One Black Belt
What is a black belt, anyway?
As any one can see, it’s a piece of cloth sewed over a lining of sorts, and fashioned into a belt or obi shape. And it happens to be black.
Black is the darkest color, the result of the absence or complete absorption of visible light. It is an achromatic color, literally a color without hue, like white (its opposite).
Belt (clothing), a band worn around the waist. (Or so Wikipedia says.)
Of course some sort of belt is needed to hold our keikogi together as our traditional garb for the mat has no buttons, snaps, velcro or other means of holding it closed.
I suppose everyone knows the story of the black belt. It came with experience as one is never supposed to wash their obi and over time it darkens to the point of being black. So the black belts (or those wearing them) were the senior students.
At some point someone realized that promoting students to this advanced rank would be beneficial. Soon other levels of rank were devised.
To many outsiders, a black belt means expertise. We are told however by the leaders of the Budo world, that the black belt means that we have proven ourselves to be serious students and we are ready to begin our journey through a given art. Hence, the name Shodan, sho meaning first.
A couple of years ago, while dressing for class, I pulled my obi tight and it snapped into two pieces. I laughed and made some inane joke about equipment failure, but down deep I was hurt.
That belt and I go back a ways.
When I first started Karate, we had to earn our white belts by learning a kata, some history and a few other things. It probably wasn’t very difficult, but at the time several of us (myself in particular) took it very seriously.
When our Sensei decided we were worthy to wear a white belt, he wore our obi for a class, (to give it some ki) then tied it on us. This little ceremony was very touching for me and I kept this same belt as I continued to train. Dying it first yellow then green then blue. When I left Karate and began Aikido I wore a white belt again until i became a blue belt, then I brought out my original belt, then I dyed it brown, then black.
For some reason this worthless piece of cloth means a lot to me. It symbolizes my journey through my adult life.(Even when I’m not on the mat I like to think that I’m using Aikido) When I think of or retell the story of testing for and being promoted to shodan I sometimes tear up still all these years later.
I know that at one time you could buy a black belt for $6 and the seller never asked for proof that the buyer had earned it.
After wearing it for a while it isn’t worth anything.
Except that it’s priceless.
I still have that broken obi, It’s in a drawer somewhere. Whenever I run across it I remember and hold it for a minute or so.
I won’t be getting rid of it.