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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

White Belts

In karate, the white belt is the belt you get when you begin training.  It's blank, ready to soak up all your knowledge and experience.  Most people are only white belts for a few months, but those are the most important months of training.  It's where you learn your basics: stances, strikes, blocks, first kata.  Once you've become a yellow or green belt, you don't practice these things as much, because you're too busy with spinning hook kicks and dynamic tension.  But the basics are important, because you can't build a house without a firm foundation.  You can't compose epic poetry or the Great American Novel if you don't know your ABC's. 

The tradition of belt colors comes from way, way back in the dark ages of martial arts.  Originally, you would get one belt.  It would be white.  You would train in it very hard.  It would see you through long, sweaty hours of kata practice and hitting punching bags until your knuckles were raw.  You would wear it as you did forward rolls until your head spun, and sparred with people with twice your skill.  Eventually, the belt would get pretty grimy, since you don't wash it.  By the time your skills had reached their peak, the belt would be so dirty it was practically black.
Nowadays, for whatever reason, we use belt color.  In the style I practice, when a student is promoted, she receives a new belt.  Her old belt is given to a junior student.  With white belts, this is not so.  A student keeps her white belt until she is ready to test for black belt.  For one month before the test, she wears her white belt because really, she's still a beginner.  There's always room to improve and more to learn.
I am fortunate that at my dojo, we have White Belt Classes.  These classes aren't strictly for white belts; it's just white belt material.  It's a great place to work on basics, which might seem a little boring once you've had a taste of the jumping knee kick, but it's actually a lot of fun.

Things I Have Done In White Belt Class:
  • Met new students as they joined the dojo
  • Learned how to do the side kick without hurting my hip
  • Kicked a floppy target across the room as a demonstration of the awesomeness of the outside-in crescent kick.
  • Messed up the most basic kata in our style.
  • Fixed my mistake on the most basic kata in our style.
  • Realized that I've been doing the high block all wrong for quite some time.
Our style embraces the concept of Ren Ma: constant polishing.  You can never be perfect, just as you can never count to infinity, no matter how high you go.  Even our Grand Master hasn't mastered every single aspect of karate.
I keep my white belt on a shelf in my closet.  Sometimes I put it on, just for a minute, to remind myself that in a way, I am still that thirteen-year-old girl with two braids who stood at the end of the line of students at the beginning of class, and struggled to master a simple front kick.  I am still that girl, and even when I am in my thirties or forties and I'm a black belt and I teach at the dojo, I'll always keep that girl with me.  She's got a lot to teach me.

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