black belt

FAQ - What is a Red Belt?

One of the purposes of this blog is to answer some of the frequently asked questions from our students, parents, and others interested in the martial arts, self-defense, or just health and fitness.

In the martial arts world, one of the things that people are often most curious about is the belt system. What do the different colors mean? How long does it take to get them? Why do various arts have different colors?

Today, let’s take a minute to clear up the Red Belt.

In some Korean martial arts, you will see a red belt used as one of the standard colors leading up to the Black Belt. That is not the red belt that we are discussing today. The red belt that everyone is curious about is the one you see the “old guys” sometimes wearing.

Different martial arts use it in different ways, but most commonly, you will see the red belt worn by someone who has reached 10th degree in their particular style. 10th degree is the highest rank achievable.

Two of the primary martial arts taught at Progressive Martial Arts Academy are Kenpo and Jiu Jitsu. Specifically FILKENJUTSU Kenpo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Kenpo has many different groups, and all have decided on different ways of using the ranks and colors. In our method of teaching Kenpo (FILKENJUTSU), we do not currently use the red belt. 

For example, the highest ranking Black Belt in our family, is my father, Bruce Corrigan. He is the only 10th degree Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU and is the founder of our method of teaching. He prefers to just wear the Black Belt with ten stripes (or even just a plain Black Belt!). He also has a Black Belt with a red border which denotes that he is the founder/head of the family.

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, at 7th degree the belt worn is red and black, at 8th degree it is red and white, and at 9th and 10th degree it is red. Check out this trailer for an upcoming documentary done by BJJ Hacks on the Red Belts - 

For more on belt ranks and instructor titles check out these posts:

Ranks and Titles, Part 1 -

Ranks and Titles, Part 2 -

The Importance of the Black Belt -

The Black Belt Problem -

I did a breakdown of our different colors for our YouTube channel a couple of years ago too - 

At the end of the day, your belt is used to keep your gi (uniform) together. We often place a little too much importance on what color it is. And at a time when many martial arts have been watered down, and promotions have been sold rather than earned, what is most important is that you are training with a good teacher who also has legitimate training.

Wait, if you're reading this you are training, right? If not, please call me NOW at (865)481-8901 or email me at and schedule a FREE private introductory lesson. 

It is free, and there is no obligation to keep training afterward. Come see for yourself why this will be the best decision you've ever made.

That's enough for now, see you on the mat!

What are some of your questions? Comment on Facebook or email them to me at and I'll try to cover them in future posts!

Ranks and Titles, Part 2

Before you go on, check out last week’s post if you haven’t read it already!

Ranks and Titles, Part 1

So now, let’s talk about titles. What do things like “SiFu,” “Sensei,” or “Professor” mean? How does someone get these titles?

One of the easiest ways to understand this is to look at the traditions that are used in academics at colleges and universities. First off, back to what we discussed last week - a person cannot just attend college sporadically for 20 years and end up with a degree. They must complete a course of study that has been laid out by a professional and then pass all evaluation by a higher authority before earning an actual degree.

A degree from a university is much like a black belt. It demonstrates that a certain amount of knowledge has been acquired in an individual subject, or in this case a martial art. However, a degree does not give that person the ability to teach others and give out degrees. 

But why not?

A baccalaureate degree is not the end of someone’s path in learning that particular subject. In fact, in many ways it just allows them to begin. They can now pursue a career in which they will learn a tremendous amount more through experience, or maybe they will pursue higher education within that subject area. They cannot, however, teach others. At least not yet.

According to, if someone wants to be a professor at a university they should be prepared to do the following:

The minimum level of education required for college professors is a master’s degree, which can qualify an individual for work as a professor at a community college. A doctoral degree is typically required to work as a full-time, tenure-track university professor. You should be prepared to earn an undergraduate degree in your chosen subject area, go to graduate school, complete a Ph.D. program, conduct independent research, and write and publish articles in scholarly journals.

In addition, you may need to gain teaching and research experience as a graduate assistant, or gain work experience in settings like governmental, nonprofit, and the private sector related to your field of study. The key skills you want to build include critical thinking skills, communication skills, computer skills, and knowledge of classroom management.

The same is true in martial arts. 

A black belt does not stand as one's ability to teach, only as a testament to their technical accomplishment.

There is a multitude of examples of highly talented black belts who are not good teachers. In fact, some of the best martial artists on the planet are terrible teachers because the arts came naturally to them and they have difficulty getting someone that does not have natural ability to perform the techniques.

