn't have belts or katas or tournaments. I did that for 7 years. JKD is a street art and I felt pretty good with my skill set, but I had no idea what rank I would be. We didn't even have tests. I did struggle with some aspects of the art. I changed to a Kung Fu style, which is a street art, but it has belt progressions and has katas. I really liked the visciousness of the art, but it was also very flowing in its forms and techniques. Anyway, in Kung Fu, I saw plenty of practicing black belts that couldn't do a forward roll or lead the class in a beginner form at the direction of the Master. There were plenty that whined about being hit too hard. I saw too many people being promoted to the next belt that weren't qualified, and be left behind students that had been studying longer. I switched to a different teacher in the same art. I was in green belt for two years and didn't get tested for brown because the techniques that I was learning in the new school I never saw in my old school. How could the same art, with the same grandmasters be so different? Even the salute was different. And all the Kung Fu practitioners claimed they were the only ones that practiced the real thing. It is enough to make you go batty. My teacher wasn't able to teach anymore. I went to Kenpo Karate for a year and earned up to purple belt. They actually let me keep my green belt rank because I had current transferrable skills. Meaning, I didn't take a break from training. I eventually switched to wearing the purple because the sensais got confused as to what rank I was at during testing. I got disgusted at the 10 year old black belts and even the 15 year old black belts who didn't have the maturity to be driving a car, much less having that belt. The school was more interested in doing tournaments and shows. I didn't take three of my belt tests because I didn't know the required form for the test. I was in class three times a week, but I never saw the sensai teaching forms in class until the week before the test or a tournament. It is unlikely I would learn Eagle and do it well in a week.I would ask other senior students to teach me the forms, but they were too busy. It was a great school. Loved the teachers and students, very positive environment, but I didn't care about tournaments, katas,or belts anymore. I was in martial arts for the self defense aspect and that was all. I didn't think the techniques I was learning in karate would actually work on the street. So I am actually in Krav Maga now. I go to a private school without a federation. No ranks, no katas, belts or BS. We just practice the street techniques and go home. We wear street clothes and no cares about anything except if you can do the technique or not. I would like to say that I got in trouble once for daring to share my experiences at a tournament on a Kung Fu facebook group. I mentioned that I saw karate masters get up there and compete that were 240 lbs or more. They were sloppy, slow and were obviously huffing and puffing to get through a 5 minute kata. One guy couldn't kick above the waist. I never saw so many obese people at an athletic event in my life. These people are masters of karate? Maybe masters of Big Macs. Why does every other athletic pursuit require them to maintain credentials and a particular fitness level, but for american martial arts, they want to be called Sensai or Master, but they don't have the skills or the fitness level anymore? I have seen Masters that don't teach their classes anymore. Their younger, more athletic students do it for them instead. I think it is a bad example to the young people in our epidemic of morbid obesity in this country. I am not talking about fluffy or gaining a couple pounds after an injury. Anyway, one of the masters on this Facebook forum was up one side of me and down the other because I was supposedly disrespectful of these Karate Masters. He then went on to defend all the morbidly obese boxers and martial artists that are out there. Maybe I was disrespectful. But I believe respect is earned. And I think it is a shame to be going out there representing your art and your school and failing to be the best example that you can be. I get it that life gets in the way. But if you stop training and lose skills and gain weight, get back in the game. I applaud anyone who seeks to better themselves, especially in the martial arts. But don't go running around with your chest out, expecting the same level of respect as the martial artists who didn't quit. Humble yourself and move forward towards the goal of being the best that you can be.
  • Polla
    Hey you all. I just felt I owe some update here. So after that 1st day training and my previous post I really didnt know what to do. I just felt too pissed about going back to the second belt... Even tho I knew it wasnt right and fair going back wearing black belt. So yeah.. I told you guys, my family and friends how I was feeling about... And then I decided to swallow my pride. I must say, I went to the 2nd training and it was so funny how it didint feel any different wearing that belt you know. I felt exaclty the same person... I cant explain you, but it was like super normal. I didnt feel myself as a orange belt, I feel myself a black belt... even not wearing it. It's easy to say 'belt doesnt matter' , its easy to say Mr Miage quotes, but when we need to swallow the pride and be humble... Well, its not that easy. But once its done, doesnt hurt anymore. At the momment, ill keep happilly training and must say getting my black belt back now is such a motivation for me... I feel it wont be easy, I feel my Sensei will test me a lot. Kyokushin is tough. But I wont give up, and im gonna show him i really want it. Ill come back guys, thanks a lot and keep fighting.
