Very few karate students I know of would ever say that getting a black belt was the primary reason they joined a dojo. Yet for any student, earning a black belt can indeed be the by-product of their years of effort, all they have to do is train long enough, and hard enough. In Shotokan karate a black belt or Dan ranking is the first truly ignificant plateau obtained by a student. It is an individual achievement that they will remember for the rest of their life, and even though karate is not a team sport, it is virtually impossible for any student to reach the black belt level without constantly training in the company of others. Unfortunately far too many students once having reached the rank of Sho Dan (1st degree black belt) consider this to be "the end of their journey" and so they cease their karate training. In fact quite the opposite is true. A black belt is only the beginning, all be it a very large first step if you will down a truly long and wondrous path for those who have courage and the discipline to walk it. Upon receiving their black belt a karate student will be awarded the title of sempai (assistant teacher). At this point in their training the new sempai will find that they will be expected to take on a more formal leadership role within the dojo, leading by example from the front row, constantly encouraging the junior students, while at the same time re-affirming their own commitment, and seeking to expand the limits of their own horizon by looking for previously unseen meaning in all of the basic techniques and katas that they have learnt so far. This is not as simple as it sounds. Indeed it is only through a lifetime of conscientious training that the tightly held secrets of Shotokan's basics techniques and katas will finally be revealed to those who desire them. Getting your "black belt" is definitely not a time for quitting or "winding down".
It has been said that life is truly a circle. The same can be said for a student's journey down the Shotokan road. Starting out wearing a white belt made of cotton, the student rises up through the ten kyu (color belt) ranks until they find themselves on the threshold of their Sho Dan (1st degree black belt) grading. Finally upon passing their grading they are a "black belt" at last. They will now wear this color of belt for the remainder of their martial arts career, and when the years have passed and their belt has been tied and untied a countless number of times, the student will look down one day late in life and notice that all the black colouring has ultimately worn off. Their belt is now white again. The beginner has now become the master, who after a lifetime of training has in the end come to see the truth, that they have in fact always been just a white belt, the colour its self was always just an illusion, something to feed their ego until, when after many years of physical, mental and spiritual training, the time came when ego no longer mattered. For in the art of Shotokan karate it is not the color of the belt around your waist that makes you a success, what does make you a success, however, is how well and how true you pass on the knowledge that you have come to possess to those who follow you down the Shotokan road. If you can ever truly come to that realization then your circle will indeed be complete.There are today ten Dan levels and three Samurai titles that can be awarded in Shotokan karate. The ten Dan levels are awarded in the following order starting from the lowest rank,
Kyu Sho -- Brown Level 3
Kyu Ni -- Brown Level 2
Kyu San -- Brown Level 1
Kyu Yon -- Red
Kyu Go -- Blue
Kyu Roku -- Purple
Kyu Schichi -- Green
Kyu Hachi -- Orange
Kyu Ku -- Yellow
Kyu Ju -- White
The three Samurai titles hold the following meanings :
RENSHI: "A person who has mastered oneself".
This person is considered an expert instructor. Renshiare no longer one of the many and is usually given at Yo Dan (4th Dan) or Go Dan (5th Dan). It is not unusual for a Renshi to be over 50 years old before this title is ever conferred upon them.
Usually this title is conferred at Roku Dan (6th Dan) or Shichi Dan (7th Dan). It is not unusual for a Kyoshi to be over 60 years old before this title is ever conferred upon them.
A title given to the oldest and most senior black belt, usually the head of an individual karate organization, someone who has studied the art of karate for most of their lifetime. This rank signifies their true understanding of the art. It is not uncommon for a Hanshi to be well over 70 or 80 years of age before this title is ever conferred upon them.
Sho Dan (1st Dan) and going to the highest rank Ju
Dan (10th Dan) :
Sho Dan or 1st Dan - at this rank no formal samurai title is awarded.
Ni Dan or 2nd Dan - at this rank no formal samurai title is awarded.