One of my good friends and teachers, Felipe Costa, is both a world champion and a great teacher. The reason for this is he lost over and over again before he ever won. He is at this time still the only person to win the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Championships in an Adult Black Belt division who did not previously win it at one of the lower ranks - he always lost. BUT, his losses gave him a greater understanding of the techniques than many other world champions and the patience and passion that a great teacher must have to pass on what they know to someone else.

Felipe Costa, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt World Champion

Felipe Costa, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt World Champion

The ability to teach is what makes a “sensei” or “sifu” (which both mean teacher, by the way -  Sensei is Japanese, and SiFu is Chinese). And just as we discussed with rank, it is important that these titles are bestowed upon someone by a higher ranking practitioner of their art. In the martial arts world especially, because there is not one governing body or accreditation system used universally, it is important that a prospective student does their research to validate someone’s background in the art they are claiming to teach, and that they have the authority to do so.

At Progressive Martial Arts Academy, we use Chinese, Japanese, and American titles to show the mixed origins of the arts that we teach. They are as follows:

Sempai (Japanese) - Senior Student - usually brown belt or senior. We bestow this title upon all of our Black Belts and instructors.

SiHing (Chinese) - Very Senior Student - usually brown belt or senior. This title is typically given to one student in the Academy and is senior to Sempai.

SiFu (Chinese) - Teacher - usually 2nd-degree black belt or senior.

SiGung (Chinese) - Teacher of Teachers - This is a very senior practitioner who is awarded this title by the system founder or head of the family - usually 7th degree or senior.

Professor - usually 8th degree or senior.

Grandmaster - 9th or 10th degree, can have more than one grandmaster.

SiJo (Chinese) - Founder of the system, or head of the family. There is only one head of the family.

That's it for this week! I hope this answered some of your questions about ranks and titles. Did I miss anything? Send me an email with any questions or topics you'd like to see covered on our blog at

Ranks and Titles, Part 1

Possibly one of the most confusing things for new students in the martial arts are ranks and titles. What are they? What do they mean? How do you get them?

Last week a historic promotion was made in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu when Grandmaster Rorion Gracie promoted his brother, Rickson Gracie, to 9th degree Red Belt and Grandmaster. Let’s talk a little bit about what that means, why it’s important, and how ranks and titles are used at Progressive Martial Arts Academy.

First, let’s discuss the belt (obi). In most martial arts, belts (just a long piece of cloth) are worn around the waist tying the top of the uniform (gi) together. It is said that originally these belts were colorless, and over time dirt and sweat would turn a belt darker and darker. When it became necessary to find a way to differentiate between instructors and students, or advanced students and beginner students, many arts decided to use colored belts. They kept the tradition of having the colors progress from white to darker, with most arts having Black Belt be the highest rank.

It is important to understand that the colors are not all the same in each art. Therefore a Blue belt in one art is not necessarily at the same place in his training, as a Blue Belt in a different art. For example at PMA, we teach two martial arts that use a belt ranking system: Kenpo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Kenpo Belt Color Order:

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Belt Color Order:

Notice the Blue and Purple belts are switched in Kenpo and Jiu Jitsu. I know, it can be confusing!

Wait, what about the Red Belt?

In both Kenpo and Jiu Jitsu and some other arts, the red belt is often reserved for the masters or founders of the art (usually 9th or 10th degree, and can be worn at their option). But in some other arts (Korean arts for example), the red belt is one of the regular belts on the path to Black Belt.

This past week, when Grandmaster Rickson Gracie was promoted to 9th-degree red belt, he responded with surprise and initially did not want to accept the promotion. His resistance has led to some discussion in the Jiu Jitsu community about whether he should accept the promotion or not and what the standard should be. This discussion can help us understand more about the importance of ranks and titles.

Rickson has been working on trying to get a uniform set of guidelines for all Jiu Jitsu academies to use when determining how long it should take to reach each promotion. Rickson’s stance was that by his count he had been a black belt for 40 years, and in the standardization guidelines that he has put forth, it should take 45 years to get to 9th degree. He didn’t think he should be an exception.

The argument to this, and why his brothers, among other famous Jiu Jitsu practitioners, thought that this should be overruled is they believe longevity is a major factor, but should not be the only criteria for promotion. The argument is that merit, growth, contributions, and achievements should also be considered. 

