What Happened To The Black Belt.

Oh, the black belt – how the mighty have fallen!  I remember back in the day when people used to revere and respect black belts – when it actually meant something.  Dedication, respect, honour, fitness, a bunch of pillars that pretty much no longer exist.  I do not blame all martial arts gyms for this, and I do not blame any particular person.  I blame marketing and society for it.


The black belt used to be the highest pillar, the giant echelon of any gym.  Everybody aspired to be a black belt, but not everybody could be one.  You couldn’t pay your way in, you couldn’t just spend enough classes to do it, you didn’t have to go to a “special class” to get your black belt and then teach other kids for free, to make sure you had it.


The black belt has unfortunately degraded considerably in the last fifteen years.  The problem with black belts is that they’ve become a midpoint, they’ve become the place where lots of people say “and now you’re ready to go”.  The belt has been taken mostly by the “McDojo” corporations; people that are out there to make a ton of money off as many people as possible, by grading them as fast as possible, to fatten their bank accounts.


Black belt is (or used to be) the point where you would become an instructor, the point where you understood the art, the point where you got the secrets.  Now, it’s just a place for you to advance on a scale as fast as possible.  In the days when black belts meant something (and they still do in a lot of places) your skill level dictates where you’re at.  You have to compete, you have to do what you do in order to raise your level.

We now are in a place where a black belt is a weekend seminar, where people get airport certification.  So, you can fly in, train with somebody if they think you’re popular, and then you get hoisted an instructor degree.  There’s a lot of people that love this!  We call these people “paper-hangers” or “paper dragons” …  all they want is a bunch of diplomas on their wall to make them look as badass as possible.  “I’m certified in this art and this art and this art and this art and this art and this art and this art.”  If we go back to the old paradigm where a black belt took about seven years to get, these people would be in their late nineties, but most of them are around my age.  The piece of paper means nothing.  Paper dragons mean nothing.  I’m not saying they don’t know anything, I’m saying that chasing paper is the worst way to become a better martial artist, and it’s the worst way to serve your students, and the worst way to be taught if you are a student.

at in every other sport (especially when working with children) there’s a certification process that has to happen to make sure they’re a good person, to make sure they know the stuff, to make sure they’re accredited by an international or local organization.  This does not happen in martial arts.  Anybody can open “Frankie’s Mixed Martial Arts Gym” (and “mixed martial arts” literally means nothing, just like “krav maga” literally means nothing) and then all of a sudden you’re the lead instructor.  It’s so prevalent that a web series Enter the Dojo makes fun of this!  They think that “He’s Master Ken, he created the ultimate system, no gyms can hold him, blah blah blah”.  The reason the show is so funny, is because it’s true.  Everybody has experienced this somewhere in their lives. 


It’s getting to the point now where money is the ultimate point of martial arts, and nobody’s actually doing it out of love anymore.  Ninjustu just released five extra degrees – FIVE EXTRA DEGREES – you can have a fifteenth-degree dan now in ninjutsu.  Where’d these dans come from?  Where’s the curriculum?  It came from the fact that they had too many tenth dans, and they needed more money.


(this is such BS)


How many instructors are on websites like Bullshido that have done a weekend seminar through somebody bad; where they got tricked (or they knew what was going on and they just needed to make money)?


If you wanted to make money, this is not your field.  This is not the place you’re going to become rich.  This is a place where you come out of love, respect and wanting to actually help people out.  Again, I’m not saying all black belts are like this, I’m saying that most are.


There should never be a fourteen-year-old kid with a black belt.  A junior black belt, maybe –  but they can’t preserve it, they can’t move the system forward.  It’s unfathomable.  If your job as a black belt is to represent your system, and you got your black belt in six weeks, or at an airport or at a weekend certification seminar, then how much does that art even give a crap about how they’re represented, if they’re just throwing people out into the world?  They’re not.  They want your money, they want you to do anything you can to promote them, you are an advertising billboard by using their name.  This is not the case everywhere.  Brazilian jujutsu has very, very legitimate black belts; you have to compete, you have to fight, you have to train.


There’s lots of local schools and lots of systems with really good teachers, that won’t let you pass unless you’re ready, because it’s not about their bank account, it’s about you becoming a better human being.


Randy King

Randy King


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