by Larry Tatum
reprinted on this website with Master Tatumís permission
First-degree black belt.
A first-degree black belt (junior instructor) has achieved a certain level of physical expertise. Understanding the concepts and principles of motion, he has become a formidable fighter defensively and offensively. However, his skills outstrip his ability to communicate and teach, so teaching is essential to any further progress.
Second-degree black belt.
For the second-degree black belt (associate instructor), the ability to teach has begun to reinforce new-found skills. He has discovered that "to teach is to learn", and this is accompanied by a re-evaluation of past mistakes and bad habits. A new sense of responsibility appears, and he must begin to cultivate an image of authority within the school.
Third-degree black belt.
At third degree (senior instructor), the black belt finds that first- and second-degree black belts look to him for guidance and direction in the execution of techniques. He now has the authority within the school environment to organize a curriculum, express policy and set up tests.
Fourth-degree black belt.
At fourth degree (head instructor), the black belt acquires the privilege of overriding others within the school after careful discussion, as well as a more mature ability to communicate that allows teaching first-, second- and third- degree black belts. Together with these responsibilities, the fourth-degree black belt assists the master instructor in seminars, demonstrations and other public functions at which the school and the art are represented. His physical expertise should be noticeably above that of more junior black belts, particularly in terms of speed, power and timing.
Fifth-degree black belt.
The fifth degree black belt (associate professor) has reached the level at which he begins to teach the art beyond the realm of the school. Although the school curriculum has been carefully spelled-out, he is no longer bound by it and has acquired the ability to tailor it to fit individual students. At fifth degree, in short, the black belt now moves on to a broader base of responsibility.
Sixth-degree black belt.
The sixth-degree black belt (professor) has now reached a level at which he can not only teach the art but begin to formulate its concepts and principles outside his school. As a result, caution becomes imperative. He has advanced to a critical point in his art, and it is at this point that his accumulation of time in grade becomes his defense against teaching what he cannot later retract.
Seventh-degree black belt.
At seventh degree (senior professor), a noticeable change takes place in the black belt's understanding of his art. He becomes capable of ascertaining the problems that lie within the teaching of the curriculum. Working from a broader base and beginning to teach locally, nationally and internationally what was once taught mainly at home, he now recognizes that his former ways may not work abroad and must be tailored to particular minds, cultures and agendas. He has realized that while the language of the art remains the same, the varied applications of that language must be fitted to the environment. In brief, a seventh degree who goes out to teach in the world must have learned to tailor his teachings to the place and the people.
Eighth-degree black belt.
At eighth degree (associate master), the black belt's concerns shift to exploring areas of physical mastership that were not visible to him in the past. His art eventually begins to expand physically and mentally, so much so that a definite physical change becomes evident, expressing the fact that he has begun to settle into a physical mastery. Thus, movements are less contrived because they are in the process of (becoming) embodied within him.
Ninth-degree black belt.
At ninth degree (master of arts), the black belt has reached a level where, at any given moment, he can choreograph a technique by reaching a "superconscious" level. No longer separate from the art he has internalized, he has at last embodied it and become an element of it. What he teaches and what he physically embodies are indivisible. His contributions to the martial arts inside and outside the community are many, and his rank is backed by at least 25 years of sacrifice and service.
Tenth-degree black belt.
Tenth degree represents a lifelong endeavor to help all humankind. The rank is so respected by peers and students that the person's word affects the course of the art.
(The titles for the 10 ranks of black belt and the basic ideas of the differences between them came from Ed Parker. I have added a few needed definitions and explanations and provided interpretations.)- Larry G. Tatum
The Ultimate in Self Defense Training
Tracy's Kenpo Karate of Shreveport, LA
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