Rickson was considered to be the Gracie family champion for many years in both Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts competitions. Therefore these individuals thought the promotion was a no-brainer. While it is not my position to decide what the criteria should be, I do believe longevity should not be the only factor. There are many examples of individuals who have been Black Belts for a long time, but have not made any sort of effort to continue their personal training and growth or contribute/progress the art forward in any way.

One of the things I appreciated most from watching his promotion, however, is Rickson’s humility. While accomplishing more in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu than virtually anyone, Rickson still did not place too much importance on his rank.

I grew up in a martial arts family. Great martial artists surrounded me as a kid. And truthfully, I don’t remember ever seeing any degrees or stripes on anyone’s belts. I didn’t understand what the degrees or “dans” even were. I was raised to believe that once you earned your Black Belt, you just continued to train because you needed to, wanted to, and loved to. Not for your next promotion.

The degrees or “dans” are used to classify students, instructors, and masters that wear the Black Belt. They were traditionally used in Japanese, Okinawan, and Korean styles, but in America, many Chinese styles (kung fu) even have even adopted a similar system to that used in Japanese arts such as Karate and Jiu Jitsu.

As our family grew in size, the need for degrees and a system to classify the Black Belts also became important, and we began to emphasize our ranks and promotions after Black Belt too.

(However, at our academy, you will often still see high ranking black belts both in Kenpo and Jiu Jitsu wearing a plain Black Belt, despite holding a rank higher than that.)

In both Kenpo and Jiu Jitsu, there are 10 degrees that are awarded after Black Belt. We do not typically use the Japanese Dan rank titles and opt to just say "1st degree" rather than "shodan", but they are as follows:

1st degree - shodan
2nd degree - nidan
3rd degree - sandan
4th degree - yo(n)dan
5th degree - godan
6th degree - rokudan
7th degree - shichidan
8th degree - hachidan
9th degree - kudan
10th degree - judan

It is important to note that there are not any unified governing bodies in the martial arts as there are in academics, and other professions. Therefore, it is important that someone senior in the art to yourself gives the promotions. Self-promotion is not a reliable evaluation of one’s abilities but unfortunately, runs rampant in the martial arts community. There are a large number of high ranking black belts whose only achievements have come through self-promotion or rank. In some rare instances when a high ranking black belts' instructors or those senior to him have passed away, a group of designated individuals lower in rank together may decide to make the promotion.

Now that we understand a little bit better how ranks/belts work in the martial arts, next week let’s discuss titles and the criteria to be an instructor of the martial arts. This too is a major problem in the martial arts community, with many individuals who have never been qualified to teach martial arts, opening schools and teaching with no training or credentials to do so.

Bunkai and Me

* Gary recently tested for his Black Belt in Kenpo at Progressive Martial Arts Academy and this was written during his preparation process.    

 Among the many misgivings and general sense of discomfort that a middle-aged man might have upon embarking on a journey in the martial arts, is the necessity to engage a new vocabulary. Words of foreign origin that define what you train, where you train and even what is “hidden” within your training both fascinate and intimidate at the outset. Bunkai is such a word. Mysterious and powerful, meaningful yet elusive, bunkai has been a source of curiosity to me since I began my journey. I hope this is a sign of normal human learning and not just another personal inability of mine, but the sheer volume of material that I have encountered along my path has at times left me struggling to just remember foot placement, type of strike or the orientation of my opponent. This struggle has many times prevented me from truly engaging the material in order to gain a more nuanced understanding. At times I do feel like I am moving beyond mere rote memorization of my material to a place of greater engagement and understanding, only to then again find myself mired in an inordinate preoccupation with steps and heel orientation and points of exhalation. With this in mind, any chance to learn and engage this subject with a goal of discerning a deeper meaning can only be of benefit.

Gary (pictured in middle) with some of his instructors and training partners at Progressive Martial Arts Academy.

Gary (pictured in middle) with some of his instructors and training partners at Progressive Martial Arts Academy.

     Now would be a good time for a disclaimer: I am solely a product of FILKENJUTSU-KAI. Any biases, misconceptions or flawed analysis I bring to this work are purely the result of my ignorance and relative inexperience related to the martial arts. I hold no latent loyalty to a system, house or style.

