Earning a Black Belt Does NOT Make You a Master

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Everyone knows that earning a black belt in any martial art makes you a certifiable badass. It is a truly huge accomplishment, a testament to the dedication with which you’ve honed your skills.

However, a lot of folks think that earning a back belt means you’re now a master of that martial art, which is a serious misconception. In fact, a black belt is simply the first step towards mastery. The Japanese term for the rank of black belt, “shodan,” literally translates to “the first step.”

The Japanese characters for ‘shodan’
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A more detailed analysis of the kanji reveals even more detail: the symbol for “Sho” is made up of symbols for clothing and a sword/knife. The first step to creating a garment is to cut the material, so the “sho” part of “shodan” implies “to begin.”

The symbol for “dan” is similarly divisible, with the right side of it meaning “action/movement” and the left side of it meaning “skill/rank.” Put together, “shodan” represents the first/initial rank towards eventual mastery.

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Therefore, a student with a black belt has mastered the basics of blocking, kicking, and punching. However, they still have a long way to go to be considered a true master – now they must learn to perfect more advanced techniques, as well as figuring out when and where to best apply them.

Think of a black belt as graduating with honors in AP Physics. You’re certainly a more qualified physicist than the average man on the street, but you’ve still gotta go get your bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and doctorate before you’ll be recognized as a true master in the field.

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Some martial arts practices actually give out midnight blue belts instead of black, because unlike black belts, midnight blue can be made darker and darker as the student progresses. Other schools add stripes to their belts as a way of showing progression through more advanced degrees of mastery. Either way, a black belt doesn’t mean you’ve learned everything there is – it means you’ve only just begun.