It’s been a week since my black belt promotion ceremony, and I’ve noticed more change around me than within me.
Sure, it’s a big accomplishment, and I’m honored to be wearing it. But am I a different person from a week ago? Am I suddenly enlightened, or has my technique suddenly improved since last week? No, not really.
The recognition in others is the biggest change. I’m Mr. Oliveri in the dojo now, rather than Senpai (senior student) or just Mike. Students bow to me when we meet, and their demeanor and etiquette has changed, particularly with those students I didn’t know very well to begin with.
To me, that’s what the black belt symbolizes: accomplishment. It’s almost like a diploma. I am now recognized as an authority on Okinawan Shuri-ryu Karate. Not the authority, and certainly not a master or an expert, but simply someone whom other students and martial artists should be able to ask questions of.
It’s toughest to explain this to someone not in the martial arts. The week before my test, I had my kids in the dentist’s office and he saw me reading The Pinnacle of Karate, the manual for Shuri-ryu. We chatted about my upcoming test for a bit, and he wished me luck. Flash forward to yesterday, and I had my own dental appointment. My dentist asked about my test, congratulated me, and he said it must be nice to have more confidence as I walk down the street.
He’s not incorrect. I do feel more confident in strange places, or if someone gets in my face, but I had that before my instructor wrapped the belt around my waist. Six years of training is not trivial. There’s a huge difference between my skill and technique now and when I received my yellow belt, of course, but again, the belt is more about recognition.
What’s more, it’s an indicator of what I have done so far, as there’s a lot more training to come. I’ll be learning three new kata before I’m eligible for nidan (2nd degree), for example, and I’m expected to continue practicing and refining my technique. The black belt is a milestone, not a destination.
There’s some responsibility that comes with the black belt, especially in the dojo, and I’m sure I’ll adjust to them. In the meantime, I’m still just another martial artist.