    Japanese in origin, one recognized translation of bunkai is “analysis” or “disassembly” and is most commonly used to breakdown through demonstration the techniques performed in katas to show their practical application against opponent/s. Basically put; Here is your kata, it is made up of “X” movements, let’s take movement “X” from the kata and this is the how it could be used in reality (“Bunkai”, 2016). Another source defines bunkai as meaning “application” in Japanese. It refers to a type of training, usually performed as formal one-step kumite, in which the practitioner studies the application of the individual movements performed during kata by applying them as defenses against the simulated attacks of a training partner (“Kata and Bunkai”, 2016). Still another uses “The bunkai of kata teaches us the true meaning and relevance of kata as a whole.  As stated, bunkai means application, more specifically how can I use these moves that I am practicing to devastating effect against an opponent” (“The meaning of Kata”, 2016)

Gary and his daughter, Gracie.

Gary and his daughter, Gracie.

    The definitions vary slightly, but there is often passionate disagreement as to the relevance, origins and relative importance of the concept. To this end, however, there is a consistency in the references I encountered in that they all use kata as the backdrop for the study of bunkai. A working definition of kata is, “an exercise consisting of several of the specific movements of a martial art, especially a pattern prescribed for defending oneself against several attackers, used in judo and karate training.” (“Kata”, 2017). A more nuanced meaning would have kata originating from the practice of paired attack and defense drills by ancient Chinese martial artists. However, as the numbers of attacks and defenses being practiced increased the difficulty of remembering all of the drills also increased. An additional problem with the drills was the requirement for a partner to be present for all practice. Kata forms were created as solo forms containing the concatenated sequences of movements of the defensive portions of the drills. The initial forms being simply strings of movements, sets of rules were created to allow the creation of kata which could fit comfortably within training spaces (Toguchi, 2001). 

Gary with his wife and daughter at the PMA Christmas Party this past December.

Gary with his wife and daughter at the PMA Christmas Party this past December.

    So, with kata as the backdrop for the study of bunkai, we can begin to see where those passionate voices diverge. Ian Abernathy, a prolific writer on the subjects of kata and bunkai, states “The recording of information through physical movement is probably as old as mankind itself. Ancient cultures often used sequences of physical movements as a method to pass on their culture to the next generation. Part of this culture would undoubtedly be the fighting and hunting techniques that the group had refined and found to be most successful. Since combat is a physical activity, there can be little doubt that the most effective way for an individual to learn the combative skills of the group would be to copy the physical movements of those who were more experienced. The elders would demonstrate the various combative movements and the younger members of the group would try to emulate them. These skills would eventually be further refined and then passed on to subsequent generations. It is in this way that the first ‘katas’ would have been created.(Abernathy, 2012.) He records that during the 11th century, a number of Japanese warriors fleeing from the Taira-Minamoto wars made their way to Okinawa. Many of the Minamoto samurai took Okinawan wives and remained upon the island for the rest of their days. The bujitsu (specializations to the combat arts practiced by the military class prior to roughly 1600) of the Minamoto samurai had a large influence on the fighting methods employed by the Okinawan nobles. One part of Minamoto bujitsu that had an influence on the development of karate was the idea that all motion is essentially the same. Whether striking, grappling or wielding a weapon, the Minamoto samurai taught that all combative methods relied upon similar physical movements (like a left lead holding escrima sticks where the shoulder, hip and foot movement would be the same as in boxing. Lessons learned in parking lots are often the one’s that stick with you the best). An individual would be taught a particular physical movement and would then be shown how that movement could be adapted to achieve varying goals. The results of this combat philosophy can still be seen in modern day karate. It is not uncommon to see a single movement in a kata to be given several different applications. This use of multiple applications, whilst sometimes controversial, is historically correct. By affording a movement multiple applications the founders of what became known as karate ensured that great amounts of information could be contained in katas of a manageable length. The use of multiple applications also helps ensure a quick response in combat. This is because the practitioner has not learned many different movements for many different situations, which is extremely undesirable as the brain will have to sift through large amounts of information before being able to determine the appropriate movement. Instead, the practitioner will have learnt a relatively small number of movements that can be applied to many situations. (Goodin, 2006)

Gary and his SiFu (teacher), David Corrigan.

Gary and his SiFu (teacher), David Corrigan.

