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sensei8
KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 23 Feb 2008
Posts: 14370
Location: Houston, TX
Styles: Shindokan Saitou-ryu [Shuri-te/Okinawa-te based]

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2014 2:20 pm    Post subject: Has Age Gotten in the Way of the Martial Arts? Reply with quote

I'm of the opinion that no one under the age of 18 years old should ever be awarded a black belt in any martial art. Even more so, no Dan level above Junior Black Belt whatsoever - no Shodan, and most especially, no Nidan and above should ever be awarded to any student under the age of 18 years old.

The word Dan means "man" and the word Sho means "first." The etymology is meant to be "first man" - in other words, there's a traditional reason for this belief. In Japan, a young female/male becomes an adult at the age of 16 years old. According to Japanese ethos, 16 years of age is the youngest one could be mature enough to be an adult; therefore, this is why they don't give black belts to children.

This might explain why many - not all - martial arts cultures have adopted Japan's methodology of restricting children black belts. It seems to me that other cultures found throughout the world have extended the Japanese ethos to reach up to 18 years of age.

The rank of black belt requires a certain physical skill level, but it also requires a certain level of emotional maturity. Children are just that - children - and they can't demonstrate the level of emotional maturity required to be considered a black belt.

For me, black belt requires much more than physical abilities. I'm not of the opinion that if a student under 18 years old can do the syllabus just as well as a student that's over the age of 18, that child student should be awarded said black belt. For me, it goes beyond performing the techniques.

The motor functions and concentrations of a child can't be matched to those of an adult without standards suffering. Therefore, the quality of the rank diminishes expeditiously.

How much maturity is required for a full-fledged black belt? Much more than a child can possess! Maturity is determined by either the Sensei or the governing body, and in that, maturity isn't determined by anyone else. Not the student, not the parent(s)/guardian(s), not by the drive-by audience, and not by anyone else.

For example, children under a certain age can't drive a car per state laws. A child can't enter into a binding written agreement with an adult. A child can't move out on their own unless a judge orders it to be so, but even in that, a child will be remanded to the Department of Human Services until a judge determines otherwise.

Black belt is often viewed by many martial artists and governing bodies as the holy grail of all martial arts ranks. When, after all, it's just cloth and/or a symbol. Or is it? A sacred thing to posses, but it's not an ordinary symbol, nor is it an ordinary piece of cloth to posses. What the Yudansha brings to the table is more than some can come to terms with.

Junior Black Belt

To me, this isn't the same thing as a child receiving Shodan (a full-fledged black belt). This is when a child has demonstrated the required technical skills for the rank of black belt. However, because children under the age of 18 years old aren't capable of the level of maturity of an adult, they're awarded a Junior Black Belt (JBB).

As a JBB, the student can't earn Shodan or above per the reasons stated in the previous paragraph. It isn't fair! Trust me, I know, and I can feel your disappointment. I was a JBB myself for five long and trying years. I earned my JBB at 13 years of age. I had to battle with the rejection(s). To me, I was being rejected because I wasn't 18 years of age - age discrimination of a sort.

It took me just over a year to accept the JBB and its limited expressions as well as its varied exceptions. Finally, I understood the reasons explained to me by Soke, Saitou Sensei and Dai-Soke, Takahashi Sensei, but that doesn't mean that I had to like it. That first year or so, I detested everything about being a JBB.

Besides, what could I do? Nothing! The JBB was what Soke allowed and what Dai-Soke enforced! In the remaining years leading up to my 18th birthday, I became more and more accepting of my JBB. Mainly because I wasn't the only student thrust into that world; I wasn't alone. I had company on the floor. We became a very tight group; there was an undeniable camaraderie amongst us. We weren't to be denied anything, except full-fledged black belt status.

Because I was a child, I did childish things from time to time, while on the floor, even with my JBB wrapped around my waist. We were taught to use discipline, courtesy and respect - on and off the floor at all times. However, I horse-played on the floor, and I was rambunctious to a fault. Sometimes my shenanigans got me my share of grief. The floor is sacred, and I disrespected it. No excuses! I learned a lot on the floor; things that would serve me better when I became an adult and when I became a Shodan. The older I was, the more mature I became. But I'm a slow learner at times.

The ways of Soke and Dai-Soke eventually became our ways; therefore, they became my ways as well. I support and enforce the directions of Soke concerning the JBB and all it stands for through his teachings.

"Children aren't adults. Adults aren't children."

- Soke Saitou Sensei

We must understand this. Karate-do is for all students, however, with much responsibility comes much expectation. Therefore, maturity seems to be the key with many martial artists, while others say that ability is key!

In Shindokan, we use the JBB and all of its trappings. However, we don't use Junior Green Belt or Junior Brown Belt or Junior Yellow belt, and the other spectrum of colors found in a rainbow. Students, under the age of 18 years old, stand shoulder to shoulder in the Kyu status with adults. Within the Kyu system, children are viewed as equals with adults when rank becomes the factor to be considered.

