Monday, May 21, 2012

Belts And Rankings

In Martial Arts

When I did Aikido, I went along with belts and ranks because that was the way it was done. T'ai-Chi was always my main thing though and there were no belts there, so I went along with that. In my own teaching I don’t use belts or ranks. My students seem to have a natural sense of their own abilities relative to others. I have certified a handful of students to teach over the years, which involves a process that culminates in the student being given a certificate stating that I’ve given them my “OK” and blessing to teach. But other than that, there are no titles or belts in my school.

I can see positive and negative sides to having or not having belts and rankings and each teacher has to decide for themselves how it will be handled in their particular school. Some traditions don’t allow much leeway on the part of instructors in this area. They must either conform to a standard belt/ranking system or break with that tradition. Others are more flexible with more freedom granted to teachers to go their own way.

I think that whatever system a teacher or school uses, it will be much better if the head of the school and all the teachers are clear about what exactly belts mean and don't mean and communicate that clearly and regularly to all students. Thinking things like this out and then making them clearly understood is very valuable in many ways. Too often I think these things are not well thought out and there are all kinds of unspoken misunderstandings. Clarity of mission and purpose, as well as the core principles of the art, are invaluable in any training.

Having been exposed personally to martial artists like David Harris, Fook Yeung, Gao Fu, Steve Smith, Andrew T. Dale, Sid Woodcock and others, that I deeply admire and am continually amazed by, I have a hard time getting too pumped up on myself. I've never been comfortable calling myself anything but Gene. I see why people call themselves Sifu, but I just can't do it myself. For instance, Dave Harris was always awesome, but there was a point a while back where suddenly it just seemed obvious that if anyone was a "master", he was. It seemed like everyone just started referring to him as a master, although of course, I never heard him call himself that.

I feel I am on the path of mastery, but not of the martial/combat applications of T'ai-Chi. I am on the path of mastering three things: the basics of the art, integrating them into my entire life, and teaching. Whether I get to that place where people naturally call me "master" or whatever, is not my concern or goal. It seems unlikely. But I do love being on this path and as long as I'm on it, I am happy.

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