Friday, July 13, 2012

What If?

Imagine a martial world with no belts - where there was no outward display of the last weigh station you'd encountered on your path. Suppose there was just a piece of rope holding your gi top closed. Would it alter how you do what you do in the dojo? Would it change how you act and react to your trainng partners/dojo mates? Could it change how they act and react to you?

Being the forgetful soul that I am, I've gotten to class only to realize I'd left my belt on my bed, in my car or in the gear bag I left at the office too many times to count. The third or so class after I tested for shodan had me beltless in the dojo because I'd left it elsewhere a day or two before. Did it change my technique at all or make me any less a karateka somehow? Other than the self-conscious feeling being obi-less gave me, I'd have to say not even a teeny bit.

Some schools and styles have the entire ROY G BIV rainbow connection happening where kyu-equivilant obis go. Others give stripes on existing belts to mark progress. Not knocking either, but, other than the economics behind the need to purchase a new belt (and sometimes a new gi with new color accents) for that new rank, what difference does it make?

Rank means differnt things to different people - and it means different things here in the land of McDojos than it does elsewhere, I'm sure. Charles James discussed it in a recent post on his "Okinawan Fighting Art: Isshin Ryu" blog; perhaps what he says is right: "What is in your heart is of more value than what color of cloth is around your waist." So strap that top closed (or wear a t-shirt or heck, even no shirt) and get to training already.


  1. Got me thinking. :)
    Honestly, yes, it would affect how I act and how others relate to me in the dojo (at least those who don't know my rank which is next to impossible in our tiny dojo). A higher (than before) rank kind of pushes me to perform at a corresponding level, not slacking off. Although when I came back to karate after many years and re-started with the white belt - I put it no less effort than now. And, honestly, there is some pride element to my belt color consciousness - unfortunately there is.

    On another hand, the biggest point of the color is that it's an indicator for me of what I've achieved so far. Given the belts are not given away just for being there, of course. The belt (color) for me is not a goal but more of indication that I'm progressing/haven't gone off track.

  2. I love martial arts like that. I took some Hsing I (some = very little), and there was no ranking (or any signs of seniority) involved. We didn't even call the teacher Sifu, he was just Keith. :-) It was nice. It didn't really change partnerships at all. You were expected to do the best you could no matter where you were in your training.

  3. The other week my instructor mislaid his belt and wore a white belt to class. We barely noticed and it was still clear to everyone in class, including newbies those watching who was in charge of class and why...

  4. I hear this all the time, and my sensei is fond of saying that you don't get any better after you put a new belt on. Having said that, the dojo is a continuum of experience, a community of people helping one another. If you are an Orange belt and a Yellow belt asks you the next sequence in a kata, that yellow belt around your waist is the reason that they asked - you have a duty to know enough to earn the belt and you have a duty to help your rohai (junior), just as your sempai (senior) and sensei helps you. Everyone in the dojo should be a teacher in training, and if you don't know something well enough to explain it to your rohai, Sensei makes it clear, "You don't know it!" and you should find the answer as well.

    But then again maybe I just like how colorful it makes the dojo:-)

  5. From my perspective, everyone can and should be learning from anyone in the dojo. For example, from band newbies, I learn to not be afraid to give something you don't know how to do a whirl. From my seniors, I learn about humility and stick-to-it-ness (yep, made that word up! Poetic license :-). From everyone in between, there are lessons to be gleaned if one just pays attention. Take those belts off and the lessons remain. In that respect, the belts mean absolutely nothing IMHO.