The Black Belt

Discussion in 'Kuk Sool' started by SsangKall, Feb 13, 2010.

  1. SsangKall

    SsangKall Valued Member

    the black belt was explained to me by my master to be a modern symbol of the sash the hwarang were given upon passing their royal examination. The colors that trimmed their lapels were either blue, red, or yellow (depending on their level of service)symbolizing the flower of a certain korean persimmon.

    so why do we even bother with our current ranking system? are we conformists to the geup/dan? would anonimity in the martial arts benefit us?
  2. Simon

    Simon Administrator Admin Supporter MAP 2017 Koyo Award

    Difficult one this. I have never been a fan of either gradings or the belt system (we do grade and do have belts), you are either good enough or you are not. That said, I can see the benefit for some.
    If a beginner walks into a class and there are students of all different grades it shows a lineage, it shows the class is established and it shows that by sticking to the training there is a progression.
    On the other hand why do I need a belt to tell me how good I am?
    We have had black belts from other arts come to class and they are stiff and robot like to say the least.
    I don't thinkt that there is a definative answer either way, there is good and bad in both arguements
  3. Moosey

    Moosey invariably, a moose Supporter

    I thought it was based on the system of rank in judo, designed by (the Japanese) Jigoro Kano in the 1880s?
    Gives practitioners something to aim for and helps instructors remember what they should be teaching to who.
  4. unknown-KJN

    unknown-KJN Banned Banned

    To: Moosey

    The fact that the original system of kuk-sool was NOT based on the geup/dan rankings (which TKD borrowed from karate and judo) is what choladeva meant by asking if we are nothing but slaves to the MA status quo, conforming to these ranks/grades. But thanks for adding that historical reference to the discussion.

    Yeah, well a BB in TKD most likely would have problems being as smooth as a kuk-sool BB, since that's an aspect that isn't emphasized in their respective MA. But I don't think choladeva was complaining about the cross system problem WRT to rank classifications.

    Any good MAist who has properly embraced the humility aspect and is not overwhelmed by their own ego, will know the answer to that question. But most will not try to buck the system either, and accept whatever is appropriate considering any "qualifying actions" they have undergone.

    Although it was before my time, the belt ranking in current use has been modified from the way it was originally instituted. AFAIK there has always been a well-defined curriculum, and the similarities between the curriculum used by early KSW and early HRD was one of the ways that anyone could easily determine that both arts were drawn from the same source (or sources). FWIW the demarcations for under black belt used to be simply beginner, intermediate, and advanced, and the names of the sets can give you a good idea where they were originally placed along the hierarchy. The belts used for these more general classifications were the same colors that you mentioned, i.e. blue=beginner level, red=intermediate level, and yellow=advanced level (those who have heard Barry Harmon say that he went straight from yellow belt to black belt, raise your hand). And even though the order in which stuff gets taught hasn't been altered too dramatically, where the ranks get placed along this continuum obviously has undergone major changes, along with adding a few extra colors. The curriculum that americans were introduced to in the 1970's & 1980's contained six belt divisions (white, yellow, blue, red, brown, black/brown) and always had 2 levels for each belt rank according to the syllabus, so the stripes in use now which apparently are no longer an option, were always present even if not as feasible to employ when only holding quarterly rank tests and teaching 1.5 or 2 hour classes, 5-6 days a week. Once you trim the class-time to just one hour held 2-3 times a week, as well as conduct monthly rank tests, utilizing the stripes is almost mandatory.

    If you're advocating that everyone wear the same uniform with nothing to indicate rank in order to help promote the flow of respect down as well as up, then I agree. However, when it comes time to pit one's skill against another, knowing someone's skill level, even if from a subjective POV, can really be helpful as a BB level student ought to "take it easy" with a novice, rather than "take advantage" and mop the mat up with them. ;)
  5. KSW_KJN

    KSW_KJN Valued Member

    The color here is important as you still see evidence of red, red+yellow(gold), and yellow(gold) reflected in the uniforms of masters. Blue is often recognized as a novice color.

    This is also important to note. I have seen many people complain that the introduction of stripes to belts were just ways to collect more testing fees. Granted, there may be some truth to that, but when I started KS in the 80s, this concept was always there. It was almost a 50/50 split between techniques and form through DBN. Of course, there were stripes in DBN that reflected multiple levels. Sometimes it became a feel good thing where some students who weren't ready would test and eventually have so many stripes it almost appeared they had an electrical tape black belt. :)

    I like this. In a school I taught at in the past, there were often more than 100 students that would come through in the course of a day. I would like to say I had a deep personal relationship with each of them and remembered exactly where they were in their training, but that's not the case. This is even more difficult if you have multiple instructors, even if those instructors are asking you as KJN if they can teach a student another part of the form or another technique. The belt also helps you guage your expectation of where they should be in the style of execution of their techniques. When training white-yellow, I expect to see choppy technique. Blue-Red, I expect more progress. Brown - JKN, I am a lot tougher and more critical of technique.

    Additionally, it helps you to keep an eye for those students who are practicing techniques/forms they should not have been taught. With all the materials out there, self-study outside of proper instruction is a concern. If noticed, you can provide "gentle" guidance about the concerns with pursuing this path.

