While attaining the status of black belt is a great achievement, becoming a Black Belt is more than just receiving a new rank.
As we grow as martial artists we each precede down our own paths towards the goals that we, our instructors and masters set forth before us. In each of these steps we become physically and mentally stronger and are able to perform our forms with more confidence, showcase our skills with weapons, self defense and much more. Each of these steps prepares us for achieving the rank of 1st dan. However, it is our duty during this time that we must begin to focus towards becoming a Black Belt. There are skills beyond those of physical and mental that we must also develop.
Many times the ideals of what it means to be a Black Belt becomes lost in the day-to-day practice of our skills. We lose sight that while we have achieved a minor mastery over our art; we have just begun the long road of becoming a true Black Belt.
So what is the meaning of a Black Belt? There are many trains of thought on this question, this is just one. To many it is the sign that one journey is over and another has begun. To others it is the gaining of knowledge of more advanced techniques, and still others it is the representation that they have become an expert.
I would suggest that in becoming a Black Belt we should further the ideals of the Samurai. Not the sword wielding, battle hardened warriors of the ancient past but the Samurai as it was first envisioned: "to Serve and Attend".
Think of "serving" as a black belt, not simply gaining it. This is important that as Black Belts we learn to serve those below as well as above us. In serving and attending the masters of the past gave up a great deal for their training: family, jobs, security, and more in order to accomplish their paths. I am not suggesting that we go to these extremes, but in today's world many only think of gaining for themselves. "I want this, I want that." We want to practice martial arts but we also want money, a nice car, fame, portable telephones and everything that everyone else has.
In serving as a black belt we should demonstrate the spirit and determination of the great masters of the past. We must realize that we have to make sacrifices in our own lives in order to pursue the ideals of the samurai, in order to better serve and attend.
It is through these thoughts and actions of service that we, as black belts, begin to come close to the spirit of true mastery, and truly becomes worthy of being called a Black Belt. When we have given up thoughts of ranks, belts, trophies, fame, and even mastery itself, we will have achieved what is really important in our training.
Be as the Samurai: be honorable, show benevolence, have integrity, be humble, be gentle, show self-control, have courage, demonstrate loyalty, be polite, be sincere. Care for others and put everyone before yourself. To study the martial arts is to study yourself. It has nothing to do with rank.
Let me leave you with this final thought. As the belt gets darker, turning from white to black and 1st dan to grandmaster achievement, and as you travel along your path as a black belt, the greater your service and attending should be to others. The greater the rank the more we need to remember we must serve the smallest white belt with as much respect and loyalty as much as we would the greatest master.