Thursday, January 26, 2006

Magazine for Martial Arts

Brian loaned me a magazine this week. It's called Black Belt and he thinks it's better than the Tae Kwon Do magazine that's out there (can't remember the name of it. The one where people pay to be on the cover).

I love magazines. As a free-lance writer, I'm always interested in seeing how other writers put together stories for the ephemeral press. So I was glad to borrow it for a while. It did have lots of interesting articles.

It had a number of regular columns, and those pieces are always fun to read. Usually columns blend storytelling, facts, and opinions. I read almost all of them. One was on Taikikan, an "internal" martial art similar to Tae Chi, but it also has sparring. Another talked about "thrust kicks" in Tae Kwon Do. There was the requisite "what is this world coming to?" kind of column which seemed to suggest that we all need to do martial arts to stop bad guys from shooting law enforcement officers like in New Orleans. Right.

One column that really got me thinking was by Dave Lowry and called "What Does a Black Belt Mean?" In it, he says that most people believe the black belt connotes extraordinary abilities, but actually, in most budo (Karate schools?), "it signals that a person is a serious student who's ready to begin training in earnest."

Lowry wishes that Americans viewed black belts that way, as a sign that you want to learn more, not that you are an expert and done with your training.

He gets even more radical when he says "nothing good can come from awarding a black belt to a child."

Wow. I have to say that I think a child black belt (at our school we have "junior black belt" rank for most children under 12) is different from an adult black belt. Children and adults train in martial arts for (usually) very different reasons, I would guess.

Here's what he says:

In the West, when people see a child with a black belt, they assume that in this dojo at least, the training is literally kid's stuff. They expect some level of skill in a black-belt holder--skill that's beyond the grasp of a child. They wonder, How well would that kid do against a 21-year-old black belt in competition?

He also seems to suggest that viewing martial arts as a children's activity could make it less appealing for adults. "Some schools have trouble attracting adolescents and young adults for that very reason. These are the age groups that have the maturity, physical ability, and income to make martial arts training a long-term investment of time and energy."

Hmm. Actually, I love it that children are learning martial arts at our school, and even in the same class as I am sometimes. In fact, I don't know if I would have gotten around to learning a martial art without having my children start first, and then being able to work out with them. I also like the family atmosphere of our dojang, with children, moms, dads, teens all working out together. He doesn't consider this in his article; perhaps he wants a more "serious" school.

I have to say, though, that I like the view of the black belt that he offers: It shows you're a "serious student," not an expert. If people remembered that, maybe there wouldn't be controversy about junior black belts.

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