    Aside from this, belts appeal to our need for self-gratification. It is an accomplishment; something to strive for. This is most important in teaching children. It's still important in teaching adults, but adults have the capacity to understand the difference.
  6. SsangKall

    SsangKall Valued Member

    WOOPS! misspelled anonYmity and meant to use the term autonomy everybody. i was reading this book by a man named daniel pink about motivating factors in the workplace, and he advocates autonomy vs. traditional reward system. what i intended it to be defined as was a sense of independance and at the same time a removal of belt system as a 'reward'. what i was going to propose is to remove the belt system and place a progressive colored lapel system (based on hwarang progressive color system). this would be slow. so slow that the only reason for the markings would be to designate the student, assistant instructor, instructor, headmaster, and chiefmaster. alas, this idea seems to fail where kjn's unknown and rich points out that:

    a) there is a ton of information. maybe too much for three colors
    b) we dont always know where our students are on the charts, and we dont want them getting ahead of themselves

    we also cant forget that if it aint broke, there aint no reason to fix it. but this is a forum, and i wont give on this.
    our cousins in the bay area (master jin sang un's ho guk mu sul) have a system like the one currently in place, but at a testing i went to i saw the black belts wearing a heavy colored top that seemed to change color as the instructor progressed in rank. i thought it was cool that you could tell the difference between levels outside of promotion ceremony. but i was taught that traditionally the colors were on the lapels. so it is possible to make functional uniforms that designate a person's role in the kwan.
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2010
  7. Quozl

    Quozl Valued Member

    WRT Belt systems, I don't know whether having couloured belts or a colour system for underbelts is right or wrong. I know that in some Japanese arts, in particular Iwama Ryu Aikido, there are only two belt colours, white and black.

    There are 6 Kyu Grades, 6th to 1st, and then black belt, 1st dan onwards.

    Kyu grades wear white belts, dan grades wear black belts, and sometimes, but not always, hakama (depends on what training is on I guess).

    The colour belt system was only used for kids. Not sure why, but that appears to be the case. It appears that when oriental MAs became popular in the West, the idea of coloured belts followed suit for adults, since this is more in line with the western idea of reward. (Just my understanding and more than willing to be corrected if this is not correct.)

    The Sensei is supposed to know the level of each of his or her students whether kyu or dan grade. Don't ask me how the Instructors know the levels of their students, and especially when they are teaching in the Dojo's in Iwama or the like, but this is the case.

    I do not know or understand chinese MAs but I believe they have a coloured sach system up to "balck belt".

    WRT whether or not there should be coloured belts or not, I really do not know the answer.

    I am not sure how or when colours were introduced into Korean MA underbelt systems, but I would like to postulate the following in answer to Choladeva's question wrt why we bother with a ranking system.

    In days gone by my understanding is that students lived in the dojang / dojo / school and learned directly from the Sensei, Kwan Jang Nim / Sifu. When students lived in their teacher knew them and knew what they had been taught and what each student was capable of. Maybe for that reason coloured belts were not necessary :dunno: . Nowadays people have lives outside their training and proibably only train a mximum of 3 nights a week for maybe a maximum of 6 hours per week :dunno: . Since there isn't the "intamacy", in the loosest sense, between the student and his or her teacher (especially when class sizes get above 30 ish) maybe the quick identification of what a student is capable of is found in a coloured belt.

    Also since there is a sylabus in KSW (not sure about other Korean MAs) for the same reason a coloured belt system help the instructor know what a given student is supposed to know wrt a sylabus.

    So, I am aware of MAs where there are only two belt colours white and black, as well as MAs with multiple colours and "tab" systems. Both systems seem to work so with the view that "if it ain't broke don't fix it" since we have what we have in KSW and other KMAs and it seems to work, then that is fine by me.

    (This all made sense in my head when I typed it but that is for you to decide! :rolleyes:)

    Cheers Guys and Gals

  8. PopeCoyote

    PopeCoyote The words of the fool

    Back when I took Shotokan Karate before I found Kuk Sool, my sensei's favorite saying was that "Black Belt means you have mastered the BASICS, and NOW you're ready to BEGIN training"

    I mentioned this phrase to both KJN Harmon and KJN Heaps, and they both agreed that was the truth, especially in Kuk Sool Won
  9. KSstudent

    KSstudent Valued Member

    If you think you know it all at the black belt level.... somewhere along the line your instructor has failed you!
  10. SsangKall

    SsangKall Valued Member

    right...but hopefully it means you know your kicks, punches, and stances.

    im not saying a black belt is a measure of knowing it all. a blackbelt in our styles clearly indicates you have studied for at least 3 years and know through the syllabus. essentially, it is an indicator of place in the curriculum. however, i was trying to suggest that maybe in these changing times we need to rethink the black belt system before it becomes completely meaningless.

    from the history that was explained to me by my teacher, the black belt/sash had a purpose more closely resembling that of a rite of passage before being placed in a post in the special forces/royal court. it meant more than knowing basics.

    now a black belt in other styles may mean other things, but in our styles shouldn't it mean something different?

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