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What a Black Belt Means to Me

The Journey to a 3rd Degree Black Belt and What it Felt Like to Get There

By: Sensei Javier Lozano, Jr. – San Dan – Wado-Ryu Karate-Do

 

It’s often said in Martial Arts that the meaning doesn’t lie in how good you are or what belt you have, rather the meaning lies in the journey. Before I get into “What Black Belt Means To Me”, I would like to talk about my journey of these past few months.

 

The Journey

 

Last week I had flown to Nashville to test for my long awaited San Dan (3rd degree Black Belt – This is kind of like becoming an official “Teacher”). Prior to the test I had been training consistently since April of this year at a friends dojo and my local gym.

It had been about 5 years since I’ve last practiced my discipline, Wado-Ryu Karate-Do, so my recollection of the system was very vague. After watching numerous tapes of myself as a young martial artist, I had re-learned my under belt curriculum, however I was struggling to remember my black belt curriculum. If you know anything about martial arts, one’s under belt knowledge is essential because it is considered as the foundation of one’s training. On the other hand, a lot of people believe that your training truly begins when you achieve your first black belt. I couldn’t agree more. When I was promoted to Sho Dan (1st Degree Black Belt) my interpretation about Wado-Ryu and the martial arts had grown dramatically and I began to really learn.

Either way, I needed to know everything that could have possibly been thrown at me because it had been 10 years since my last official test.

In July, I went to Nashville to train with my highly recognized and beloved instructor Sensei Wayne Tyler. I consider him as a father figure in my martial arts career because of his vast knowledge of Wado-Ryu and unconditional love for his students and the art. Imagine being a scientist and your teacher was Albert Einstein – that is what it feels like to be under the wing of Sensei Tyler (or Mr. Tyler, as I call him). I was in Nashville training with Sensei 2 – 3 hours per day for 5 days. I caught up on my curriculum and took the extra knowledge that was passed down by him and applied it to my training back in Denver.

Again, since I didn’t know what to expect, I conditioned myself to be ready for almost anything. Not only was I practicing my basics and katas (Japanese forms), but I was also running 2 miles, three days per week, 15 – 20 minutes on the rowing machine and about 6 – 7 miles on the stationary bike. I don’t think I could have been more prepared for this test.

I successfully passed my test and was promoted to San Dan on October 17th 2006. I must say, this was one of my greatest accomplishments in my martial arts career and a dream come true. It has taken me several years to reach this goal, but it has reinforced my interpretation of being a black belt, or in my case – San Dan.

 

What a Black Belt Means to Me

 

Being a black belt is more than just another rank in the martial arts. It’s a milestone that every martial artist strives for but only a small percentage actually achieve. Obtaining a black belt or equivalent ranking in any art takes a lot of dedication and perseverance. The journey appears never ending as a kyu rank (under belt), but once you reach that stage its an amazing achievement. When I was 13 years old I passed my Sho Dan test. I can remember sleeping with my belt practically every night. No joke. I would take it everywhere – the folks and I are going to the store, my belt came along. Spending the night at a friend’s house, my belt came along.

What I didn’t realize though, is there comes a great deal of responsibility by being a black belt. I don’t believe one recognizes this until they have been a Yudansha (black belt) for a few years. It probably didn’t hit me until I was a full time instructor, and more when I stepped away from teaching. Students look up to us. We are what they want to be when they grow up. Remember when you were a child and you had a favorite athlete and when you played that particular sport you were always them. That’s what a black belt resembles. Students watch every move we make and duplicate them almost to a ‘T’. We are roll models to them and their families. I accept that. I would rather make a positive impact in a young martial artists life then see them throw their life away. I would rather inspire a self-doubted child, than see him struggle with confidence issues throughout his childhood and into his teenage years.

So what does a black belt mean to me? A way of life. I pay more attention to the path, and not the pinnacle of the art because in reality, there is no pinnacle. It is a journey that will never end. And now that I am in the process of opening my own dojo, being a San Dan has more meaning than before. I wan to make sure I am the best martial artist I can be in order for my future students to learn the beauty of Wado-Ryu.

Our instructors, and their instructors, and their instructor’s instructor were taught certain ways to carry themselves and expectations of being a black belt. Whether it be physically, mentally, or socially. This has been passed down to us and it is our duty to continue to pass this “unwritten rule” on to future generations of martial artists. Why? It’s tradition. It’s the martial way. We are the leaders of our dojo.

Now that you know what a black belt means to me, I challenge you to find out what a black belt means to you.

By: Sensei Javier Lozano, Jr.
3rd Degree Black Belt
Wado-Ryu, Karate