San Dan or 3rd Dan - at this rank no formal samurai title is awarded.
Yon Dan or 4th Dan - at this rank the formal samurai title of Renshi may be awarded.
Go Dan or 5th Dan - at this rank the formal samurai title of Renshi may be awarded.
Roku Dan or 6th Dan - at this rank the formal samurai title of Renshi may be awarded.
Schichi Dan or 7th Dan - at this rank the formal samurai title of Kyoshi may be awarded.
Hachi Dan or 8th Dan - at this rank the formal samurai title of Kyoshi may be awarded.
Ku Dan or 9th Dan - at this rank the formal samurai title of Hanshi may be awarded.
Ju Dan or 10th Dan - at this rank the formal samurai title of Hanshi may be awarded.
It is not how long you have been training that counts, But how honestly you have been training that matters.
What to expect at your first lesson.
Before class, you will usually get to meet the Instructor, who will explain the workings of the lesson. We will then provide you with some literature about our organization and karate in general. We recommend that you wear loose and comfortable clothing such as track pants and a T-shirt. No jewellery should be worn and your fingers and toenails should be well-manicured. This avoids scratches and injury to yourself and others while training. When the lesson begins, more often than not you will be paired up with one of the senior members of the class who will have the responsibility of looking out for you during the lesson.
As the class continues, you will be taken through a host of warm-up exercises, basics techniques consisting of: blocks, punches, kicks and perhaps some practical self defense applications of these basic techniques. At no time are you expected to work beyond your physical ability or current fitness level. At the conclusion of the lesson the instructor will meet with you and discuss your immediate reaction to the lesson. If you like, you can arrange further lessons, or you can leave your contact details with us to allow yourself time to think about continuing lessons. Later, we may give you a brief courtesy call to discuss any further interest.
Progress and Development
Once you begin training with the Golden Tiger Shotokan Studio you will immediately notice the different levels of expertise the members of your chosen club possess. The most obvious difference will be that between your own skills and those of the instructor. After you've been training a while, you'll relax more and notice what is going on - you will see that your instructor trains also, continually seeking self improvement. In fact, progress and development never stops. Once one can train with the idea that there is not a fixed place to arrive at where they can rest on their laurels, training can properly begin. Training should be done regularly and patiently, with no rush, and with the awareness that training itself is the target - not the black belt you may aspire to.
Different forms of martial arts use different ranking systems but they all have the same twofold purpose. The first is to give you and other members of the club some idea of your stage of development, and the second is to make it easy for the instructor to divide the class into different ranks for different levels of training. Ranks are awarded after grading examinations and they are denoted by the color of the belt you wear. In our system there are eight kyu ranks (below black belt), eighth 'kyu' being the lowest and first kyu being the highest.There are ten 'dan' ranks (black belt) starting at 1st-Degree Black Belt (shodan), the lowest, going to tenth-Degree Black Belt (Judan), the highest.
During your training you will be asked to do things in a particular way by your instructor. If you ask, you will be given an explanation about the way you have been requested to train or practice a technique in a specific manner. These answers may not make sense to you and you may even feel that your progress is being limited by some aspects of your training. Ignore these feelings and persevere; almost certainly through the training you will start to understand the value and reasoning behind what you are doing. Even if, in your judgement, this turns out to be the case, be sure that in the martial arts we can learn just as much through disappointment as through success.
Physical and Mental Development
if you are unfit and unused to physical exercise, you will probably end your first martial arts class with an aching body. However, compensation for this discomfort will be a warm sense of satisfaction. After a surprisingly short time of training the physical demands of the class will become less of a strain and you will be able to appreciate and enjoy the finer points of the training. This is a time in your training that is most enjoyable. It coincides with you being both physically fit and still full of excitement about this new-found method of self expression. Soon after this, however, your progress will noticeably start to slow down. This is a lean time in your training and you may become despondent about your progress. Despite these feeling, as long as you continue to train hard you will, unknown to yourself, be developing a deeper understanding than you had before. Unfortunately some students do not recognize this phase for what it is and drop out. Encourage yourself during this patch and ask the instructors and other students to help you reinforce your determination. They will understand since they will have gone or may be going through similar difficult patches themselves (they recur throughout your training). The rewards for perseverance are worth it.
