The Black Belt Myth

What is the myth of the black belt?

 

The myth of the black belt itself: There’s a story that we’ve all been told in the belt-wearing arts that goes something like this: Traditionally, a student was just given a white belt and there was no other rank. Through hard work and dedication, the belt would eventually turn black. This is the origin of the black belt.  Wrong.

First of all, white cloth would never turn black on its own. The best you would get is a grungy grey. Second, it’s a known fact in history that the founder of Judo, Professor Kano, was the first to use and implement the belt system. The original three belts were white, brown, and black. During tournament play, players were designated as either white or red.

Where did this all come from then? Professor Kano was a physical education teacher and Jujitsu teacher.. His art of Judo became wildly popular as a fitness exercise for a changing taste of the Japanese public. It is most likely that Professor Kano borrowed his belt theme from college swim teams.

There were three ranks of swimmers: white (beginner), brown (intermediate), and black (advanced). In addition, when teams competed they would be split into the red team and the white team.  This is still the basic standard of Judo ranking and competitions. There have just been more belts added over time.

Is the black belt important?

Belt rank and title is arguably the most artificial marker of progress in the martial arts. We all take too much stock in rank, as it has become a part of our cultural lexicon of ideology. Transcendence of rank and title can possibly be the only savior from the trappings of them.

The difference between a master and a white belt is about 15 centimeters of refinement. In joint locking and general jujitsu, the difference between a technique working and not working is five centimeters or less.

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A Man Named Zulu

Soke Chaka Zulu and Professor Alessandro Ashanti with as student.

My very first lesson in the martial arts came in the form of summer camp at the age of 10. The camp offered electives everyone could take, and there was a martial arts elective I signed up for which lasted 3 weeks. I have little recollection of how many days a week we met but I do remember being in the main large open field. The camp counselor was a Tae Kwon Do practitioner and purple belt (intermediate level). We had no uniforms and showed up in our regular clothes. He led us through a variety of kicks; even spinning and turning at times. From there the seed of fascination was planted.

I would pick up techniques over the next few years from friends I would meet along the way. I now call this “pick up martial arts.” Sometimes I would even find a class or two to take, but it took me several years to find a real teacher in the martial arts. My further desire to train was fueled by the Shaw Brother’s Kung Fu films with The Five Deadly Venoms being the first and most influential I ever saw. Interesting to that part of my story, it turns out that one of Master Zulu’s senior students (Now Soke (Head of Style) Bob Martin) was working at the local station that played the kung fu films. He was the person who got the films on the air.  This was my first experience in actually finding my way back to where I began, or in coming Full Circle. By the time I was in high school I was very hungry for marital arts training.

This was long before having the internet in your home. Back then all you could do was look through the Yellow Pages—younger folks can Google that term—and browse the ads. Schools that could afford to advertise were very expensive when you had zero income to spend, as I did. I would ask friends who trained about the schools they went to, but sure enough, it was always one of the overpriced schools I found in the yellow pages. One instructor in particular managed to teach half the martial artists in my high school. I lucked upon a junior high school friend named Jamal, who had an instructor that taught at a boys club just off of Chinatown. My brother and I walked down there one night to watch the class. The instructor was an imposing and impressive figure. He was a muscle-bound dark complexioned man in a tight fitting t-shirt who had the cadence and timber of a Marine sergeant. We sat down to watch class only to be told by the instructor that he wasn’t allowing spectators that night. We had no idea why but we were disillusioned. We never went back.

In my first year of high school, there was a kid in the school who was obsessed with anything ninja. He would even come to school dressed in ninja tabi shoes. Luck would have it that we would be put in a science class together. I asked him about his teacher and he invited me to a class in the park later that week. Thinking I was going to meet a ninja master, I was surprised to meet a man named Chaka Zulu. He was a man who I thought to be at least 6 feet tall by his presence, but he later turned out to be 5’6”. He was coffee complexioned like my mother and I later found out was just a year older than her. He introduced himself, “Hello, I’m Zulu.” My only word in response was, “Wow.” He invited me to train with them as they were having an informal workout. I was a bit intimidated but I eventually got up and began practicing some roundhouse kicks. Zulu was sparring one of the students and his motion transfixed me. He was a master of what I later learned was “flow”. I have seen many people speak of the concept but he is one of the few who truly embodied it, and to this day none have more so than him. I trained with Zulu and his system of Zujitsu for the next fifteen years of my life, after which we parted ways. Sensei taught me a conceptual framework that I use even now to absorb information and plug it into my personal matrix. Without him opening my mind to the limitless possibilities of development at such a young age, I never would have been able to be the martial artist I am today. I would simply have scattered knowledge of several systems that never found a place to integrate. He is no longer my master, but he will always be Sensei.

