The Meaning of Black Belt
October 11, 2009
What does it mean to be a black belt in the art of Taekwon-Do? Literally, it means one has advanced to the next level and has become more skilled with their techniques. The new colour marks the next step to becoming the best one can be. But there are always more than one definition to a word. The figurative and more important meaning is much more sophisticated. One has taken their first step into learning the art of Taekwon-Do. Yes, first step, because the significance of becoming a black belt does not mark the end, but merely the beginning. All the previous training was simply the basics; the basics required in any field. One cannot hope to paint a masterpiece without first learning to use the brush. At this stage, knowledge is key; for a student must understand how to use this brush and why. One has now understood all the basics; basics that every student must first learn, whether they are destined to be the greatest fighter, the most educated teacher, or simply a student who was trying something new. Now comes the greatest transition in this art, for the student takes on an identity of his own. The student is no longer considered “just a student” but now has become unique. Their name is given, literally and figuratively, with their belt and everything about them takes on a new form. Keeping the analogy of painting, no two paintings are the same, therefore every masterpiece has a unique excellence and even a unique weakness about it. This new student who aspires to become a masterpiece must therefore hone his skills and not only improve his weaknesses, but his strengths as well, for those are what makes him unique. Why deny the student the right to become the best he can be in what he does best? These strengths define the student and his uniqueness. Now that the student has understood all the basics, they can adapt in whichever way they want. They can adapt to new styles, new ideas, even create them; it is their freedom to choose who they wish to be.
There are also many theoretical meanings to becoming a Black Belt. There are, for instance, a specific set of characteristics that one must learn to master. What I speak of are the five tenets that make up any warrior who is a disciple in the art of Taekwon-Do: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control, and Indomitable Spirit. One must understand, not definitively, but actively, the meaning of these words and promote this understanding through their actions.
The Black Belt also implies responsibility. Quoting Master David’s analogy of the meaning of each coloured belt, “The Black signifies the death of the flower, who returns to the soil to nurture the seeds,” and so the responsibility to nurture is taken on. Whether it be a friendly hand, a quick suggestion or a meaningful explanation, a Black Belt must have the ability to give advice and lend a hand to their peers. It is their duty to do so, because they must be more experienced than those who are of a lower belt. That is simply a pre-requisite, which every Black Belt must have: Experience, for attaining such a high level must be worked at very hard for a considerably long amount of time.
The transition to Black Belt is not simply physical, but most likely can and should be mental as well and I believe everyone has their own personal meaning to getting their Black Belt that is intertwined with the fixed meanings. Maturity and humility are both important in this context, but what I mainly speak of is overcoming one’s most grieving difficulties. In my case, the importance of this mental transition greatly surpasses the physical; I must overcome my fiercest rival: Myself. The injury I sustained on my foot was a blessed curse, one might say, because not only will it make my transition more difficult, but it will do so by taking the best characteristic about me and putting it against myself. Allow me to explain the irony of this happening so close to my exam date.
No matter the difficulty of the challenge, I have always come through having done the absolute best that I could do when it was called for. My determination is my most prized quality, for I stop at nothing to surpass my limits. But with this injury, it seems to only get worse, the harder I push. I cannot overcome it with brute force and tolerance of pain as I have usually done. This is the first time this has happened to me; how ironic I must learn the most important lesson of my martial art experience during my transition to the stage in which I can say I have conquered just that. This is my personal meaning of black belt; overcoming my own habits to learn and adapt to a new problem. It means to overcome my greatest strength which has now opposed me and become my strongest enemy. It means besting the best of myself.