  • Steve Groome
    Excellent article with many similarities to my own situation. I started karate in January 1975 & trained up until June 1994 (3rd Dan black belt) when I had to stop training due to being my (now ex) wife's carer, raising 2 young children and working 24/7 shifts as a police officer. In July 2014 I restarted training and chose to wear a white belt (no grade/10th kyu). I did tell my new sensei of my previous karate life. In June 2015 one of the 7th Dans in the association advised me that I was now at the standard of a black belt once more and should drop the white belt and take my place amongst the black belts. I was the only white belt able to perform Suparinpei !! Next grading 2017 - 5th Dan
  • jay
    This remind me of when I became a black belt(2007). Wanted it so bad that, when I actually saw my name on list I almost passed out. I asked my sensei to remove my name as I was not ready mentally or physically. He smiled and proceeded to explain that I was afraid of the what the belt might mean. Then he reminded me of something he tough me my first day of Karate. "the MAN makes the BELT, not the other way around. The belt its a tool to keep your pants up". Needed-less to say I had to take the belt an own up to my own skill and the time he has put into teaching me, on a day to day bases ever since.
  • FantasyDealer
    A similar situation happened to me. I had an extended hiatus while serving in the military. I simply came back years later and asked Sensei what belt I should wear. I was totally happy coming back as any belt, the belt never mattered too much to me, I just love Karate. I practiced in sweats until my new Gi arrived. I didn't want to disappoint either or embarrass myself. Sensei instructs me to put my old belt back on. To me it was a challenge, like he knows that I want to do my best to not look bad, so he puts the old belt back on to "push" me to work really hard and put in extra time to get back to that level. I'm happy to say that it worked and it didn't take that long to be back in good form. Maybe it's different for others. But I would've been totally happy starting all over again. In a way starting over sounded fun, like a really good refresher, kihon is IMPORTANT! People doing karate worry too much about belt ranks and status and not enough about technique. We had a small dojo, I trained with the same small group of guys for years before that. It was as far from a mcdojo as you could imagine. The dojo was above a shoe shop in a tiny town with only 10k or less people and I'm not sure if it ever made money except to pay some bills. Sensei knew us on a deep, personal level. It felt like family at all times. I'm not sure those kinds of Dojos exist anymore. We did more than karate too, we also dabbled in wrestling and boxing because Karate doesn't always have all the answers and it's good to be well rounded. When Sensei thought you were ready for the next belt he tested your knowledge and you got it. But there was no fixed time, testing/belt fees... Every kata night we did Sanchin to begin. None of what you see in these huge Dojos built as a business and not for training. Someday this is the way I'm going to do it. I don't care to get rich doing it, if I can pay the bills for a place to teach, that's what I'll do. I probably wouldn't even advertise. I know, I know, bad business. But to me that's it what karate is about.
  • Andreas
    Thanks a lot for this Post Jesse-San ! It sounds a bit like my own story. As i wrote in another post i restarted in January 2016 after about 17 years. I quit with the 6th Kyu (green belt - shotokan) when i was age 26. And yes as nobody would believe me, my first thoughts were to restart as a white belt. Because i knew, i never could compete with someone with the same grade today (now at age 44). When i talked to my Sensei the first time, asking what would be the best way to restart, he asked me if i would like to join the beginners class (with my Kids) to see what i have kept since then. Because the beginners classes all start without having any gi and also a belt (no matter what color) i never felt degraded or anything like that. I was not ashamed to train with kids and adults who never trained Karate before. After the course my sensei asked to stay a bit longer and if i would trust me to do the Kata i can remember. Yes, i could remember all from Heian Shodan to Heian Sandan and a small part of Heian Yondan. So with that first impression he said, it looked good an we can work on it. So he invited me to join the tuesday evening training class, wiith its only six students it can be trained more intensive. After the first unit the others, which i told my story, asked me whether I return or whether i would finally give up. But i said i wont quit again, i tasted blood. Yes i had bad sour muscles the next day, but i felt i arrived. I was ready to heat up the water again like Funakoshi Gichin said, "Karate wa yu no gotoshi taezu netsudo wo ataezareba moto no mizu ni kaeru." -Real Karate Karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool. My own ambitious and goal is to get back to the state of a 6th Kyu and then to go on further on the road. No matter how long it may take. I don't just train in the Dojo but also in the basement of my House, were me and my kids have set up a small Dojo and training gym. Yes i wear the green belt over my Gi after my Sensei told me to do that, but i would wear any other color like white, pink or violet dotted with orange, i know i have to work and learn, because things have changed since then. I am aware im not 26 again, and its harder to reach more flexibility. But hey, I'm a Karate Nerd. "Karate no shugyo wa issho de aru." - It will take your entire life to learn karate, there is no limit. Take care - Andreas
    • Andreas
      Update : On December 22nd 2016 I succeded in the blue belt test, ( Kyu).