 

The preceding is a excerpt from Full Circle: Lessons Learned on the Martial Path written by Alessandro Ashanti.  Available on Amazon.com

http://bit.ly/FCBookAMZ

https://fullcirclejujitsu.com/store/

For more information on Soke Chaka Zulu and Zujitsu please visit http://zujitsu.com

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Are we True Warriors?

Are We Warriors?

In the nineties I taught under the banner of Warrior Arts. It was a great name that wasn’t in use at the time, at least not to my knowledge. I dropped the name after a conversation with my aikido teacher, who told me: We are not warriors. A warrior is a military person. Someone specially trained in warfare. These days the only ones that qualify for this bill are military personnel with actual battlefield experience, the elite of these being Special Forces.

This isn’t to say that our practice has no merit, but perhaps “civilian arts” would be a more appropriate title for what we do. We use our arts for expression, physique, sport, and self defense. As civilians, we don’t use our arts on any battlefield.  Despite dropping the name “Warrior Arts,” I’ve since reinstated the name as homage to our practice but not to be taken literally.  We are not warriors—save for those who have been in military combat—although we train in their ways. In doing so, we take on many of their attributes in order to be successful. When I train, I am fully prepared to die on the training floor. This is not an abandonment of safety; rather, it’s a commitment to the process that was laid down before us by the warriors of old. In fact, not being a battlefield warrior, the perfect death for me would be taking the best fall I’ve ever taken while in the dojo.


Warrior focus is a quality that can be learned through studying the warrior ways. It is not necessarily inherent to all students who train. Maintaining a mindset throughout your learning develops warrior focus. Focus and stay in the moment. Don’t let your outside life defeat you with your current training goals, and more specifically, the exercise at hand. Whether you are giving or receiving technique, your level of presence and intensity needs to remain consistent. They are two parts of the same whole. This is the beginning of how to find and practice warrior focus.  

 

The preceding is a excerpt from Full Circle: Lessons Learned on the Martial Path written by Alessandro Ashanti.  Available on Amazon.com

http://bit.ly/FCBookAMZ

 

https://fullcirclejujitsu.com/store/

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The Full Circle Connection Between Jujitsu and FMA

Prof. Vee and Powell The FMA and Jujtisu Connection

Filipino Martial Arts or “FMA” for short, are the cornerstone of weapons study in Full Circle Warrior Arts.  My main study of FMA stems from the Serrada Eskrima style Founded by Grand Master Angel Cabales (October 4, 1917 – March 3, 1991).  I studied under Master Khalid Khan who was master #13 directly under GM Cabales.  I trained with him for 9 years before leaving Los Angeles to move to Phoenix, Arizona.  In Phoenix I met Master Michael J. Butz whom I studied another 3 years with.  Under Master Mike I was given further understating of my Serrada training as a bladed system, not solely stick.  This opened new worlds of opportunity to unlock the potential of the art.

In a very “full circle” sense my study of FMA has led to greater understanding of my roots in the martial arts. You can trace my jujitsu lineage directly to Dr. Florendo “Vee” Visitacion , the founder of Vee-jitsu-ryu jujitsu system. Dr. Vee was grew up in the Philipinines and learned Arnis as a child. In his later years he would return to his cultural roots and pursue further study of FMA eventually founding Vee-Arnis-Jitsu. His earliest student was the legendary Dr. Moses Powell (June7, 1910 – January 4, 1999) who taught my first sensei Soke Chaka Zulu as well as Hanshi Anton Muhammad. The jujitsu that Dr. Vee taught was laced with his early martial art experiences. At first glance of “pure” FMA one might not see the connection. The further you delve into FMA theory the more you start to see the correlation.

