Yesterday I read an essay on another blog and thought that the author, Aric A. Gibson, a practitioner of Cooper Ryu Vee Jitsu, was really on to something. He entitled his essay, "Martial Arts: Myths and etiquette. He wrote in part:
>The Black Belt
> There is a certain amount of mysticism in the black belt. The general public assigns the >symbolism of a black belt to mean “expert.” I think most martial artists would agree, however, that this >just is not the case. Some students beginning martial arts practice look at the attainment of the rank >of shodan as the end of a journey. Quite contrary, earning the rank of shodan, or 1st degree black >belt, is the beginning of the journey. Be earning this rank, it has been recognized that you are >competent enough in the basics of your art to begin “real” learning. The analogy of mudansha rank >being like undergraduate studies in college and yudansha rank as graduate studies was offered by a >sensei many years ago and has stuck with me. To quote author and budo man Dave Lowry, “In other >words, the black belt is a sign that you have walked through the door and little else. You are not an >expert. Not a teacher. You are not even someone who can adequately represent the art. The belt >means you have stuck it out long enough to warrant some serious consideration as a student, >period.” Keeping that idea in mind lends to the virtue of humility that has come to be associated with >traditional martial arts.
I’m interested in knowing what others associated with this blog are thinking in regard to the ideas that Mr. Gibson has written? Since I have not been part of a traditional martial arts system I can’t comment authoritatively on the idea that Shodans / 1st degree black belts are not teachers. My own impression is that Mr. Gibson and Mr. Lowry are correct based on my own observations of various people who have earned black belts in a number of martial arts systems. In fact I would suggest that the problem is not confined to just traditional martial arts systems. During my 30 years of training in Modern Arnis I have known only one teacher who opted to teach his students how to teach while they were still underbelts – my own teacher, Sifu Don Zanghi. It appears to me that most martial arts students regardless of system or style they are learning are not given any sort of formal, organized instruction in the art of teaching. Those students who do go on to open their own schools merely mimic the lessons as taught by their instructors. These people are engaged in ‘on the job training’ within their own schools.
When I was studying Kenpo-Arnis under Sifu Don Zanghi, I was assigned the task of “showing” new or younger students various aspects of the basics on a one to one basis from orange belt through green belt. These were the 2nd and 3rd belt colors in the Kenpo-Arnis System. The term “show” was used by Sifu Zanghi when made the assignment. I should also point out that I was already an experienced professional teacher when I joined his school, “Fight Back Institute”, so taking on a coaching assignment as soon as I finished my white belt wasn’t too difficult. On the other hand, that early coaching experience reinforced my understanding of the basics and sharpened my skills as a teacher in both the martial arts as well as sociology. In turn I’ve used Sifu Zanghi’s method with my own Kenpo-Arnis students. Having the students coaching one on one, two on one and still later four on one, the coaches learn the basics in depth themselves as they learn through guided experience how to teach.
Mr. Gibson’s essay is very interesting to me and I hope that everyone will share their ideas and experiences with regard to teaching with us.
Jerome Barber, Ed. D.