In the beginning there was no black belt. Then in the very early nineteen hundreds they adopted the ranking system of “Go.” Americans began absorbing karate on Okinawa in the early fifties assuming the end game was being a black belt 🥋.
In the early years no one truly defined what it meant to be a black belt so, depending on who you talked to, the meaning vacillated up to magical and mythical levels until the last couple of decades.
Finally, a few who did the research put forth the following:
Shodan: 初段 meaning defined; first stage; first grade; lowest grade. Note: if you truly want to know look at the grades of “Go.” The Dan-I system was based on the game of Go.
1st black belt finally came to mean a shodan is one who is of the first stage, the LOWEST grade… in short you leave the novice stage (kyu or mu-dansha) and become the lowest student of karate.
It came to mean you know enough to learn, no more. This takes all the air out of one’s sails and firmly places “one” oar in your hands.
So, one asks, at what level or grade makes you an expert? Makes you a master? I have come to believe San-Dan may or could be expert and Go-Dan lowest level of master in karate.
In short, it isn’t about the black belt by about one’s character and character dictates how one applies themselves. In karate, how one applies the learned skills - especially in the defense of oneself and one’s tribe.
Karate skills are one thing; how one applies one’s karate skills is a different matter altogether!
“Be a person of good character to be a person of good karate 🥋!” - Gyoga Chujo