Jujitsu and FMA both stem from the understanding of blade work. Jujitsu has never been simply a grappling method, although that aspect is wildly popular these days as it was in the 20th century in the form of its off-shoot, Judo. Rather it is designed as a last line of defense against an opponent armed swordsman. The traditional motions take blade awareness into account. However in the modern training this is still evident and found if one knows where to look. Modern FMA styles tend to be “stick” oriented, preferring the cylindrical theory of rattan over the original blade theory of old. As Master Mike always said, stick comes from blade, blade doesn’t come from stick. The blade is there waiting to be unlocked by the right instructor. Two disparate blade oriented cultures, in my experience, came to many of the same conclusions. The differences in methods tend to be cultural and practical (e.g. armor vs no armor, katana vs bolo). There is a gap there that is easily bridged should you have serious study of both methods.

 

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The Importance Of The Book Of The Five Rings In Modern Times

Miyamoto Musashi | Full Circle Jujitsu | Full Circle Warrior Arts

If you ask a martial artist to name the greatest warriors of all times, among them they might say Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), the author of The Book of Five Rings. Musashi was a legendary Japanese swordsman who is known by having cut down 60 men in his time as a duelist. Far from being the only duelist in Japanese history, what separates Musashi is that he took the time to document everything into the paper in the form of the Go Rin No Sho – The Book of The Five Rings, a manual on swordsmanship strategy.

At first sight this seems like simply another book about martial arts, however the truth is that when Miyamoto wrote the book he was already old and had nothing to lose about revealing his fight secrets. Although a lot of the content is specific to the feudal period of Japanese swordsmanship, there are endless things that martial artists and others can learn from the text. Strategy can be transcendent to context.

Mushashi’s book is divided into 5 different parts:

#1: Ground:

In the first chapter of the book, Miyamoto clearly focuses on the idea that if you want to succeed in combat, you need to have a plan. This is something that you learn in each martial arts style in varying degrees. You need to first study and, only then, fight.

Knowing your capabilities and skills as well as understanding the dynamics of the conflict will help you succeed. Despite not knowing in advance who will win any situation, the better you’re prepared the better odds you have to be the winner.

#2: Water:

Within this part of his book, Miyamoto refers to one of the major difficulties many martial arts have: adaptability. When fighting an opponent, you need to utilize all the tactics and techniques you know and use the best one to defeat your opponent; not the one that you prefer. Before the fight even begins, you need to know what movements you’ll be applying to your opponent and always be ready to change your tactic.

#3: Fire:

This is the part of the book that concerns about being a fierce fighter. One thing is for sure: you may have been trained by a renowned master and be in great shape. But if you lack the ferocity, you will lose the fight if your opponent has only ferocity. You don’t have to be like Miyamoto who never slept or never washed his body. You just need to apply what he said: “The way of the warrior is the resolute acceptance of death.”

#4: Wind:

You need to focus not only on your martial art system but also to study your opponents. And who are they in the 21st century? You need to learn who they are, what they wear, and how they operate.

The lesson behind this part of the book is pretty simple: let’s say that you’re learning karate. You can consider taking Eskrima or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, to expand your horizons.

No matter how much you want to run away from the idea, you know, even though it may be deep in your heart, that combat is animalistic, violent, and simple. You can only understand it and accept it.

#5: Void:

In this last part of the book, Miyamoto explains that you need to focus on 2 different aspects:

— Mental: When you’re with the right mindset, even though you’re in the middle of combat, you won’t have any fear. This doesn’t make you either stupid or brave; it just shows that you were focused on winning. When you study the martial arts as well as you can, when you know all the parameters, when you have a backup plan for any action, you will know what to do.

— Technical: Knowledge and learning are meant to be forgotten. And only when you are able to fully acknowledge this, is that you’ll be ready to fight because your body will move as if it is automatic.

As you can see, the Miyamoto’s The Book Of The Five Rings couldn’t be relevant to the modern era. Yes, things have changed since Musashi’s age. However, all the knowledge and insights written in the Book of Five Rings can still be applied to everyone’s lives.

 

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