    I believe it can be said that Abernathy feels the movements made available/practical by the kata are the bunkai contained within. Could he in fact be stating that the bunkai of the kata is the platform for movement that could be applied directly to fighting/combat, not any particular movements themselves? This supposition is buttressed by the writing of Schmeisser who states that “in the west we tend to use the word "bunkai" as a blanket term for kata applications. This is actually an incorrect usage of the Japanese word. Literally translated,  the term bunkin karate kata refers to solo practice drills in China and Okinawa where these drills were practiced much like the scene from Enter the Dragon, where each person is amassed and executes the actions in unison. This was an Asian form of drill & ceremony for older times, Western armies used marching. Likewise, the kata could be practiced by individuals alone and was a form of moving meditation, physical exercise and a "text book" for martial arts where bunkai (literally "to disassemble") is used to analyze the form to discover alternative applications and techniques. Here a single form taught lower ranking soldiers might have a totally different meaning to the initiated higher ranking soldiers. Kata Bunkai has three ways of viewing Kata... Omote is literally "surface" so Kata Bunkai Omote is the first form of initiation, the surface application of the form that would be taught to the lowest ranking of soldiers. At the Omote level what you see is what you get, a punch is a punch, a kick a kick and block a block. Here kata forms the process of exercise and teaching basic fighting techniques.

An American military family. Gary's daughter, Gracie (also PMA Black Belt), pictured in top left is in the Air Force ROTC, his wife, Kat, is pictured top right and was a graduate of West Point, and Gary is pictured in the middle of the bottom photo with his son, Nate (US Army), and father who is a retired Navy warrant officer.

An American military family. Gary's daughter, Gracie (also PMA Black Belt), pictured in top left is in the Air Force ROTC, his wife, Kat, is pictured top right and was a graduate of West Point, and Gary is pictured in the middle of the bottom photo with his son, Nate (US Army), and father who is a retired Navy warrant officer.

    In our ancient Asian army we would have our "NCOs" (Non-Commissioned Officers) or "Sergeants" (if you are a civilian) who would be initiated into the Ura Bunkai, Ura literally means "Behind" and it is what is behind the form. Here techniques are not just techniques, a Juji-uke (cross block) and pivot may be a trap and break or throw. This is the "secret" teaching of the kata. And finally our last level of initiation is for our "Officers" this is called Honto Bunkai. Honto literally means "true" or "truth" for the largest part, and because few Karateka wrote down their teachings much of Honto Bunkai has been lost to history, but this is where the intentionally "hidden secrets" in kata are laid bare. 

     So in our ancient context, bunkai actually means analysis of a subject by detailed dissection or disassembly of the whole. In practice, when we suggest possible applications of the techniques, we are actually discussing "oyo" or possible examples. The term "bunkai" would then suggest that we are taking a kata apart, analyzing the movements and then attempting to discover all the possible applications. This attitude is important when practicing kata bunkai: there is never just one possible application, just numerous applications of which some are most likely best.”  (Schmeisser, 1999)

    Deliniations or stratifications of bunkai are found throughout the subject writings. It would seem that the classification is level is determined by the experience level of the practitioner. An interesting take on this delineation is offered up by Collins, “Many times throughout history in both Okinawa and China this level of initiation was used due to armies having conscripted soldiers. Many of the documents which survived to present day are written in a form of metaphor that served as a code. Understanding these metaphors was part of the Honto Bunkai level of teaching though not directly related to Kata where strategy and tactics could be concealed in the form at the Honto level. One claiming to know the secret codes would have to be initiated at various levels. This of course is like an ancient form of security clearance. That prevented misuse of knowledge by those who would seek to overthrow their leaders” (Collins, 2014).

     Another take has the levels of bunkai taking on an ordinal ranking. Level I is the simplest and most apparent. It is always singular in range. Striking, blocking and kicking rule the understanding of this level. Strength and speed along with emotional involvement occur. Level II involves basic combinations, plural in scope. The techniques begin to link discovery of technical continuity. Level III is the advanced or compound combination. Himitsu, unseen movements, become apparent at the physical level. Level IV is where internal and external consciousness begins. The overall picture forms on all levels. Personal perceptiveness and development occur. Level V is concerned with internal manifestation and the transition of secret knowledge. At this level one experiences wholeness, Chi and true spiritual wisdom. Levels I-III can be taught, IV and V must be experienced (“Levels of Understanding Karate and Bunkai”, 2015).

     Jesse Enkamp breaks this stratification down along similar lines, but with more of a modern practitioner bent. He believes greater commitment and engagement is what affords someone the enlightenment to move beyond Omo to the Honto level of bunkai, not purely someone’s place in the hierarchy.  It would seem that he is promoting willingness over necessity, seeking over finding (Enkamp,          )     

FILKENJUTSU KAI's most recent Black Belt candidates, Gary Hall and Linda Davis.

