Sensei Lorenzo here,
I wanted to talk about my Black Belt exam and how we determine what makes a black belt in our school. Every martial art school in Las Vegas is very different from culture, to curriculum and even philosophy. I wanted to discuss some key points that I look for in developing a black belt over the years and how we determine what makes a black belt in our school.
Shotokan Has 3 major training structures, Kihon, Kata, Kumite.
Alright, so I’ve never really been a fan of this training method and for you traditional karate people this I’m sorry for voicing my opinion. In my younger years from in my 20’s I never really thought Kihon was really worth any importance. But as Ive gotten older I realize it has a place in their martial arts. In my case i teach Shotokan Karate so I feel its even more important that learning Kihon or basics is important.
Fundamentals in any activity are very important from Basketball, to football and it also takes place in Karate. Part of this reason is because often times the most simplest moves get the best resulted in self defense. Sometimes simplicity is the key to defending yourself and I fell that what Kihon is. Its basic blocks and basic stances that are repeated throughout the style. I am speaking form a Shotokan Karate standpoint so I don’t know how other martial arts function, but I know that basics are some of the most important parts of learning how to fight.
Kihon in its core, focuses on learning the simplest form. For a beginner its important to learn these fundamentals so the practitioner can not only only master them but it becomes second nature. As a black belt in Shotokan one must focus on these concepts. Kihon focuses on the following things,
- Tsuki (punch)
- Downward Block (Gedan barai)
- Rising Block ( Age-uke)
- Outside Block (Soto uke)
- Inside Block (Uchi- Uke)
- Shoto Uke ( Knifehand Block)
Kihon Stances in Shotokan Tend to be,
- Back Stance ( Kokusadachi)
- Front Stance (Zenkuchidachi)
- Horse Stance ( Kibadachi)
- Cat Stance (Niko Dachi) — more rare in Shotokan.
I am just generalizing these moves because in can vary school to school. But these are the main key moves that most schools focus on for kihon. Often times we change them up depending on the organization and how they are organized. In my school the basics are still important to a degree but my heart lies in the application and fighting aspect so my students are able to apply this against really people. Though I like this form of teaching fundamentals we have to be careful with this aspect because too much theory can be bad for a black belt and shouldn’t be the main focus of learning Karate in my opinion. I’ve always felt that my students should be put in more realistic situations in order to use their skills.
Ageless Martial Arts Kihon
This is a touchy subject for most Sensei’s, and everyone has a different opinion. But i will give you mine. There a point in my Marital Arts career that I completely took out Kihon. All I cared about was fighting. I hated kihon, but after a few years, I realize that kihon keeps you sharp. It helps with stances, reflexes and also it makes our techniques sharp. This is also discourages students to not quit. Kihon is still essential part of modern day Karate. It develops certain skills, from hip turning, extensions of the arm and its help reinforce muscle memory. It is an essential part of learning the martial arts, fundamentals are really the way to go in keeping your skills sharp.
Here’s a great resource form Yale University on some of the terms that Kihon has,
an individual training exercise in karate and other martial arts.plural noun: katas
Karate is like a religion, in that everyone has their own interpretation of self defense and everyone has their own version of how Kata is translated into actual application. Some martial arts schools do not think Kata is useful, other view it as the only thing you should be studying and that Kata is a way of life for the art itself. Im somewhere in the middle. Some school especially very traditional schools feel that Kata is the most important form of self defense. Other do it as an exercise.
We focus on 12 Katas and 3 Weapons Katas at our Dojo. Here is the list of Katas that a member will learn at our dojo that will help them along their journey. there ae about 27-29 Katas in the System of Shotokan but these are the ones required for Black belt.
