In most martial arts schools, when a student tests for their black belt, they are also made to submit a thesis that summarizes what they’ve garnered from their classes. I have had to write several of these over the years, including a master’s thesis, and my favorite thing to have my own students do over the years was to have them answer several questions in their thesis. I’ve often let students study ahead of time before writing their thesis, this way they can answer the questions in an informed way.
Sometimes, in studying and writing the thesis, students learn more than they’d initially thought they’d knew, although they still knew it. The way I like to break down my student’s thesis is as follows;
- What is a black belt?
- What are the goals of studying martial arts?
- Why do you study martial arts?
- What have you gained from martial arts practice aside from combat?
- What do our tiger and dragon represent?
- What is the purpose of Kata?
Now I will give my own answers to these questions, not to coax anyone, but to give a general overview of what the martial thesis should consist of and to give students who aren’t natural writers, a jumping-off point.
What is a black belt?
A black belt is merely a white belt who hasn’t given up and has an advanced working knowledge of the basics in their chosen art. While to outside observation, a black belt may seem like the end goal, being recognized as a black belt is only the beginning of one’s martial journey. I like to say that real learning begins at the black belt and that through teaching and leading classes, you learn more than just taking classes.
The founder of Kodokan Judo Jigoro Kano first implemented the belt system in the early 20th century, so that students could compete on equal footing, at a similar level. Traditionally there were only white and black belts, but colored belts were later added between the two, to give greater flexibility and equality for students within an intermediate level… but it’s not the belt that makes the student, it’s the student that makes the belt!
Most see the belt and don’t realize the amount of work, sweat, and pain it takes to earn a black belt and are just focused on the fabric, this is why few attain the black belt and thus lead to its mystique and the misconceptions surrounding it. Not every black belt is or becomes a teacher, but every teacher/instructor is a black belt.
What are the goals of studying martial arts?
Self-confidence and self-discipline, developing character, empathy, and humility, becoming a better version of myself, building my health and fitness, and finally, developing self-defense skills. Those were and are my goals in practicing martial arts and as I feel I attain them, I raise the bar on each to develop them further. These are the goals I would hope my own students espouse and are lofty yet attainable, noble, and honorable.
Without goals, there’s nothing to strive towards and with only one or two goals, such as becoming apt at self-defense, the goals become shallow and too easy to attain. So it’s important to set a series of goals for your training and slightly increase the goals as you accomplish them to keep everything fresh and always moving forward. This leads to a sense of accomplishment and gives you a metric by which to measure your progress in your martial journey.
Why do you study martial arts?
I began studying martial arts because my mother wanted me to develop self-discipline and to learn greater self-defense as I was living in a rough part of Philadelphia. Now I study martial arts to be a better version of myself, to strive to be and do better each and every day, and to be a force for good in my community. I live a lifestyle the martial arts, which promotes being a good human being, a steward of the earth that is helpful and kind.
I study and train martial arts to be the best me that I can be and to strengthen my mind, body, and spirit. I train to get better and be better, nothing more and nothing less.
What have you gained from martial arts practice aside from combat?
I have gained so much aside from actual self-defense application from my training. I have become more peaceful, I have self-confidence and discipline, each of which directly helps me in my everyday life. I have gone from being a worrier to a warrior, from being self-serving, to wanting to help as many others as humanly possible in life.
I have gained lifelong friendships within the martial arts community and have met some of the most incredible individuals in my life. I’ve learned to always seek peaceful resolution in my dealings with others and to always see their humanity.
What do our tiger and dragon represent?
The tiger represents ferocity, strength, speed, and physical prowess, the dragon represents wisdom, temperance, growth, and understanding. Together, these symbols represent the ability to destroy, yet having the wisdom not to, the ability to take a life, but instead giving life to others. The tiger represents the body, while the dragon represents the mind and spirit.
What is the purpose of kata?
We use Kata as a means to practice movement, to catalog techniques, and for solo training to develop muscle memory, cardio, and as a way to develop memory. Kata is like focused shadow boxing, it helps in every other aspect of martial training and through bunkai, teaches self-defense applications.