Testing for a black belt in Taijutsu is a grueling process. At least it is in our dojo. Recently, I had the distinct honor of witnessing three black belt tests in one night. It was an evening of variety. A quiet junior student, a small kick ass lady and a gentleman who could easily fit into a Tolkien band of dwarves. All thoroughly competent in the techniques they have learned.
So what does black belt testing consist of in our dojo? Each student must demonstrate all the skills and techniques they learned over a three to four year period. They must evade a sword attack and dive roll over an upturned sword blade (yes, a real sword). They do punch and kick drills until our Sensei deems them thoroughly exhausted. Then comes their first three-minute randori. Sixty seconds later it is followed by a three-minute weapons randori.
After all of that, the student goes immediately into the knife test. A metal knife with a blunted blade is used. During the knife test, a black belt comes after the student jabbing with insane speed. It is meant to simulate a real life situation. The goal is for the student to wrestle the knife away without hurting their attacker. The contest of wills goes on until the student wins or gives up.
All three students earned their black belt that night. It was grueling for each one of them. Sitting on the sidelines, I felt a deep urge to help them through their tests. I gave my support the only way I could by cheering them on and witnessing the start of their martial arts journey. Through the sweat, exhaustion, pock-marks, and bruises they persevered. That night, not only did they earn their black belts they earned the respect of the entire dojo. Witnessing such victories turns my thoughts inward.
I have a year and a half until it is my turn to endure the black belt test. I am a red belt. It is an incredible journey so far. I have learned so much about myself, who I am and who I am becoming. Often, I think about the test and the perseverance needed to make it through. Will I have what it takes? I like to think so. However, there are many things I need to do to prepare, physically and mentally. As I contemplate these things, there is a looming question. I have a feeling I won’t fully understand the answer for a couple of years.
What does earning a black belt mean in the Bujinkan? The obvious comes to mind. You should be able to protect yourself and others from attacks out in the world. However, becoming a black belt is more than that, at least to me. Remember, I am only a red belt so, I may be off here. I believe it means you now have the skills needed to start your journey down the martial arts path. I see earning a black belt as the first milestone. The starting place. Let me give an example of what I mean. Say you are planning to hike the John Muir Trail, a long trek through the Sierra Nevada mountains. You would need to prepare physically and mentally, purchase equipment and learn survival skills to make the 218-mile journey. The same is true in Taijutsu. Earning a black belt is not the end of the journey, it is just the beginning.
Thank you for reading.
J. R. Lowe