This Guest Post is by Theodore Kruczek, who teaches Karate at the Air Force Academy. His blog is the Okinawan Karate-Do Institute: A Blog Centered Around the Teachings of Choshin Chibana and His Students.
Black Belt vs. Teacher
Goodin Sensei has provided me a wealth of information on Karate-Do, and because of this, I am writing today in order to contribute back. I want to talk about the difference between a black belt and a teacher. Often the two are linked together at dojos, but there are many times when they are different.
Every style and school has different standards for what it takes to become a black belt. Some train for ten years and some for two. Black belts may be required to write ten page papers, answer questions in Japanese, break boards, and most commonly perform kata. In most cases, we as instructors are trying to ensure that our future black belt is capable of passing on the art accurately. The questions and the paper are testing their ability to explain things, the breaking of boards is a test of physical ability, and the kata is a test of technique and knowledge.
Does this mean that every black belt is a teacher? No. In some styles, a black belt means that someone knows the entire curriculum and then later they will be qualified as an instructor. I recall an article about a five-year-old black belt in India. Assuming she knew the curriculum, is she qualified to teach it? Probably not. Therefore, it can be agreed that not all black belts are teachers.
Next, consider the opposite question - are all teachers black belts? Again, no. People commonly believe that until someone receives a black belt in a style; they are not qualified to teach without supervision. I want to offer a story that contradicts this logic:
Upon first coming down to the Air Force Academy Karate Club, I was informed that classes would be led by a 6th Kyu. I came down for the first club meeting to realize the club consisted of two white belts, a 6th kyu gentleman leading classes, and myself. I had just recently tested for 3rd Dan , and I was the student in this club, not the teacher. I smiled and thought I would wait and see what would come of it. To my surprise, I was being taught a new kata called Wansu by the 6th kyu, and he continually asked me questions forcing me to expand my understanding of both his kata and my own karate.
The moral here, just because someone does not wear a black belt, does not mean they do not know something you would benefit learning from. Karate students have the potential to both learn and teach, regardless of their rank. Be open minded, and there is great potential for both the higher ranking and the lower ranking student to gain something. Teachers are everywhere, and often there is no belt to identify them.