  • Leslie Ortiz
    I just asked a sensei what he thought about belts/rank. He said, "If you earned it, you should wear it." I agree with the person above who wrote about the elderly person who could not keep up with the white belts because he was 100 years old... but he had previously earned his belt... He deserves to wear what he has earned, even if it was in the past. A rank does not necessarily denote one's "physical" ability at the moment, but rather an achievement level. If you obtain your green belt after three or four years of hard work, and then you are injured in an accident that causes a disability, but five years later you are able to finally walk... and you come into the dojo to work out for the first time... should you come in wearing a white belt?? Of course not. It's like age... You earned your age... you went through the requirement. Yes, you are slower, etc, but at one time you passed muster... you made it through, and you should be respected for that. That's all the color means... that you REACHED that level.
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  • Loriane
    This is so true. I had it happen to me. My Shihan told me to bring my green belt. I was given it too early. My previous sensei closed her school and decided to give it to me without any certificate or written proof in my small red and white booklet. There were katas, positions and blows that I didn't learn. I just felt like I didn't deserve my belt. I didn't say it of course because then I would have looked like a girl who didn't deserve her belt after all the pain and exhaustion I endured to earn it. So I trained and did what I've always did: my best. I got to keep my green belt because of my enthusiasm and determination to continue the training session. How awesome :D
  • Calvin Rion Naidoo
    Jesse-san, In my case, I went back to Karate after seventeen years with my black belt as that was the only belt I had kept after all those years. During these seventeen years of my life, I had maintained a decent level of fitness but had no illusions that I was not at the skill level from when I did receive my black-belt. In my mind, it didn't matter what belt I went to dojo with, all that mattered was that I was back in training, humble and as a beginner once more, placing no importance on my rank. I even stood at the back of the dojo as the "most junior" student. In my humble opinion, I would have cut the said blue belt some slack. Asked him to come to training with his belt and have him train with the new students from the beginning. No need for any other nasties!
  • Polla
    Hi there people! November 10th, 2015---> It was the date I first posted here, complaining about the fact I had to go back to orange belt after being away from Dojo for 7 years. I just wanna update you guys that I finally got my shodan back, It was a little more than a year, training twice a week karate, and twice a week working out. I must say that passing through ALL the belts again (orange, blue, yellow, green, brown) was the best way to get my confidence back and it definately made my karate stronger. Of course that during that period, I would get really frustrated, but I tried to focus on the training and only the training. It was the best way to prove to everyone and also for myself that I deserve to wear this belt again, just like when I earned it back in 2008. I also understood that it didn't even make sense to wear a black belt when I couldn't perform as a black belt. In 7 years, also many things had changed in Kyokushin. It's gotten even more difficult. So I trylly believe that this tough past was worth it and completely necessary, Thank you guys for sharing your experiences. May the karate force be always with you! Osu.
  • Hi Jesse, I completely agree. My dad is my master and he is 67 now and trains every day. Hr trains wearing his brown belt and says he feels the nest training he did was when he was brown and under his master. That was in 1978. He is 6th dan now and has many students across India and abroad. Bt he still aspires to reach a level that does justice to the art and his philosophy towards, and not just grades or belts. I, sadly, have had a broken journey in ate art cos of my professional commitments. I still train though :) and karate has given me a lot beyond the ability to punch and kick.
  • Colin
    After more than 10 years away from martial arts - I had previously trained for 16 years and was a 2nd Dan, I decided to get myself back in the game. Although to a different style, but I had no quams about starting as a white belt. As for me it was a new begining and wouldn't even step inside another dojo in my old black belt...older and rustier (me not the belt haha!) So for me starting over again is like a breath of fresh air and I look forward to each lesson with an open mind..... The pages of my book are blank, being slowly written or doodled on...
  • Never mind all the deserves it doesn't deserve it stuff. Where do I get the belt that shoots lasers out of the ends.?. Truthfully I would have let him wear the blue belt and given him 3 months to prove to me that he deserved to wear it.
  • Curt
    Belt ranks are the problem. If there was only one color belt and it was used to hold up your pants, no one would care. Your training is what matters. The belt ranks give a goal to work towards but testing is not completely objective. I trained in karate when I was in my early teens and achieved 3rd kyu. I worked my butt off to be better than everyone. I had to leave for a year due to an injury. I came back and someone who started well after me had been promoted to black belt. At 17 years old I was pissed that all my hard work was for nothing. I was better at Kate, kihon, an could beat him everytime sparring. My immaturity led me to my exit. I practiced over the years on my own. Not religiously but enough to remember my katas. Fast forward 22 years to my return to karate at the same school. My sensei told me to return with my 3rd degree brown belt. I felt stupid after so many years away from a dojo. I did as he said as nd surprised myself compared to the other students. That's when it hit me. I focused on the belt color instead of my training in karate. I trained very hard during my time from 3rd kyu to 1st Dan. I wasn't focusing on achieving my black belt but learning all I could and practicing. It was enlightening. I have been away again for a few years but have still been training. If I am able to go back to the dojo I will but I dont feel the need for promotion to the next rank. The art iscwhats important and my 30+ year martial arts journey has given me the wisdom to understand this. I never would have understood this 30+ years ago. Of course my point of view doesn't mean anything if you only want to train for sport karate. Thank you.
