Tag Archives: Black belt

THE BLACK BELT: A Distracting Symbol

10 Jun

We are competitive by nature. We like to compete, even with ourselves. Achieving results in competition means achieving the desired goal. No matter what the situation, sports, business, hobbies, and even life itself, we want to taste the sweet taste of success. To do this, goals must be achieved; we must feel like we “won.”

When you are involved in a competitive situation do you over concentrate on fulfilling the desired goal? Are you obsessed with winning? If you are, you may have noticed that the more you concentrate, the less likely you are to succeed. If so, here’s a story from the martial arts that will be benefit to you.

The story is the lesson of the novice student and the black belt.

At the end of class, before dismissing the student population, it is customary for Sensei to ask whether there are any questions. One night, a novice student asked Sensei, “Sensei, how long will it take me to earn my black belt?” Hearing the question, Sensei looked at the novice and said, “Based upon all my years of practicing and teaching karate-do, I do not know how long it will take you to earn your black belt.” Although the student was somewhat taken aback by the non-answer of his Sensei, he thought it best to accept the answer.

As he lay in bed that night, the student thought about Sensei’s reply. The truth be told, the student felt Sensei had dodged his question. He was determined to  get Sensei to commit to a specific time period.

At the end of the next training session, Sensei again inquired as to whether the students had any questions. It seemed no one had a question, so Sensei was about to dismiss the class when suddenly, the novice raised his hand and said, “I have a question Sensei.” “If I work twice as hard as every student in the Dojo, how long will it take me to earn my black belt.” At first, Sensei was annoyed by the novice’s question. Class that night was particularly sweat-filled and overflowing with information. “Surely, some one must have a worthy question instead of this drivel about belts?” thought Sensei. Sensei hid his disappointment, looked at the novice and answered, “If you train twice as hard as every other student I know you think you will earn your black belt in one-half of the time, but you are misguided.” “If you train twice as hard as the others, it will take you double the time to earn a black belt.” While the senior students nodded knowingly at Sensei’s reply, the novice was clearly frustrated with Sensei’s answer. 

That night, at home the novice realized his patience was exhausted, he asked a simple question, he thought Sensei should give him a simple answer. A few of the novice’s friends also studied karate but at a different dojo. At their dojo, a new student signed a contract enrolling them in the “black belt club” for four years and at the end of the four years, they were guaranteed to receive a black belt. If only the novice enrolled in that dojo, he would be a black belt in four years. Better still, logic would mandate that if he worked twice as hard as everyone one else, he would have a black belt in two years. Sensei did not use such financial contracts. Students trained on a month-to-month basis and could leave Sensei’s dojo at the end of any month. The novice was determined to leave Sensei’s dojo at the end of the month, but first, he would get to the bottom of the question as to the time period for earning a black belt from Sensei.

At the end of the next training session, Sensei asked his customary question. This time, the novice did not pursue his question with Sensei. Sensei dismissed the class. As the class left the formal training floor, the novice approached the most senior student, the Dai Sempai. “Excuse me, Sempai” the novice said. “Yes”, replied the Dai Sempai. “You seemed to understand Sensei’s reply as to how long it would take me to earn my black belt, is that true?” “Yes”, said the Dai Sempai. “Can you please enlighten me?” asked the novice. As the Dai Sempai turned away from the novice, he answered, “If you do not understand Sensei’s answer, then you must, once again, ask Sensei.” The Dai Sempai continued to exit the training floor, but looked back to the novice who seemed frozen in place and said, “That is, if Sensei feels your question worthy of further explanation.”

As the students entered the changing room and began to change from their gi (uniform) to street clothes, the novice remained standing, perplexed on the training floor. Noticing this, Sensei asked, “Is there anything else my novice?” The question awoke the novice from his puzzlement. “Excuse me Sensei, but I still do not understand how long it will take me to earn a black belt.” Somewhat exasperated Sensei looked at the novice, “Your question is the answer.” “You are focused on the black belt and not obtaining knowledge in karate-do; rather, you are focused on a symbol of the knowledge.” “That is why should you try twice as hard as everyone else, it will not take you half the time, but rather double the time.” “It is the knowledge that should be desired and not the symbol.” Focusing on the black belt will only distract you from the knowledge symbolized by the belt.” The novice thanked Sensei and entered the now deserted changing room. 

As the novice changed from his gi to street clothes, he decided to remain at Sensei’s dojo.

