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How Do You Wear Your Rank?

Our rank designation will naturally or should change as we continue to train and advance through our martial arts studies.

As in karate, we start as a white belt and expectations for a period of time are low.  We are inundated with new terms (maybe in a foreign language), stances, etiquette, technique, movement and so on – 95% physical and 5% mental!   Our heads are spinning and not a lot is expected of us for a while!   Our rank is apropos — for now!

We’ve been training for say, 6 months now and we’re about orange belt level, the dojo is starting to really feel like something special.   Not quite in our element yet, but the atmosphere is slowly permeating and expectations are still minimal.   Around the year mark, with luck and determination, we are now green belt.   Our niche in the dojo is being carved as we are recognized as a serious student in the making!   At this juncture of our training, expectations are made as our confidence and self esteem grows.   Others may notice that we perhaps carry ourselves a little more assuredly.   This is the beginning of an intermediate student and as such, an awareness of how we carry our rank is important.  Are we good examples of a martial arts student?    Gut check time.  Yes, we’re all in!

With consistent and regular training, ah, now around 4 years, maybe we’ve attained brown belt!   No one works harder than a brown belt!  Bright coloured belts are gone and now we are within striking distance of the all elusive black belt!   We work hard to prove that we deserve this rank and we work hard to prove that we are legitimate contenders for that Black obi!!   The Martial Arts culture is in us!

So how do brown belts wear their rank?   Brown belts are senior students that lead by example on and off the dojo deck.  They wear their rank with humility recognizing that they are constantly being watched by all up and coming students, as well as their seniors in rank!   Brown belts wear their rank off the dojo deck in everyday life carrying their positive attributes developed in the dojo beyond their training venue, at all times.

We’ve been learning, training and have embraced our art to the point where we are now rewarded with Shodan (1st degree black belt)!   Congrats!   Black belt brings responsibility.   We are now, more than ever, looked up to, to lead, mentor and demonstrate how a martial artist wears his/her rank!    And now another reality hits us… we realize that we are actually just starting to learn in earnest AND share.

From Shodan on up, any black belt is not only viewed and judged by physical prowess, but more than ever by how they present their rank, whether by teaching and leading, but also by good character always!   Our ranks and the responsibility attached to it, is how we present ourselves in all aspects of our lives.  Our training through the ranks with lessons learned, make us accountable – the higher the rank, the more accountability.

Wear your rank well.

Picking A Teacher



So you’ve decided that joining a Quilting Bee or taking up Bridge, is out and the Martial Arts appeals to you – Great!   You are now on a journey that millions the world over, at some point also started.  The first step is always the biggest and the most important.

Now, you have to determine which branch of the Martial Arts strikes a chord with yourself.

Is it a sport or an art that you want to best invest your time in?  Competition bound?   To what degree of physicality are you capable of – light or more strenuous?   Is it for self defence or more of an exotic interest that you’ve always had.

As you can see, there’s lots to weigh in on with your decision to embrace the Martial Arts.

Some of the more popular options you have in the Arts are; Karate, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Escrima, Tae Kwon Do, Boxing, Iaido, Kendo, etc., etc.

Once you’ve chosen your art of interest, congrats, you’re in for a worthwhile journey of self discovery!   I’ll use Karate as an example interest as it is my primary field of study in the Martial Arts.

Now it’s time to locate a reputable school to train (dojo). The dojo on the corner is the handiest but sometimes it may not be the best choice.  It’s here that you must do your homework.  The internet is helpful as are personal referrals.  Go in and ask questions – is the atmosphere conducive to serious study?  Are the students enthusiastic?   Are the dojo’s hours of operation helpful?   Are the rates reasonable?   Can you take a limited number of free introductory classes?  Is the primary focus of the Instructor on selling you a Black belt over a few years guaranteed?  Is dojo insured?   Who does most of the teaching (a senior student or the Teacher)?   Is there a traceable lineage to the dojo’s Senseis?

These are just a sampling of the queries you must ask in order to determine if this is the dojo for you.  To often many of us have heard the horror stories of Karate schools (or other martial art schools) where the manager’s focus is on your wallet or where a long term contract is signed and no one pays attention to your progress until contract renewal time is coming up.  Hopefully those days are gone but just be aware anyway!

You’ve picked a dojo?  Ah, but did you pick your Teacher??  Very important, I should say MOST important!  This is the Sensei that you will entrust to guide you up the mountain path through mental blocks, physical trials, injuries, lots of sweat and plenty adversity.

A good Sensei will lead by example, he/she will have a Teacher above them as they will also have to learn and advance their own knowledge and pass onto you.  Unless your Teacher is in Okinawa or Asia, they will have a Teacher ranking above them.

A good Teacher motivates, inspires and takes pride in their students and thereby develops a healthy training relationship also.   Without asking, a good Teacher has respect from everyone just by being a true Martial Artist sharing knowledge, philosophy and the history behind this very exotic endeavour.