FILKENJUTSU KAI's most recent Black Belt candidates, Gary Hall and Linda Davis.

    As a black belt candidate, I have benefited greatly from the opportunity to research a particular facet of the martial arts. The Venturi tube of physical preparation required for the test (practicing material, physical conditioning) doesn’t necessarily lend itself to studious thought and research into something beyond the reach of the fist or foot.  My research into bunkai has provided me a great opportunity to seek answers to some questions, but more importantly, I think, it has generated tenfold more.

Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! 'Have courage to use your own reason!'- that is the motto of enlightenment.      ― Immanuel Kant
Absorb what is useful, discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own. - Bruce Lee
Gary, with some of his PMA family on a hike in the Fall of 2015.

Gary, with some of his PMA family on a hike in the Fall of 2015.

     My academy, dojo, Family, does not countenance hubris or self-aggrandizement. As it is, the path is too long, the way too humbling to sustain these feelings. Rather, my journey has presented me with a canvas onto which I have been able to realize a better me through work, and a sincere desire to improve. The years have passed so quickly; a rush of relationships, experiences and emotions that I didn’t think at my age and station in life I would have the opportunity to experience again. I remember distinctly my emotions as I took my first step onto the mat: excitement, trepidation, curiosity.  The intervening years have brought joy, satisfaction, frustration, and a true concern for the well-being of my friends and training partners (which to the outsider seems incongruous because of what we do to and with each other on a regular basis). Now, 5 years later, as I prepare to step onto the mat for the latest challenge in my journey, my emotions are still: excitement, trepidation, curiosity.  My SiFu posed this question some time ago: Do you consider yourself a martial artist? I remember being confused and very uncertain as to how I felt, thinking that I didn’t know what level of competence was necessary to answer in the affirmative. As I write this, the indecision is gone, replaced by a quiet, but firm confidence. I do consider myself a true martial artist, not because of reaching some arbitrary skill level, but because of how my training makes me feel and the lessons I have learned on the mat that carry over to the rest of my life. Patience, greater empathy toward others, and an honest appraisal of my inabilities are all direct byproducts of my training. I have learned to be more at peace with these inabilities being acceptable parts of me, and while always wanting to improve, I feel I am now better equipped to enjoy the process without an eye towards the “bottom line”.


Bunkai: to analyze a kata. FILKENJUTSU-KAI: to analyze one’s self.

Gary and his Black Belt candidate partner, Linda Davis, after receiving their Black Belts on February 19, 2017.

Gary and his Black Belt candidate partner, Linda Davis, after receiving their Black Belts on February 19, 2017.


Works Cited

Abernathy, Ian. Bunkai-Jitsu: The Practical Application of Karate Kata.NETH Publishing. 2012. Print.

“Bunkai”. Shotokan Karate Training. 2015. Web. 17 January 2017.

Collins, Ron. Black Dragon Ninjitsu. 2014. Print.

Enkamp, Jesse. “The 3 types of Bunkai (Omote, Ura & Honto).” KaratebyJesse. 2016. Web. 1 February 2017.

Goodin, Charles C. “The Why of Bunkai: A guide for beginners”. Classical Fighting Arts, Issue 8, 2006. Print.

“Kata”. 2017. Web. 17 January 2017.

“Kata and Bunkai”. Kyokushin-Kan International Honbu. 1 December 2016. Web. 27 January 2017.

“Levels of Understanding Karate and Bunkai”. World Sansei Karate and Kobudo. 2015. Web. 4 February 2017.

Schmeisser, Elmar. Bunkai: The Secrets of Karate kata. Damashi Publications, 1999. Print

“The Meaning of Kata”. Seishin Shotokan Karate. 2011. Web. 27 January 2017.

Toguchi, Seikichi. Okinawan Goju-Ryu II: Advanced Techniques of Shorei-Kan Karate. Black Belt Communications, 2001. Print.

Meet the Candidates

In May of 2016, two of PMA's Filkenjutsu students, Gary Hall and Linda Davis, were selected as Black Belt candidates and have since been preparing for their Black Belt Test. The date is set for Friday, February 17 - Sunday, February 19, 2017.

Check out these videos from earlier in their training to meet the candidates and learn a little more about their stories.

