The coveted Black Belt in karate. To the layperson, the achievement of Black Belt brings thoughts of a human lethal weapon. Hands so deadly that they need to be registered with the local police department. Shodan is the term for the first level of Black Belt or what can otherwise be called 1st Dan or 1st degree Black Belt. I have seen many students come and go at the dojo over the past three decades. I have seen many students excel in karate and push themselves to attain their goal of Black Belt. As a result, I have seen many students receive Black Belt and then soon after quit karate training because the personal goal they set for themselves has been met or the student feels now that they have attained Black Belt, they now know all the ancient secrets of the masters and nothing more can be learned or achieved.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Shodan is a great achievement, but on a journey of martial arts that is designed to last a lifetime, Shodan is but a small first step and the lowest rung on a very long ladder. It means the student now has somewhat of an understanding of the basics, knows a few techniques, and knows a few advanced level kata.
This is where true learning and understanding of karate starts, not ends.
Up until Shodan, the student has been focusing on learning basics, technique, and kata with only a superficial understanding of any of these areas. Beyond Shodan is where the student goes beyond learning the movements and transcends to understanding. Beyond Shodan is a where the concepts of why a movement or technique works becomes evident. It becomes a place where the application of kata (bunkai) becomes understood. More importantly, it is a place where the mind of the martial artist begins to develop. It is a place where the warrior spirit is forged.
The highest level in martial arts is reflected by a state of mind known as “mushin” or “no mind”. It is where karate movement, kata and technique, transcend beyond physical conscious movement and become reflexive. Thousands of repetitions of technique build pathways in the mind that allow a karateka to respond to any attack without thinking about the movement. After decades of training, the library of techniques, defense, and counter attacks grow. The repetition count continues to increase to the point where karate can be performed instinctively and reflexively. A Shodan will oftentimes have to think and then react to a movement. This results in delayed action and reaction. This delay allows a truly advanced student to be able to hit a Shodan at will. This same delay also allows most any attack delivered by the Shodan to be easily defended by the advanced student. To the Shodan, the advanced student looks blindingly fast. In reality, the electrical signals of the body are probably slower in the advanced student just because the advanced student is probably older. The perception though is that the advanced student is faster because the reactions are reflexive, done without conscious thought.
There is no shortcut to attain this level. A Shodan is a white belt that did not quit. A Master is a Shodan that did not quit.
It is important for the Shodan to come to the realization that Shodan should not be the destination, but rather only the first stepping stone on a path so long, it will take a lifetime to traverse. The majority of karate benefits as they relate to everyday life do not materialize at the Shodan level, but rather much later.
The true path of karate-do is a long and arduous one. It is a life-long path that strengthens spirit and only the most dedicated will be able to survive the journey. It is a path that builds mental strength along the way necessary to survive the path to mastery. True mastery brings humility and cultivates a spirit that improves the character on the life long journey to perfection that can never be attained, only strived for. Good character builds good citizens. Good citizens build good communities. Good communities build great countries. Great countries create a global brotherhood of peace….