TaeKwonDo Times Magazine Traditions Column by Master Doug Cook March, 2012
Devaluing the Black Belt
Very often I receive inquiries from parents seeking membership for their children who have trained elsewhere in the martial arts. Many come wearing black belts naturally leading me to believe that they have achieved a certain level of proficiency. Some have. Many, however, have not. Moreover, this confounding dilemma is not confined to youngsters. Teens and adults alike frequently request advanced recognition but are sadly and fundamentally lacking in technique. These and other related circumstances yield questions difficult to resolve: should youngsters be awarded the black belt in the first place? If not, then what age is appropriate? Furthermore, are the criteria for promotion to black belt equivalent from one tae kwon do dojang to the next? Are some curricula unfairly demanding? Is the black belt transferable from one martial art to another? And lastly, does the black belt hold the same meaning today as it did in the past?
Let me start out by saying that I am as guilty as any master instructor in giving my students the benefit of the doubt, technically, when testing for black belt. I allow for a certain margin of error in performance which rarely becomes an issue given the mandatory six-month waiting period between bodan or candidate, and 1st dan. Yet, preparation for this supreme accomplishment does not begin at bodan. Strict attention is relentlessly paid to basic technique from white belt on, resulting in a stunningly accurate performance when the moment for the black belt examination arrives. Consequently, whether the practitioner is ten years old or sixty, at a dojang such as ours that demands precision and unquestionable skill, the black belt is earned and not simply given.