  • Scott Goldstein
    I got my first black belt when I was 28 in taekwondo. 6 years later, I started from scratch at new school and I started a white belt. 9 years later at 42 I tested for shodan again. My instructor give me a favor starting me over from scratch and not giving me my black belt from the start in the new style. I was out of shape, I didn’t know the Kata, I didn’t know the stylistic differences. I had no discipline at that time. I earned what I have now and I represent, I hope, what a black belt needs to be. Any belt I get after this I will represent that rank and that belt and what it should be. To take on the rank that you left behind when you left the dojo however long ago it’s disrespectful to the work you put in back then and disrespectful to the people who are working alongside you to get the belt that you strapped back on.
  • GF
    Dear Jesse. I believe there is too many dojo's that runs on the idé of belts reflects your current skillevel. Often we see students with same ranks but on different level. The reason behind a belt is not just skill. Many argue that a belt represent a student's will to concur every obstacle and represent their will to move forward based on their starting point, therefore you may have serval students with the same rank but widely differs in level - karate is a individual path towards the same goal. And, we may discuses what is the essens of karate, what is the meaning of the art and how do we measure it. I have seen Kyoshi that was bested by nidan, i have seen Dai Senpai's with the knowledge Sensei and so on. When understanding of a belt/rank i believe that it should all about a person wish to improve and the belt should reflect their abilities to obtain their goal. You may belive that lesser though on physical applications creates lesser technical student, but it's ferly to say that only depends on your the instructor method of training. I belive a long lost student should carry their belt upon returning to the dojo but should be aware that the time to obtain a new rank will be longer and harder than anticipated. I have experienced that if you give them their own belt back, they respond by increased motivation to improve. I always say belt represent a body of a person, not just their skill. I feel really sorry that a well established and knowledged instructor, as you Jesse, will denied a returning student just because of their wishes to carry their own belt - maybe their biggest motivation factor of improving and evolving. If belts just represent their current skillevel, the idé of a belt is lost. You will also discriminate student with physical and/or mental difficulties because a belt "just" represent their skillevel. Any returning student should be able to regain their rank within a year (Shodan and bellow) and higher rank within two years of training. If not, you have taught them poorly. The technical aspect will return quickly due to their understanding and the physical abilities will take some time. Any dojo or a instructor with this idé do not follow the true essens of karate - evolving of a human as a individual. I have meet you Jesse, i have trained you Jesse, and i know you Jesse. What you have described in this post is not what i expected from you, Jesse.
    • Sander
      I agree
  • I'm thirteen and I train till I crash I don't have belt but I practice karate at home,with that can I be able to fight in real life
  • A
    So, I have had a bizarre time with this of late. Rocked up at a shotokan dojo after years away from karate and originally wore gym clothes. This was in May as coronavirus restrictions lifted where I am. Then, I wore a white belt because I remember that being the done thing at my old dojo. Then, my sensei said 'buy a brown belt' knowing that I was/ am a 1st kyu. But I didn't like to wear a 1st kyu belt without feeling ready and having taught a different topic elsewhere, it seemed important that I felt ready to show something all my own to those martial artists lower than me in the kyu system hierarchy like, if your belt is a symbol I'm going to try and live up to that so I brought a 3rd kyu belt and just quietly wore it in the background until I met a younger lady that needed guidance in the same process I went through of deciding what to do with her belt having been away for multiple years. So, that was when I got curious asked, and my sensei here agreed to let me wear a 1st kyu belt but 1st kyu was denoted differently in my old dojo so I made a point of wearing my old belt for a couple of weeks... like yes I earned it but I am not quite going to be the same and see things the same way coming from elsewhere and I wanted to make that point in the name of sincerity in the community (which my new licence and the big poster in my old dojo tells me is in the dojo kun). I also made the point to him that I trained for years in boxing in the meantime where there are no belts (!) so I would much prefer to wear a pink belt since pink is my favourite colour. He said I had to wear a brown belt so eventually I got the right one in my own time and striving for sincerity. Which I think means that whatever decision I make should be informed, considered and entirely mine. I am looking forward to the revision seminar for a black belt grading next year that will take place in December ;) For anyone else this entire process took me about 6 months to work out what I was doing with myself and the dojokun helped most of all on deciding what to do: . I intend to make a pink embroidered shotokan shodan happen in the next 12-18 months on my own terms, which is far healthier than before I took a break from karate. I think the blue belt in this article got too nostalgic and wasn't applying his karate to how he is now.

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