Anyone can be an instructor leading a class, counting and showing what has to be done.  A Teacher shows and teaches why it works and works with you to achieve your full potential in this lifelong interest. I would venture that for every 75 instructors, there is one good Teacher!

A great Teacher is hard to find and you will know one when you find one. Maybe they are at the corner dojo, but odds are you’ll have to seek one out a little further away, but well worth the effort once found!

Kouun o oinori shite imasu!

Yours in the arts, Gary Christensen

Top 5 Okinawan Weapons – Part I: The “Bo-om” Stick

Picture it – ancient Okinawa. It’s a beautiful summer’s morning and you’re just minding your own business; quietly tending to your rice patty. Suddenly, you hear screams in the distance. “What the hell?!”, they seem to be coming from your family farmhouse! You race back to find that some local prefect (aka “dumb-ass”) decided it was a good idea to get drunk on cheap saki, ride his horse over to your crib and start harassing your beautiful wife. Fortunately for you, you’ve been training in the ways of Karate-do basically since birth. Oh ya, and that “walking stick” leaning up against the wall? Well that just happens to be the world’s most dangerous piece of pine, when placed in the hands of a skilled kobudo expert…. and that just happens to be you. What happens next resembles something I saw in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie last week. A few good, strategically placed strikes and lets just say someone’s wife is very, very appreciative. *wink!

Seriously though, the Okinawan’s were great at two things.. fighting with their bare hands, and fighting with …. well, ….not-bare hands? Otherwise know as kobudo, or weapons. Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore the coolest Okinawan kobudo weapons to ever grace the hands of a Karate expert. Believe me, if you ever run into a guy wielding any of these little beauties, make like tree and leave. You’ll thank me for the advise.

So, whats first on our Top 5 List? Naturally, The Bo. Call’em Sticks… Big, long boom-sticks! Who knew ultra-straight pieces of wood could be so deadly. And heck, why not? I mean, if an assailant is charging you via trusty steed, what better way to un-politely dismount your nemesis than to spear him with a big long Bo. It has been argued throughout the ages, the validity of the Bo as the supreme weapon of choice for Okinawan, peasant warriors. Think of the Bo like kobudo’s version of soccer. It’s a skill that everyone can develop, no matter how poor you are. All you need is a fresh supply of trees and zing, you can make yourself a Bo. Sure, it sounds a bit Neanderthal-ish, after-all, you’re essentially beating a man with a tree branch, but at the end of the day you’ve got to use the tools available to you, right? The Bo is pretty popular among today’s Karate-ka. It’s the first weapon that pops into your head when you think Karate. As far as functionality, we asked one of the world’s greatest wielders’ of Bo, in which situation would the Bo come in most handy.

Scenario One – It’s the year 1753. You’re minding your own business, making your way from your neighbourhood to your neighbouring village. The sun-dial on your wrist reads somewhere around 7:30 in the evening, and it’s getting dark. Just like the old Okinawan nursery rhyme says, “If you walk the path of the cherry blossom as the sun falls behind the mountain, assholes will appear.”  BOOM, 3 ninjas make a smoke-cloud entrance, (I hate it when they do that) and they didn’t come to practice the Japanese tea ceremony.

Scenario Two – Everybody loves a good cup of saki! Personally, I prefer mine warmed up – but hey, to each there own. Anyways, you’re a retired prefect, living in Tokyo in the twilight of the Japanese feudal period. Some might argue that you had a few too many wobbly-pops, but it’s not like they had breathalyzers back then – and besides, who’s counting? You decide to drain the dragon in a back ally way, when what appears to be a small, carnival midget looking samurai suddenly appears out of no where, set on ending your life. I don’t know why – maybe his little dragon is not as ferocious as yours? …hubba-hubba!

So, what’s the verdict? … oh please, read on!

Bo Master (names have been changed to protect the innocent): “Well clearly Scenario One would call for a Bo. I can handle one ninja blindfolded, even two – assuming they are from Southern Japan. But when three descend, I like to pack a little extra protection. Given the Bo’s long reach, it’s bound to help keep you out of range of those pesky ninja swords. I generally use them to cut the veggies before dinner, but I guess in the hands of a skillful ninja a sword could be a threat? Anyways, no matter – I’d quickly dispatch the fist 2 assailants and make sure the third suffered for his insolence.

Me: Okay, cool. But what about scenario 2? I hear samurai are pretty nasty.

Bo Master: I eat midget carnival samurai for breakfast.

Me: …gross.

Well that settles it folks. Clearly my keen interviewing skills allowed me to really cut to the heart of the issue. Look out George Stroumboulopoulos, here I come! By now you must be wondering what other weapons make our covenant list of 5. Stay tuned next week, when we post part II, lovingly titled, “Sticks of Death“. 🙂

Until then… drop lower in your stance…