Gary Hall -

These Black Belt Candidates hope to have their friends and family on Sunday, February 19th witness their ceremony and take part in a luau to celebrate this tremendous achievement.

The final day of the test is a public demonstration of their acquired skills, and all of those in attendance will serve as witnesses to the promotion. Students are encouraged to attend with their friends and family members (adults and children) to observe the final day of this incredible journey.

Details and Reserve Your Seats -

The Black Belt Problem

If you haven’t had the chance yet, I recommend you take a minute to read my post on “The Importance of the Black Belt.” Go ahead; I’ll wait here.

The Importance of the Black Belt

Okay, now that we’ve discussed a few of the reasons that earning your Black Belt is important, I’d like to talk about “The Black Belt Problem.”

Goals can be fantastic tools for helping us achieve things in our lives. Setting a goal weight helps people stay on track with their health and fitness when tempted by delicious foods and laziness. Setting a financial goal helps people stay on track with their budget when tempted by the latest gadget or desire to go out to eat. Setting your sights on Black Belt helps people keep showing up class after class when laziness, doubt, fear, and frustration start to creep into our training. And if those things haven’t crept into your training yet, just wait. They will.

Goals can be incredibly useful. Many times the temptations and distractions listed above will take us off course when it comes to our goals, but the desire to reach that goal will help us get back on track.

But what happens when you reach your goal?

Many people that use dieting or fitness plans to reach a goal weight end up back where they started a few months later.

Many people that reach a savings goal end up back in debt and spending out of control briefly after reaching their goals.

Many people that achieve their Black Belt will not be consistently training a few years after they’ve arrived at this significant milestone.

Spending some time thinking on this is maybe one of the most important things you can do to improve your quality of life in all areas. Let’s ditch those other two examples and focus on the Black Belt example for the rest of this post, but just fill in the blank, and you may find that understanding “The Black Belt Problem” can help you understand other areas of difficulty in your life also.

Why does this happen? Well for starters, one of the things that keeps you coming back is that feeling that you get every time you receive a promotion. We don’t want to fall behind, we are eager to earn our next rank, and this keeps us motivated to get to class. When this goes away, feelings of laziness, doubt, and frustration are much harder to overcome because there is less incentive to be in class now. 

The training isn’t any different after you reach your Black Belt. You continue to learn new material, you continue to be pushed physically, and there is still massive room for improvement. My father always said that your martial arts training was analogous to building a house. The training from white to black belt is the process of gathering all of the tools and supplies that you are going to need to build the house and getting all of the preparatory work done. Once you receive your Black Belt, the house still needs to be built and then maintained and lived in!

You know a good majority of the “how” to do things and are now learning the “why” and what makes the techniques work. You now learn the little nuances and learn to teach others which deepens your knowledge of the art (more on this later). You now begin to personalize your training or as Bruce Lee stated:

Research your own experiences for the truth.
Absorb what is useful.
Reject what is useless.
Add that which is specifically your own.

Because the truth in combat is different for each individual.

I can’t even express the difference in myself, or some of the other Black Belts that I know have maintained consistent training after Black Belt between when we received our Black Belts and now. In comparison, I feel as if the amount of growth between White and Black Belt may be smaller than the amount of growth between when I received my Black Belt and now. I am learning new things every day both in training with my teachers and in teaching my students.

So if learning and growth are still happening, why do so many stop training?

This is not the case for every Black Belt that falls off along the way, but for many, it could simply be because the physical sign of progress (a new belt or rank) is not present.

Dr. John Berardi of Precision Nutrition calls this phase in his nutrition and lifestyle coaching program, “The Grind.” It’s the place we reach when maybe the number on the scale doesn’t quite move as quickly as we’d like. We are still eating the right foods, doing the right exercises, and becoming healthier individuals or maintaining a level of health previously achieved but we don’t have that physical proof of the number on the scale showing us how good we are doing.

Let’s say you reach your goal weight. Congratulations, now just keep doing what you are doing over and over again for the rest of your life. It’s not super exciting. That’s why it’s so important that you reach your goal by doing things that you are comfortable with doing forever.

So you’ve made it to Black Belt? Congratulations, now just keep training forever. While this isn’t the most exciting thing to hear, it is a magnificent thing. It is a very healthy thing.You are now working towards becoming a master at a skill that is treasured and respected. You are maintaining all of the skills that you’ve acquired along the way in case you ever need them. And you are continuing to receive the multitude of benefits that martial arts provide for the rest of your life: stress relief, focus, fun, exercise, peace of mind, humility, respect, discipline, camaraderie, I could keep this going all day.