Within Shindokan, reaching Dan status is saved for the adult students alone! When I was a JBB, my techniques were equivalent to other adults of Shodan status, but I wasn't given that equivalent respect based on my tender age.

Kyu or Dan students are not equal, and this doesn't breach compatibility, but it does breach a moral obligation to ones young student. Treating them with indifference because they're not an adult doesn't seem proper, nor does it seem ethical!

Now, I/we can argue for all eternity for and against styles that are proponents of the JBB, but when all of the smoke and dust has cleared away, the final authority rests in the breast of the Soke type and/or with the Hombu. After that, the rest seems to be quite mute.

When one wants tomatoes, guess what? One will have to go to the tomato vendor. Within the martial arts, the same appears to be just as true. You want to learn this style from this instructor? Well, you'll have to accept their rules and regulations! I suppose that this can be a small price to pay.

As Kaicho of the Shindokan Karate-do and Kobudo Association, I can vote to abolish the JBB, but a change of that magnitude within our by-laws would require a majority of the votes. Mine is just one vote, and one vote isn't a majority. I don't see it ever happening because within the Shindokan circle, some are quite loyal to Soke/Dai-Soke. Having said that, when it concerns the by-laws, the entire lot couldn't agree on if it was day time or not, even though they'd all be standing outside at noon. The simplest thing becomes the most difficult to embrace.

Conclusion

I'm slowly approaching my 50th year in the martial arts - this October of 2014. I've seen a lot, I've learned a lot, I've taught a lot, I've accepted a lot, and I've refused a lot.

I've developed my own keen understandings based on the two most important martial artists in my life: Soke Fuyuhiko Saitou and Dai-Soke Yoshinobu Takahashi. Their teachings across the board were invaluable to me, and without either of them, I'd be nothing more than that speck that's found on the top of bird droppings.

I've also gleaned quite a lot over the many, many years from other martial artists that I've had the honor to share the floor with, including those whom are outside the Shindokan circle. As a MAist, I've read my share of martial arts theories, methodologies and ideologies, either discovered in a book or buried in some forgotten article. Some, I've adopted, while others, I've discarded. I've developed my own opinions over time.

My own opinions, as well as my own beliefs, have fueled some debates in and outside of KarateForums.com. Some informative, while others not so informative; depending on whom you ask.

I'm accountable for everything I do, say and/or think. I must always be honest with myself, as well as with my fellow martial artist. I've got to look in the mirror. Sometimes, what I see doesn't quite reflect favorably. It's okay to have an opinion, but it's not okay to vex another when my opinion hastens one's betterment. 1 Corinthians 10:23 states, "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify."

Some of my opinions are just that: my opinion. It doesn't mean I'm right, and it doesn't mean I'm wrong. Either way, respect for my fellow martial artist should be greater than my own opinion. Their beliefs are their way, and in that, it should be respected above all things because their way just might be the right way, after all. Matthew 7:3 states, "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"

I could be wrong!

If I'm wrong, I'll be the first to admit it! As of now, I'm still a proponent against child black belts, and I still enforce the reality of the JBB. Both beliefs have served me quite well all of these many years, and like an old comfortable pair of slippers, the newness of a new pair might not be as comfortable as the old pair. Change is inevitable, and I'm not against change because change has served in my life.
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Patrick
KF Administrator

Joined: 01 May 2001
Posts: 27029
Location: Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2014 2:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for the submission, Bob.

Patrick
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Maria White
White Belt
White Belt

Joined: 11 Sep 2014
Posts: 6


PostPosted: Wed Sep 24, 2014 1:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You are absolutely correct. A level of emotional maturity is indeed require along with expertise to be a rightful claimant of black belt. I completely agree with whatever you have stated. Thanks for such a wonderful post.
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ninjanurse
KF VIP

Joined: 13 Feb 2003
Posts: 6154
Location: Upstate NY
Styles: TKD;Shotokan;JuJitsu;Tai Ji

PostPosted: Tue Sep 30, 2014 11:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great insight into a complex subject-handled vey well!!!!


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KyungYet
Yellow Belt
Yellow Belt

Joined: 26 Sep 2013
Posts: 50

Styles: 100% powered by Tang Soo Do for nearly 30 years.

PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 5:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wouldn't say you're wrong! I might say you're using a one-size-fits-all approach. I understand why. I often but not always agree with it, because some 17 year olds are more mature (and more skilled!) than some 30 year olds. This will not be the rule, but there are always exceptions.

