I've now been a black belt for a month but as my first dan grading approached, I wondered how I would feel afterwards. Would it feel like an achievement, an anticlimax, a culmination or a step along the way?
The quick answers:
Let's look at each of these in a bit more detail. It did feel like an achievement. It has taken a while, there have been interruptions for work, injury and life in general, but to get through the course and perform in the grading felt great. I have said before that I consider martial arts to be a personal challenge and to meet this particular one, one that had built up a daunting aura over time, was so rewarding.
After all the training and the formal grading, your reward is a certificate and a 290 centimetre length of black cotton that Greaves Sports will sell you for five pounds. It might not be some elaborate trophy but it certainly did not feel like an anticlimax. In fact very much the opposite, putting the black belt on for the first time felt . . . a bit weird. In fact, a month down the line and it still feels weird. For me, it symbolises the time and effort I have put into Shoto Budo and also what it has given to me in return.
It definitely is not the end of the journey but it does feel like a significant milestone. After all, if I train in Shoto Budo for the rest of my life, I'll never get another colour of belt. There has been a perhaps unexpected benefit: I feel re-energised in my training. My frustration with injuries and lack of progress (perceived or otherwise) have been banished to the past and replaced with a desire to continue learning and to move up again. Who knows when that will be but I have a renewed enthusiasm for my martial art, all thanks to this length of black cotton.
There is so much more to learn. It was interesting to see the reaction of my work colleagues; on more than one occasion the phrase "better not argue with Scott, he's a black belt now" has been uttered in meetings. It's not that in the space of a grading I suddenly learned a whole range of new skills or some previously secret techniques but to the wider public, the black belt clearly maintains its mystic status as being a symbol of being a martial arts expert (I'm definitely not). Most of my colleagues were surprised that there are another nine dan grades after the one I had just achieved.
Training with so many talented people both at the course and in my club shows just how much more there is to learn and how great is the scope to improve. I might have been training for nine years but I feel like I have barely scratched the surface. It's clear that a first dan black belt is far closer to the start of the journey than the end.
Watching our higher dan and Meijin grades train is both hugely impressive and inspiring. It is also notable how much knowledge our Meijin grades have when it comes to the fine details of what works, how and why. For example, during the course, Emma and I were practising a technique taught to us by Markus and Marko (very skill third and fourth dans respectively) but when one element was not working for either of us, a small detail from Richard Price (3 Meijin, or 8th Dan) made all the difference. That is a level of skill, knowledge and vision for everyone to aspire to.
So to answer the opening question "now what?" is actually quite easy. More training, more learning, more fun and, hopefully somewhere down the line, second dan. Without question, I am really looking forward to enjoying the next leg of my martial arts journey.
Scott has been training in Shoto Budo since 2007 and is a 1st Dan Black Belt. He is working towards his 2nd Dan grading.