Being a Black Belt

by George Mattson

by Bryan Lowe

When I was about six years old, I saw the film Karate Kid. I guess you could say it changed my life, for it was this (albeit somewhat cheesy) 80’s movie that sparked my interest in the martial arts, and inspired me to take my first Karate lesson.

I’ll admit when I first stepped into a dojo, it wasn’t exactly what I had seen in the theater. This of course, initially disappointed my young spirit. I had really wanted to learn a crane kick. Instead of seeing students dodging dangerous swinging metal objects as I had watched in Karate Kid, I merely saw students performing punches and kicks aimed at imaginary targets. Despite this initial setback, I persevered (something I would learn so much more about as my studies continued). The more I studied Karate, the more I realized it wasn’t just punching and kicking, the deeper I found myself in my addiction to the martial arts the more it taught me about myself and life. Karate became a vital force in molding me into the person I am today.

At it’s core, Karate isn’t about self-defense, but instead self-completion. It teaches people how to learn, how to work, how to live. In martial arts it is necessary to always work with control in order to bring out the best in oneself and one’s partner; if partners are too aggressive with one another, someone is likely to get hurt, but if the partners do not challenge each other enough, neither will improve. This principle also applies in life. One must find a balance in how aggressive one should act in “real life” relationships. I found that everything I learned in the dojo was applicable outside of it as well.

One principle philosophy in my style of martial arts, Uechi-ryu Karate, is a balance between hard and soft; people should be “hard” enough so that they will stand up for what they believe in, but “soft” enough to compromise and be open minded. Throughout my teenage years this has proven to be one of the most important qualities to master, for temptation is lurking around every corner. Another important philosophy from karate is the eight virtues of black belt: modesty, courtesy, integrity, compassion, self-control, gratitude, perseverance, and indomitable spirit. these virtues are what martial artist strive to attain in their lives, and I do my best to apply these attributes in my everyday life.

Although the outward benefits of being a black belt, may at first seem materialistic and superficial, an extra line to fill on your college aps or an achievement to brag to your friends about, its real significance goes much deeper. The black belt encourages you to set a good example, to be a role model both in and outside of class. Having a black belt adds a responsibility of acting like a black belt, of behaving responsibly, working diligently, and outwardly projecting and living by the eight virtues of black belt and the student creeds.

I could continue listing these philosophies, but that would be rather hypocritical to what karate is really about. As my Sensei, Mr. Durkin, often reminds my fellow students and me, “Karate is not a talking art, but a doing art.” Listing off countless philosophies and each one’s meaning would be futile, without “doing” these philosophies, without living by them. A deep and potentially meaningful statement on paper is weak and feeble, but when applied in life, it has supreme power and importance.

Studying martial arts has not simply taught me how to rattle off creeds and codes, even a parrot can do that. Uechi-ryu Karate does not spawn parrots, it creates people, real people, meaningful people, people who can think, learn and discover for themselves. Just as life can not be learned from a book, the secrets of Karate can’t be revealed in a one page essay. Only through living, through taking risks can its real meaning be found. It is interesting that the majority of Karate’s lessons aren’t learned in the dojo at all. So I continue studying Karate each and every day I live, I learn. this is the true study of Karate, living and learning.

Bryan Lowe has been a student at Buzz Durkin’s Uechi-ryu Dojo for 8 years. He is a senior at Philips Exeter Academy and wrote this essay as a school project when he was sixteen.

Copyright 1999: Bryan Lowe. All rights reserved

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