The Perfection of Character

The Perfection of Character

As well as being a physical activity that improves both health and fitness, Karate is also a mental and spiritual discipline.

The physical benefits are noticed fairly early on in your training, in terms of more stamina, flexibility and strength, but the mental and spiritual aspects are very hard to quantify and take many years of hard practice to really appreciate.  However, it is important to have some mental goals to strive for and the ‘perfection of character’ is one such goal, which is closely associated with Karate and martial arts training in general.  ‘Perfection of character’ has almost become a cliché in martial arts circles, used constantly in written text as some ultimate goal of martial arts, strived for by the masses, yet attained only by the few.

Let’s throw this thinking out of the window straight away before we start and instead, let’s begin with some basic logic and then focus on why ‘perfection of character’ really does play an important role in Karate and martial arts.

Basic logic states that perfection of anything is ultimately impossible and is in essence something God-like.  The reason why is simply because if you can put a value on something then that value can always be bigger, better, more, higher, longer, etc., and ultimately infinite in nature.  If the world and the universe is infinite, then perfection can not possibly exist.  Many people have differing opinions on this of course. 

So if perfection is impossible, then why are we striving for ‘perfection of character’ anyway?  Isn’t that a waste of time?  Some people would say yes but I disagree.  The point being that by striving for perfection we constantly improve and polish ourselves.  Our techniques become stronger, faster and more focused.  Our etiquette and spirit improve and we become calmer and more in control of our lives and our emotions.  Essentially all we are doing is getting closer to perfection than we were before, despite knowing that the ultimate goal may be unattainable.

Indeed it is perhaps the fact that our ultimate goal is unattainable that the challenge of Karate will never diminish and actually gets harder as we gain more experience.  After passing my 3rd degree black belt I wrote in my notes that “the more I learn the less I know” and this just underlines further the point I am trying to make.  Our path in Karate and any martial art is that of the exponential graph that starts off slowly, picks up speed but as it gets closer to the goal it takes longer to get there.  Just like the graph we will never quite reach perfection but at least by trying we too get closer and closer to our goal.

This is the true meaning behind striving for “perfection of character”.

What do the different Black Belt Dan grades mean?

What do the different Black Belt Dan grades mean?

1st Degree means you now have a black belt and are recognized as a senior student (sempai) and in some cases an assistant instructor.

2nd Degree means you are now recognized as an instructor (sensei).

At 3rd degree level you can now open your own club or organization and be recognized as the Chief Instructor of that club or organization as well as becoming an expert in Karate technique (taisho).  This last item however is a little debatable nowadays.

4th Degree means you are continuing all of your good work in Karate and are now a very experienced instructor who is able to adapt Karate to each student’s strengths plus one’s own strengths.

Upon obtaining 5th Degree you have now become something special.  You not only have great experience as an instructor and club figurehead but you have also reached your physical peak in many cases.  From now on you have to rely on adrenaline, stubbornness and sheer willpower to do the things that once came naturally to you.

At 6th Degree you are still fighting with the fact that the physical aspect of Karate is starting to become more difficult yet your knowledge and insight have become deeper and more profound.  You have obtained a very high level of Karate and in some cases have been recognized as Master Instructor (Shihan).

7th Degree Black Belts are relatively rare and are entering into the realm of being a highly sought after commodity.  They have experience, skill, insight, as well as still having phenomenal technical ability that will put any 3rd degree in his prime to shame.  They command respect and generally have been practicing Karate for about 35 years.  The average 7th degree is about 50 years old, could be your Dad or Uncle (depending on your age) and scares the **** out of you.

The 8th Degree Black Belt is in his mid 50s or approaching 60 and has come to terms with his decline in physical prowess.  However his movements are now more fluid and efficient.  He has vast experience and many stories to tell about fellow masters and teachers.  Listen to every word he has to say with a tempered mix of awe, respect and a mild pinch of salt.  He is on the verge of being a revered Master.

9th Degree Black Belts have made it in Karate terms.  They are everything you dream of becoming.

10th Degree Black Belts know everything yet claim to know nothing.  They have been wearing their black belt for so long that it has become white once more and they think they are beginners all over again (or so they say).

*Please take this article with the pinch of salt that is meant to accompany it.  I am still only a 4th degree black belt and as such I really have very little idea of what each black belt degree really means.  My assumptions are based on pure observations of my own instructors and other high ranking Karate-ka and what I learned from them!  My purpose in writing this article was purely for a little fun.  My gut feeling however on this whole charade of rank is that it really doesn’t mean much to anyone but the person holding the rank and the person who gave the said rank to them!