gradings are short

or: stop talking about your training, and train

it is difficult to train in martial arts for any appreciable length of time without hearing stories (most likely youtube comments or the like) about the terrible things that people have endured to pass their black belts. to hear some tell it, you are looking at hours, if not days of pain, physical exhaustion, throwing up, and the such. a quick search for 'black belt grading' yields such things as "40 man kumite", "this was a 3 hour performance", and so forth. i've heard tales of dan gradings that lasted days. there seems to be a need for some people to impress on others the difficulty of the grading.


the truth is that karate gradings don't need to be long, or physically gruelling. KUGB kyu gradings are really quite short, perhaps fifteen minutes 'on the floor' maximum. dan gradings, it may surprise you, aren't much longer. how long your grading is is not a measure of how difficult it is to earn the belt you wear, and it does not speak to how exacting, how stringent, the standard of the grading is. this a perfect example of the principle of 'quality, not quantity' that should be the ultimate goal of your training. and while karate has a good social aspect to it, it is a solitary pursuit; your performance in your dan grading, what the belt means, why you train, and all these other things belong to you, and you alone. people may not be aware, they may not understand, and they may not agree. they don't need to. (and don't get me wrong, this isn't a "martial artists should be humble" routine, that's pretty much garbage too. martial artists should be concerned with doing things.) if you want to put yourself through such tortuous endeavours as require collapsing and physical exhaustion, that's up to you, and many do (consider ultramarathoners, for example). but if you do, surely that is something you do for your own sense of accomplishment, rather than the admiration of others?

even more important in context, is to realise that you are not a samurai, a noble warrior preparing for battle. what was the last battle you were in? instead, you are very privileged (read: lucky) to live in a societal democracy, where violence is minimal; even if you train full time for self-defence, the form of martial arts we do today are better described as sports, or hobbies, or even spiritual pursuits. karate is a wonderful game* and offers much to many, and pretending it is something it isn't does you no favours. i absolutely believe that committed training in karate furnishes you with the ability to defend yourself, both in a violent and non-violent way, but you know what? you probably won't get in any fights that you don't go looking for. statistically, that is; it's just very unlikely. and you won't ever be in a hand-to-hand combat that lasts three hours.

remember the context of what you are learning, and give it whatever value you want. get out of it whatever you do. if people display their ignorance of this, or openly disagree with you, let them. leave them alone. stop talking about your training, and train: specifically, the fact that your dan grading was eight hours long and you had to do the last two on the floor because you could no longer stand is simply ridiculous. don't inflict this idea on others, and don't accept when people try to instil this idea in you. the context of what you are learning is this: fights don't last hours; they rarely last minutes. fights (and in this i include self-defence situations) occur over seconds. this is the supreme value of the shotokan canon; shotokan teaches absolute commitment to single techniques; a fight might conceivably last for just that few seconds, time enough only for one technique so well-trained that it is fast enough and committed enough and confident enough to save you. one opportunity for a well-timed or well-directed strike, and no more. fights are short. so why should gradings be long?

it might take you five years to get your black belt. the grading might take you five hours. but these are not the measure of your skill; the measure of your skill is in the split second it takes from beginning a strike, to landing it, first time, in the only chance you get, and moreover making it count with full commitment. strive for this in your training, practice this, and only this, no matter how many techniques you throw and in what order and to what targets and regardless of the day you were having at work. practice this in the dojo, and suddenly the length of your grading isn't as important as the quality of your art.

-neil jerome, 2012

*note: i use 'game' in a specific sense here; that of the fact that karate has a structure, rules, aims, etc.

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