- Taikyoku Shodan ( First Steps of a Journey)
- Heian Shodan ( Peaceful Mind First Cause)
- Heian Nidan ( Peaceful Mind second cause)
- Heian Sandan ( Peaceful Mind thrid cause)
- Heian Yondan (Peaceful mind fourth cause)
- Heian Godan (Peaceful mind fifth cause)
- Tekki Shodan ( Iron Horse 1) <<< there are 3 Iron Horse Ktas in our style
- Basai Dai ( Penetrating the fortress)
- Kanku-Dai ( The Rising Sun)
- Jion ( Temple )
- Enpi ( Flight of the Swallow)
- Gojishihosho ( 54 Steps)
- Sandoval No Ha: Nunchuku (nunchucks)
- Hamihiga no Tonfa
- Sushe No Sho Bo ( Long Staff)
- Escrima Sticks
- basic Knife Defense and attacks
So what does this mean? I over load you with a bunch of cool Japanese names to sound cool? No not really. Surprisly with all the years I’ve studied martial arts some of these moves are kind of weird and some in the Kata are hard to interpret within the art. That’s just my opinion. Each of these Katas a black belt learn over the years build upon one another. Kind of like a blocks to a house. They start with the core of the house and then build up form there. Reinforcing each technique as the students learns new ones throughout the years.
Look, as a sensei, I realize a cool Karate move maybe isn’t the best way to teach self defense. Because there are so many ways a fight can go wrong. Sometimes keeping it simple and not over theorizing it can make it better. Just keep it simple, its cool there are so many moves in our art and I’ve learned so many to help me in my journey but its not necessary to know so many moves. To me, as a teacher I want my students to be able to react. That’s the most important thing to me as a black belt. Kata are a great way to learn coordination and learn variation of techniques as a variety, but if your not practicing them, its not a good idea to use something you don’t practice. Think of Kata like a vast term. Its like reading a book about tools, you read all about each tools everyday and you practice with each and every one of them almost daily. But you have your favorite ones that your just gifted at and great at. Kata is like that, where you have so many moves but in a real situation you’ll maybe use a few.
Ageless Martial Arts Kata
We do follow the Shotokan Kata series, but like every karate school we have our own theories on each and how to apply it in the real world. Each move is applied. Throughout the years they learn each move through all the katas and they are taught how to use them to Black belt. 1 year before the Black belt they are reviewed the applications.
Here a great article on Kata as well. A list from other Karate styles.
Kumite is a form of free fighting, you should be able to fight your opponent without theory and apply it in real time. We can use the term sparring for this. As a Black belt taking their exam they must be able to apply this in real time.
There are many ways we approach this through the years, we don’t just through you in the dojo to fight. We drill you by repetition and teach certain reactions over the years to help with your fighting skills. Like any skill it takes time and often times you can lose the skill if you don’t take time practicing.
This is why as a Black Belt we tell our students develop a mindset that helps you never to give up.
Other Components to Black Belt Test
There is never an end to studying the martial arts. Remember that, so having a Black belt doesn’t mean your invincible. Trust me I have got beaten up several years and I continue to re learn and re apply myself and my life skills to different aspects old my life. I’ve always considered myself an average martial artist but a better instructor. I am always learning to better myself and our students so learning martial arts for a black belt its not just a belt but a life style. Here are some other components of being a Black belt in our school at Ageless Martial Arts Las Vegas that are important, remember typing the whole 5-7 years in a article doesn’t justify the years of work in a small paragraph blog I’m typing. In each component takes years to understand and apply it. So a simple blog doesn’t justify the years of hard work.
Here are the requirements generalized after Kihon, Kata, Kumite that we have added after those theories.
Black belts Must be Able to,
- Speak in Japanese within the Karate commands
- Know the application in their Kata
- They must be able to teach in order to know the art to others.
- The must be able to present every application taught to them throughout the years.
- There is a fitness exam, 100 pushups, 100 sit ups, 50 knuckle push ups on concrete.
- They must be able to balance Horse stance without falling of the bag for over 5 minutes without giving up.
- They must be able to run 1 mile and a given amount of time.
- Sparring is based on accuracy, timing, and what attacks and defense are used during your fight.
- Black Belts are required to fight 2 Vs. 1 and must show they are able to fight both.
- Knife Self Defense must be shown.
- Fighting techniques on the BOB (Body opponent bag) must be shown to show how well the technique is executed.
- Basic Jiu Jitsu
We are all here to help create students to black belt and help them along their journeys and create the best martial arts with not only good fighting skills, that are applicable to the real world but more importantly create people that will be good members of society.
For more information about our classes just call us at 702-374-3323 and try a free class today.
Hope you enjoy the read!