Teaching martial arts has become big business and in order to make money many instructors are willing to give students what they want. This has nothing to do with what they have earned or need. Belts are so easy to obtain, now anyone can have one in as little as a year depending on the contract or package they have chosen. The black belt package can guarantee you will have your black belt in a certain amount of time, depending on the contract terms. And if that is too much trouble you also have the option to do your training online at home without actually having to go and train in a dojo. You can just send in your video for testing and rank purposes and then wait and receive your certifications through the mail/ e-mail, it's that easy.
For me, someone walking into my dojo that is quick to tell me they hold a black belt level in another discipline means absolutely nothing to me in terms of assessing skill. I base my opinion on how they act, their humbleness, willingness to learn, knowledge of their art, and how they move - not the color of their belt. I will ask questions about the system they came from to see the depth of their study and what they were even taught. Most time the response is usually the same, "I don't know we never discussed that". Sadly, in most cases I cannot tell that they have even spent any time inside a dojo at all. This is something that I am seeing more and more and personally find disturbing and a dangerous practice.
This is especially true in children. There are no belt ranks in my children’s class. Everyone gets a white belt with their gi “to help hold their pants up”. However, when I first opened my dojo I was no different than most dojos in that everyone young and old had the option to test for rank after they had trained consistently for a set period of time and met all of the requirements. Not only did I stop allowing children to hold rank, I quit teaching children all together for about 5 years. This was due to the desire for children to receive belts and the growing "day-care" attitude people had towards children and martial arts. People basically wanted someone to watch their kids and throw belts at them to keep them happy. When I finally allowed children back into the dojo it was made clear to all parents that this is a school not a day-care, I am not here to babysit or entertain their children. There are no belts or rank in the kids class - everyone is equal. I tell the realities of circumstances and I educate the children on life skills, respect, and consequences. It is explained how a child can defend themselves and their family as well as how to become a good person. Belts are never discussed as we have more important things to work on. Not until the adult class are belt introduced in Donjitsu Do. Receiving rank is taken very seriously and is not something mentioned very often as it takes years to obtain any rank in Donjitsu Do.
Not too long ago I was contacted by a gentleman asking for information about my system and dojo. He was very intense and direct about what he wanted from training and stressed the fact that he wanted something that was meant for self-defense and would actually work in the real world. He told me he was getting older and felt he needed something to help protect his home and family. He also told me that he had placed his daughter in a martial art school several years ago to prepare her for the world ahead of her. He goes on to tell me that his daughter diligently attended classes and did as she was taught, received her belts, and he felt she should be ready for the world. Unfortunately, this was far from the truth. He explained that she had been raped and that none of what she was taught had prepared her for that. At that point, her martial arts training ended as he found it to be useless. He told me he had realized that she had just been going through the motions and was taught nothing of any real value or relevance.
Over the years, many students have come through my dojo and for whatever reason some of them move on. This may be due to the fact they find it is just not for them. Some are not mature enough yet to grasp its depth, life has changed their path, or they simply had to move away. Some of these individuals trained long enough to obtain rank in my system. Over the years several students returned, after years being absent from my dojo, and admitted they are now a more mature adult or again ready to commit to the training. Since each of these students had received their rank directly from me they all could have pulled out their belt and taken their respective place in line. However, this has never once been the case. Each one of these individuals requested not to speak of their rank and humbly ask to start over from the beginning. This was their choice and each of them had learned that the study of budo has nothing to do with the color of one's belt. This always gives me great pride and a deeper respect for each of them. On the other side of the coin I am regularly asked how often do we test and how long does it take to get a black belt. I am also asked if I honor other systems’ ranks. What they are asking is will I allow someone to come into my dojo and retain the rank from an entirely different system. The last person who asked me this I respectfully told them that I would find it very suspicious if theirs or any other instructor allowed this to happen. What this says to me is that transmitting true martial arts is not the goal of that particular school. I also once had an individual offer to teach class as a “trade out” for dues since he was a black belt. Again I had never met him and he had no knowledge of my system but he was offering to teach for me. What was he going to teach? Another told me that because he was now a black belt he couldn’t be a student anymore. And, yet another visitor, when asked to start with the basics, let it be known that the basics were beneath him because he (at the age of around 20) was a black belt in multiple styles. Yet this individual had no fall training at all and he felt he didn't need it. I watched a visiting black belt student from another dojo pass out during our warm ups and we were just getting started! This was his first and last class as was the case for many other examples. Of these examples that actually came to class, none stayed more than a few days if they weren't asked to leave. The ones who I had spoken to on the phone appeared offended when I tried to explain my reasons. I have noticed that in most schools entirely too much emphasis has been placed on the color of one's belt instead of the effectiveness or understanding of the techniques, philosophy, and how it would be applied in actual combat. However, as naive, arrogant, and cocky many of these individuals have been I do not blame or hold them at fault. Their instructor is to blame; it was he who taught them to believe that way. Where else would it have come from? Humility is one of the most important lessons to be transmitted along with the punching and kicking.
Having student instructors is another reason the important lessons are not transmitted correctly. Each day students come into my dojo and put their lives and or the lives of their children in my hands trusting that I will prepare them for the worst. I am not afraid to tell them “no”, “get off your butt and get to class”, or “straighten up before I send you home”. If it's good, I will tell you to sprinkle some more reality on it and make it better and if it is bad I will tell you to get up, do it again and again until it begins to look like something. We prepare for that moment we pray never comes and there is no such thing as good enough. I tell my students that I would rather they hate me today and love me once they realize why I was so hard on them. This cannot be accomplished when the Soke or headmaster does not teach and only makes appearances. When there are kids teaching kids important life lessons will not be transmitted correctly, simply because of the lack of life, knowledge, and maturity. Important lessons will most likely be missed all together. Within every technique there is a life lesson to go with it and mechanics alone do not make a warrior.
It is very rare that I am not in the dojo as I understand and constantly think of what has been asked of me. In the school that I began my training it was common practice that when you had received your black belt you would take on a class and begin teaching. So, I have seen firsthand how this happens in so many dojos. However, I later came to realize that becoming a black belt is just the point at which you have proven your dedication and have actually only made it to the starting line, the actual true beginning of training. It is when one starts to seek the deeper understanding of the techniques and the art itself. This is something that must be taught and anyone with a black belt must understand. However, this was not the case at all where I began my training, it was actually treated as if you were finished and now it is time to go to work for the dojo. Other than personal time I set aside for myself, I received less and less of my instructor's attention. It was like my training had stopped. I was expected to collect dues and teach the classes I had been given, which were at times at more than one school, and I still had to pay my monthly dues. However, I did it without fail because that is what I was supposed to do. At least that was what I thought at the time. There was a time when his word was the gospel to me. Some called me grasshopper because I always made myself available whenever he needed me. I vividly remember being told that he wanted to get to the point where he only made appearances and we do all of the work. Luckily, because I have always been one to ask questions I eventually saw him for whom he really was and it was heartbreaking. To find a positive side to this story I eventually realized that what he taught me was what not to do, how to teach and who not to become. The most important lessons in martial arts cannot be transmitted without proper understanding of budo and having lived. Mechanics alone are not budo. I was lucky; I somehow found my own way to the truth. I could have easily become one of those arrogant black belts who have walked into my dojo. A true sensei (teacher, guide, leader, role model) will make sure these lessons are transmitted. I teach my students not to become sheep, to ask questions, and to think for themselves. My words are in no way the gospel, they are suggestions based on my study of the art and experiences and life. I will to prepare my students correctly, belt or no belt.