I think the JBB is there to prevent a false sense of security. I can just see some poor 14 year old with a 3rd degree black belt get his/her bottom handed to them and wonder "how did this happen? I'm an advanced black belt!" Obviously, this has to do with skill level, strength, and as you mentioned, emotional maturity.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not sure what the 100% optimal answer to this is. Our studio has 2nd and 3rd degree black belts under the age of 18. Some of them are truly stellar martial artists, with great attitudes and tons of maturity/responsibility. But some of them definitely should not be wearing anything other than a JBB.

I think maybe that the instructors need to make a call together. That is, you've probably had an over-18 student who wasn't mature enough to test. Maybe they had poor control, or a bad attitude, and you had to tell them that they failed their exam or weren't ready to advance in the first place (or even that they needed to leave your studio!). If a student is ready, a student is ready, and I might be willing to make that call (ideally, with the collusion of another black belt or two) for people of various ages, ranging from teenagehood into adulthood.

But you have to draw the line somewhere. Maybe 15? 16? Indeed, it is a knotty little issue, and I appreciate your thoughts on it!!

KY
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ps1
Black Belt
Black Belt

Joined: 09 Nov 2004
Posts: 3024
Location: NE Ohio
Styles: Chuan Fa, Shotokan, JJJ, BJJ

PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2014 2:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree.

There's no appropriate way to judge a child against the same moral qualifications that you would judge an adult. Even 18 seems pretty young in that regard. Every warrior class in history, including today's US Military has had a warrior ethos that went along with their training. Those who didn't became unruly and uncontrollable (the Huns are an example) and abused their power. There's no reason not to expect the same character and moral qualification to go along with our students, especially since most will never have real combat to balance their training out and purge the violent urges.
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Nidan Melbourne
KF Sempai
KF Sempai

Joined: 21 Aug 2013
Posts: 2202
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Styles: Goju-Ryu, BJJ, Balintawak Arnis

PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2014 8:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
How much maturity is required for a full-fledged black belt? Much more than a child can possess!


I teach juniors weekly and there are many juniors that are more mature than a lot of the adults that I train with.

Maturity is not based purely off age. Those juniors that are more mature than the adults come from backgrounds where they were forced to grow up before their time.
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sensei8
KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 23 Feb 2008
Posts: 14370
Location: Houston, TX
Styles: Shindokan Saitou-ryu [Shuri-te/Okinawa-te based]

PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2014 7:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I understand what all of you are saying when you speak about maturity, and often times, the governing bodies By-Laws have no flexibility, nor do they have any ambiguity when it comes to certain concerns. Is this fair? Depends; some will favor while others will not.

Without rules, By-Laws, then I suppose that their would be anarchy of an untold proportions.



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ninjanurse
KF VIP

Joined: 13 Feb 2003
Posts: 6154
Location: Upstate NY
Styles: TKD;Shotokan;JuJitsu;Tai Ji

PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 6:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

ps1 wrote:
I agree.

There's no appropriate way to judge a child against the same moral qualifications that you would judge an adult. Even 18 seems pretty young in that regard. Every warrior class in history, including today's US Military has had a warrior ethos that went along with their training. Those who didn't became unruly and uncontrollable (the Huns are an example) and abused their power. There's no reason not to expect the same character and moral qualification to go along with our students, especially since most will never have real combat to balance their training out and purge the violent urges.


A great point here. And, while the kids may learn the same curriculum there should be no comparison between the under 18's and the over 18's-only comparison within their own group based on cognitive, behavioral, and physical development.


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sensei8
KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 23 Feb 2008
Posts: 14370
Location: Houston, TX
Styles: Shindokan Saitou-ryu [Shuri-te/Okinawa-te based]

PostPosted: Tue Oct 07, 2014 9:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I suppose that this argument will ever die as long as either side is unable to change their viewpoints on this subject. Impressing change won't be that easy as long as ones ensconced in their beliefs.

However, for the betterment of the MA, and for the betterment of all MAist, an acceptable middle ground should be reached beyond an amicable agreement. But, I believe that that's just a dream of this foolish old man.

That being said, I just can't see a change, in this matter, because, for example [I'll take the hits on this one], in our annual meeting this past July, as this very subject had been discussed...

"We've, the Shindokan Hombu (SKKA), formally decided to remain viscerally opposed against eliminating our JBB program for awarding any Dan grade to any student who's not reached their 18th birthday. Albeit, to continue in unequivocal support that were, and still are, the beliefs and reasons as set forthwith by Soke Fuyuhiko Saitou per our By-Laws and/or supportive internal documentations."

Oftentimes, I find myself in a quandrum of indecisiveness over this subject because I DO see the arguments from those who are diametrically opposed to our Hombu, and I also oftentimes grieve in my spirit as though I'm stifling the MA betterment of a MAist, even though that MAist hasn't, as of yet, reached their 18th birthday. A birthdate shouldn't be, in this regards, a form of punishment.

I'm torn between loyalty and civility, in this regards.



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