So how do you combat “The Black Belt Problem” or “The Grind”?

I’ll give you a couple of ideas, but mostly you just need to embrace it. This is a good place to be, so enjoy it!

Find your “why.” Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why - which became a best-selling book in the business world, writes about business and great leaders inspiring action in others by focusing on the why of what they are doing. 

Most businesses and people can quickly answer the question of “what” they are doing or even “how” they are doing it. But the ones that know “why” they are doing it can speak to their audience in a way that sparks action and loyalty.

You need to know why you are training. It may have changed since you began your martial arts journey. The most common answers on our students’ applications when they start training are things like "get in shape" or "learn to defend myself." Those may be part of the reason they continue training, but by the time they make it to Black Belt the answer usually evolves into something like:

“Training martial arts helps me to know more fully who I am.” 

“Training helps me reach my potential and be the best version of myself.”

“When I’m on the mat, I'm where I belong. It makes me happy and brings joy to the other areas of my life.”

“Training martial arts helps bring clarity and perspective to my personal life and my career.”

So dig a little deeper than those surface answers and get down to the bottom of your why. Check out Simon’s TED talk if you haven’t seen it before (which has now been viewed over 30 million times).

You also cannot ignore the evidence that the martial artists with the most success when it comes to longevity and continuous training throughout their life are usually teaching martial arts in some way. For some, it has become their full-time occupation as it is for me. For others, it may be something they do a few hours per week. Some may just teach a friend or family member one day or assist in classes at their dojo. Regardless, the value added to your life by passing on this gift to others is one of the most inspiring things you may ever do. That alone can keep you on track with your journey.

It doesn’t matter so much where you find your motivation. Whether it’s from within because you know your why, or you are externally motivated by inspiring and guiding others, just keep training. Build a habit of getting up and getting on the mat no matter what life throws at you; it will always be worth it. 

If you are a Black Belt, but something has been getting in the way of your training, I encourage you just to take that step to get back on the mat. Forget about how out of shape you are or how much you have forgotten, don’t let doubt, fear, or frustration ruin one of the greatest treasures in your life. 

Remember “to fall seven times, to rise eight times; life begins now.” We have a clean slate policy and know that these things burden every martial artist. You aren’t the first and definitely won’t be the last (though I hope this post helps decrease that number), so don’t stress about it. You are the only one stopping you. You just have to decide to do it. Ready, go!

If you are on the path to Black Belt, don’t be afraid to set that goal, just remember what comes later. Don’t be in a rush to get there. Enjoy the process and all of the benefits of training. Let that be what keeps you coming back, instead of the excitement of promotions. 

Enjoy the promotions as they are a fantastic sign of your progress, just don’t let them be your sole motivation. I can’t wait for you to get your Black Belt and experience that joy, but more importantly to keep training and to live the Martial Arts Way of Life for the long haul. 

When you reach the stage that training is just part of what you do every day for no other reason than it is a part of you, it is incredible.

Madelyn Fowler: Why I Train Martial Arts

I am training martial arts for all of the same reasons now that I listed on my application when I first signed up: self defense, I like to keep in shape, and I think it’s fun. All these reasons are over simplified as I now see, but they all still motivate me to train, just now in a more complex, deep way.

Had you asked me to write this a couple of years ago, I would have answered nearly the same as I am now: I feel empowered just being here at PMA, and empowered knowing that I am leading my own journey in self perfection. I feel strong in my abilities, a feeling I have never felt through any other outlet. I also feel confident and unique; this is something I am doing all by myself. Though I am part of a team, my journey is different. I am different.

Now that I’ve taken the Black Belt Test I can add more to this answer. The weekend I went through helped me not only find out who I wanted to be, but who I was, and how to accept that person. I’ve always had a self image problem. Through three days of sweat (gallons of it) and tears (not as much as sweat) and no make up (the longest I’ve gone in years) I felt totally cleansed and pure. I looked at my pale, beat up face and thought, “I am pretty. Not the make up.”

So in short, martial arts broke me down and gave me the ability to see myself at my deepest level, something I sadly couldn’t do myself. Martial arts makes people, not just warriors. I am forever indebted to my [Filkenjutsu] family.