Mind and Body Development
All that is meant by this terminology at this stage is that you become more mentally aware of your body. You should learn its limits, its requirements and its potential. Without this awareness students overextend in some areas, whilst others tend to take things too easily and do not push themselves enough. It is difficult to get the correct combination at first; it is only by working at becoming more aware of your body that you can do it. By practicing and concentrating on particular skills you can develop an awareness which replaces self-conscious deliberation and calculation by instinctive natural responses.The tennis player naturally performs accurate returns of fast deliveries; the snooker player instinctively 'knows' the angle, spin and strength of most shots, and both only use considered calculation for deciding the tactics of the game. Similarly you should develop a natural instinctive set of body responses. You will then know that when you execute a particular technique or set of moves no time will be wasted thinking about how to achieve them. Your mind and body will act in unison to produce the fastest and best technique you are capable of.
Our martial arts organization has specific requirements needed for each particular rank. This is to ensure uniformity between the various clubs in the Golden Tiger Shotokan Studio. In the grading, the student is required to perform particular moves, attacks and defenses. Both the difficultly of the moves and the way in which they are executed are judged by the examiners.
The benefits of traditional karate do training.
Training in the martial arts is essentially a process of change. A weak person will become strong, while a strong person will learn to control and harness their strength. An aggressive individual will learn self-control, while the passive person will develop confidence in themselves and their abilities. Many of the benefits of martial arts training become apparent after only a few sessions and they continue to develop over many years.
Health and Fitness
Martial Arts training will see improvement in your strength, stamina and suppleness. At the beginning of class it is common practice to spend 10-15 minutes going through a series of exercises designed to prepare the body for training by warming up the muscles and stretching the joints. These exercises, combined with the effort involved in performing the punches, kicks, locks, throws and other techniques of the martial arts, have the effect of improving the trainee's level of health and fitness.
As well as improving physical well-being, martial arts training develops a positive mental approach. University research indicates that those individuals who exercise regularly seem to show higher levels of emotional maturity, calmness and a greater ability to make accurate judgements when under pressure, than those who do no training of any kind. As your fitness levels increase, so will your imagination, self-sufficiency and confidence, which manifest itself in a more positive attitude to life. This improvement occurs when you overcome difficult physical and psychological tasks. Remember, success comes from personal efforts and hard work.
According to the founders and leading teachers, simply practicing techniques isn't enough to achieve mastery. You must strive to improve the moral and spiritual qualities of your life, constantly facing your own weaknesses and inadequacies with a view to self-improve. This approach is usually known as 'the way' ('do' in Japanese, 'tao' in Chinese). The most famous example of this way of life is known as Bushido (the way of the warrior) which was the code of honor followed by the Japanese samurai. It stresses responsibility for one's actions, respect between seniors and juniors, duty, honesty, obligation, and the development of a strong spirit. Likewise, the European knight had a similar code which stressed the virtues of Gallantry, Observation, Loyalty, Dexterity, Sympathy, Explicitness, Perseverance and Tact. While these values may seem old-fashioned or excessive by modern standards, it is vital to maintain them, as without them there would be little or no morality to the martial arts, allowing self-indulgence and a brutal reign.
Martial Arts will not only improve your ability to defend yourself against physical attacks, but will also improve your speed, timing, awareness, mobility and striking ability. Sparring prepares you for a fight by exposing you to an opponent, so enabling one to experience the nerves or 'adrenaline rush' caused by facing a higher-graded or more skilful person. It is the responsibility of all the instructors to teach not only technique but also the correct attitudes, which are an integral part of the martial arts. It is most important to realize that the martial arts are not about developing well-trained thugs.