In 1989 I got my first degree black belt (shodan) in Shaolin Kempo Karate. I remember the culture in those days, when you got your black belt you entered into a brotherhood. Of course non gender specific brotherhood, although woman black belts in our group at that time were rare they shared the same respect and comradery. My challenge here is describing a feeling, the members of the black belt fraternity were a group of people you could count on to look out for your best interest. Our organization has schools all across the country so there were many members who shared a bond yet never met. When meeting a black belt from across the country or neighboring state the connection (trust, respect, familiarity) was instantaneous. The instructors were the upper echelon, the elite of the club. A good instructor serves the students, so becoming a member at this level was a responsibility not taken lightly. The non instructor members understood that and would go out of their way to assist the instructors in any capacity they could. This created a paradoxical relationship because, in the martial arts and life we are all students from our first day to our last.
In the 27 years since the day I was initiated, I have seen a dilution of this bond. There are those who abuse the culture with their inflated ego’s. Forgetting that it’s their place to serve subordinates, not to be served. Even the ugly face of greed has found it’s way into the mix. Many stop training and plugging in to the group, isolating themselves. This just fosters discontent and becomes part of the problem. Because of the nature of the admittance there has been is no method to ostracize the abusers of the culture. How do we move forward? How do we rekindle the fire of the brotherhood? Is this bond a thing of the past?
Last weekend I took one of my assistant instructors to the Utah tournament. Besides judging he would be fighting in the instructors division for the first time. During the 5 hr road trip to Sandy Utah form Las Vegas the discussion focused on his inexperience fighting in that elevated division. I explained to him not only was he ready for the challenge but at his level it’s not about the outcome it’s about being a part of something much bigger than a plastic trophy (the brotherhood). On the trip home he started the conversation, with an excited tone he said “I get it, I just met those guys and I feel like they are my brothers”.
Is it that simple? Is all we need to do is move forward, continue to do the things the way we’ve always done them? I believe the answer is in the Shodans. Give them the same opportunity’s we had. Guide them to get involved with group workouts, tournaments and clinics. That elusive culture comes from the common sacrifices we made on our individual paths that lead us to the start of the path after black belt. That’s the bond that created the fraternity, all we need to foster the culture is to be in it.