 Applying the story to competition, you will appreciate its very simple lesson. In a competitive situation do not concentrate on achieving the final objective. Concentrating on the final objective often results in loosing. How do you achieve success in these situations? Remember the novice’s desire for a black belt and the words of his Sensei; do not concentrate on winning, rather concentrate on fulfilling each step of the ultimate goal. Once that step is fulfilled, concentrate on the next step and so forth. In this manner, the chances of success improve.

Respectfully submitted,


Sensei John Szmitkowski 

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23 Jan

I have constructed this four part article to provide you with a practical, interactive example of the manner in which martial arts ideology can influence your daily life, outlook and perspective. In this first installment, I will provide you with a story based upon true experiences within my Issho Dojo. Next week I will post part two of this interactive example. Until then, simply let the following story quietly simmer in your mind.

Whenever a prospective student (hereinafter the “candidate”) enters the Dojo seeking information, inevitably they ask, “How long will it take me to earn my black belt?” My reply is simple. “I do not know!” This usually causes the candidate’s lower jaw to drop, thus allowing the mouth to gap open as if attempting to swallow and understand my reply. I politely allow the candidate to recover. Once the candidate’s jaws are reunited, I continue, “I know nothing about you, so how can I know you ability to absorb my teaching or to what extent you are devoted to understanding that which I teach?”  In an effort to safe face, the candidate usually replies, “Oh, Sensei, you do not understand me.” “I will work twice as hard at earning my black belt as any other student.” To which I nod knowingly, “Then it is clear to me.” I reply. “It will take you twice as long to earn  a black belt.” (See Endnote # 1).

The candidate does not understand that by concentrating on the “object”, to wit: the coveted black belt, one is distracted from absorbing and understanding the knowledge that the symbol represents. One must absorb the knowledge with a pure heart. It is only then that the symbol will be “earned”.

This concludes part one of my four part interactive experiment that I hope you choose to participate in.

Next Sunday, January 30th, I shall post part two of our little interactive drama. In part two you will be given an assignment to undertake.  For your convenience, in following this weblog, I have added two features which maybe found in the right hand margin. The first is an e-mail subscription option and the second is an RSS feed option. You should fee free to subscribe as once activated, you may unsubscribe at any time.

Until then, I remain,

Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do


1. Although this exchange has taken place many times in my Dojo, I do not claim to be the originator of the originator of this idea. The conversation and the concept it illustrates is so deeply entrenched in martial arts philosophy that I cannot even say who the originator of idea is.

You may wish to view my blog dedicated to fly-fishing by clicking WWW.FlyFishingDojo.Wordpress.Com


28 Dec

2011, Shougatsu, Shiroi No Obi – New Year (of the) White Belt

2011, eleven years have passed since “THE millennium”; a time when computer glitches, and the flagrance of man sought to foretell of havoc. Have we learned and grown in those eleven years? Are we capable of evolving? If so, how?

I suggest that in the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and months, that begin to unfold into the path that will be called “2011”, we need to walk that unwinding path with the “mind of a white belt.”

Shiroi-No-Obi (The White Belt)

This concept is derived from a Goshin-Do Karate percept, “Observe with the mind of a white belt.” The while belt, worn by novice students, is said to symbolize purity and innocence in terms of preconceptions as to Karate. (See Endnote # 1). When a Karate-Ka (student of Karate) first enters the Dojo, the neophyte observes without preconceived thought or emotion. Thus, one observes every detail, even the most minute, with the pure eyes of a child. In doing so, one is able to capture the inner most aspect of a Karate-Do technique and incorporate it into one’s personal repertoire.

Prior to the advent of modern colored belts, a Karate-Ka would wear the same belt (a white belt) during his entire training. Although the Karate uniform would be laundered  regularly, as a sign of respect, the Karate-Ka would not wash his belt. Over time, the white belt would become soiled. The belt would even be used to wipe the sweat from one’s brow after training. Thus, the belt would become discolored, eventually turning black from use, wear and tear. This is the humble birth of the all too coveted black belt.

In the final days that remain of the year 2010, we should shed our internal black belt. Our preconceptions, emotions and perhaps even thoughts have become “soiled” over time. In the first indicia of time that calls forth “2011!” let us all shed preconceptions – “internal and emotional baggage”. In the first millisecond of 2011, we should commit to don the belt of a novice and view the minutest details of the unfolding year with a pure and innocent heart and spirit. Let us all become the exalted white belt.

Wishing all a very Happy New Year, I remain

Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do


1. From: The Academy Of Goshin-Do Karate-Do Student Handbook, page 29.

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